Potlatch - 1. Little Boulder Campground to Cedar Creek

Potlatch, Idaho, US


1. Little Boulder Campground to Cedar Creek

Usual Difficulty IV-V (for normal flows)
Length 17 Miles


Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-13341570 1000 - 8000 cfs IV-V 00h21m 39.6 cfs (too low)

River Description

The Potlatch Canyon run is the most reliable and easily accessible creek to anyone living or traveling through the Moscow/Pullman area known as the Palouse. Its typical run-off season starts in late February/early March and can run through April. A combination of warm days and rain-on-snow can occasionally bump this creek up to runnable flows in December and January for a day or two (or more!). In the winter and early in the run-off season, expect very cold water, snow and ice on the banks, and keep an eye out for huge ice chunks built up on mid-stream rocks. Ice dams can block the entire river in some places during the winter.

From the put-in, the river drops away from the access road and into a basalt canyon. You'll have a couple miles to warm up in fast-moving class 2 and 3. In this warm-up stretch, there is one short but quality rapid that comes after a sharp left turn in the river. There are small eddys on either side above the drop. Two offset boulders create three routes: the left and right are a bit rocky but fairly straightforward. The center route is a diagonal slot between the boulders. Boaters who experience trouble with this rapid would be best off hiking out at this point, on river left. The road that passes the put-in is a short hike straight uphill. Turn left at the road and head back to the put-in car.

After another mile or so, the gradient picks up and you may feel yourself pushed along a bit quicker. You'll also notice that the rock structure is primarily granite now. Keep your eyes open for a large tributary spilling in on river right. The first and most critical rapid of the canyon is around the next bend to the right: Coleman Falls. It's not a waterfall in the traditional sense. There are eddys above the horizon on river right for scouting and portaging. The rapid consists of two parts. At the top, you'll punch through a small hole, and then have three options, right, center and left. Center is a small 4' pour-over, and is probably the most obvious line. From there you can drive to the left side over another (~5') pour-over with an undercut left wall and a creepy roostertail to your right that you'll want to avoid at all costs. Easier is the river right line. You can eddy out on the right after the top move, and either walk, scrape or bash your way over a small ledge, then paddle through a narrow slot against the right wall and over the final ~3' ledge. This is the easiest route through the bottom of Coleman. An all-out portage around the whole thing is almost impossible. You could walk the top part and put back in just above the river right slot above the last (simple) ledge.

After Coleman, the creek winds through a couple miles of quality class 3+/4 rapids. At lower flows, there's plenty of time between the rapids. At higher flows (say, above 4'), they start to stack together more and the eddys start to wash out and the current extends from bank to bank.

None of the individual rapids are overly difficult on their own for a comfortable class 3 boater. If this run was roadside, I'd say it would be a great intro to creeking. However, due to the remoteness of this area and the depth of the canyon, as well as the potential for hypothermia in the typical run-off season, boaters should have class 4 skills to safely navigate the rapids of the canyon. Wood shifts around constantly and most of the lines through the rapids are fairly narrow. Keep your eyes open.

Shuttle Logistics:
The put-in for the Potlatch Canyon run is at Little Boulder Campground, south of Helmer. Find Deary at the intersection of highways 8 and 3. Head East out of Deary about three miles to Helmer (don't blink or you'll miss it). Turn right at the sign for Little Boulder (the road is also called NF-1963 on some maps). Follow this road, staying left at the "Y", and park in the paved lot on the left just before crossing the bridge over the Potlatch. The stick gage is on river right, just below this parking lot.
You have two options for the take-out. Option one is to paddle all the way out to the next roadside access, about 17 miles downstream from Little Boulder. This option offers you about 2 miles of warm-up before the canyon, about 3 or 4 miles in the canyon, and over 10 miles of class 2 rock bashing to the takeout. (It's not that bad at flows over 4', but I'll never do it again lower than that...) There are 3 distinct class 3+/4 rapids in the long paddle out, as well as a couple decent little waves and a fantastic splat wall if you're in a playboat for some reason. To run this shuttle, find the town of Kendrick on highway 3. Head NE out of Kendrick on 3, towards Deary. At the base of the grade (before you head uphill), turn right onto road P1 (also called Cedar Ridge Road on some maps). Just a bit up this road, you'll see a concrete bridge over the Potlatch on the right. Don't cross this bridge. Instead, continue straight and follow the road along the Potlatch for a few miles. The road gets up and away from the river, but then comes back to riverside before crossing another concrete bridge over the Potlatch. Just upstream from this bridge is the take-out for the lower Potlatch run. You could park your take-out car here, or anywhere reasonable upstream between here and about 2 miles up. From experience, I can say the farther upstream you park, the more you'll appreciate it after your long paddle out from the canyon. If you take this shuttle option, get an early start and allow at least 4 hours on the river. If the water is low, and/or you're not super-comfortable on class 4 and up, give yourself more time to account for scouting, portages, and incidents. The fastest I've ever run the whole 17-mile canyon is about 3.5 hours. I've been on trips that have taken more than 6 hours, too. Bring a snack and an extra layer, just in case. From your selected take-out, turn around and head back to hwy. 3, turn right, head up the grade, into Deary and follow the directions above to Little Boulder.

Shuttle option number 2 cuts out the entire paddle out and replaces it with a ~2 mile hike up an old 4-wheeler road. Surprisingly (at least until you've done the paddle out), this is the better of the two options. To find the parking area for your take-out car, go south from Deary about three miles on Hwy. 3. Turn left (east) on East Road. This road gets very muddy and slick when wet, so be careful. After about a mile you'll come to a crossroads. Stay straight, and watch out for a surprise right-hand bend just after the crest of one of the small hills you're driving over. After the surprise right-hand bend, the road heads slightly downhill. Watch for a 4-wheeler trail on the left, just before the road you're on starts climbing again. Park your take-out care here (off the road), and then head back to Deary and on to the put-in following the directions above. To find the bottom of this trail from the river, watch for two old concrete bridge supports after the whitewater of the canyon has ended. The bridge is gone, and the trail is a bit obscured behind the thick vegitation on river right. Take out just down from the bridge supports, and start hiking uphill. You'll hike up past a couple switchbacks. At one switchback, you'll have the option of turning right or left. Stay right, continuing uphill. A while later you'll arrive in somewhat of a clearing and a trail intersection. Stay left this time, again continuing uphill. You're almost done! Your car is a couple hundred yards up from here.
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2016-03-14 19:51:16

Rapid Descriptions

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User Comments

Users can submit comments.
May 21 2017 (123 days ago)
Jonathan YoderDetails
The upper and lower recommended flows of 1000-8000 (cfs) listed as the range for this section are
misleading, and even dangerously so. In fact, my preference is for flows under 1,000 cfs. The
description above in relation to ruler gage reading at the put-in seems reasonable, though this
section is certainly worth doing even below 3.0 ft. Here are levels we have run this section over
the last three years: (gage, cfs at Spaulding): (2.9, 350); (3.1, 370); (3.15, 500), (3.3, 470),
(3.3, 640), (3.55, 750); (3.7, 800); (3.725, 944); (3.8, 1200); (4.0, 1750), Some may prefer higher
levels than these, but even the lower levels in this range are delightful.

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