Lower White Sands Creek is a great run for people who seek a long, remote, and beautiful day on a small river without dealing with super hard rapids. The rapids start with class IV, tapering off to class III, and finally class II. Without any big/steep drops, some paddlers take their playboats for this run. It is generally runnable whenever the Lochsa has a medium flow in it.
This creek flows through a large Forest Service roadless area managed as backcountry which means that removal of timber is generally not allowed and new roads will not be constructed. This creek flows through a remarkably beautiful and wild place. The water quality is superb, and paddlers have seen lots of wildlife on this run including cougars.
From the trail bridge at the put-in the action starts right away as you head down a long straightaway and then reach the first and biggest rapid on the run. This drop has a blind corner as the river takes a sweeping turn to the left and then back to the right behind a big rock and finishing off with a ledge that is not visible from upstream. You can get a good view by committing to the first part of the drop and grabbing an eddy near the top on river left where you can hop out for a quick scout. Wood can be an issue on this run especially in the first couple miles.
From this point on, most all of the drops can be easily boat scouted and you will encounter plenty of great continous class IV rapids all the way to Storm Creek. Once you pass Storm Creek the whitewater transitions to more class III/IV. The whitewater is still continuous but drops are a bit more spaced out and the increased flow provides a more open feel with more options.
After a couple miles the river backs off to fun class III--but keep an eye out for boat-grabbing holes--and once you are into the class II you will know that you are nearing the take-out where the river joins the Crooked Fork to become the Lochsa.
Logistics: This is a long 16 mile shuttle on Forest Service roads. From Highway 12 mile 163.5 turn down the Forest Service road to White Sand Campground. It's 1.2 miles down to the bridges across the Crooked Fork and Colt Killed Creek which join to form the Lochsa. The bridge across Colt Killed Creek is the take-out. Continuing on past the bridge, head left towards Elk Summit on Forest Road 111. In 5.4 miles from Highway 12 you will reach a junction where you will turn right onto Forest Road 360 continuing on up towards Elk Summit. At mile 8.4 you will reach Savage Pass, the highest point on the shuttle drive at 6168' (this may be snowed in through late June in heavy snow years). At this point you will be headed back downhill and at 11.1 miles from Highway 12 you will reach the turn off for Forest Road 359 which is the road to the Colt Killed Creek Trailhead. Turn left onto this road and wind your way 5.4 miles down to the river. The road ends at the trail bridge crossing White Sand Creek which is the put-in.
If you do not have a shuttle available, some have done the first couple miles of the run, that includes the best section of class IV whitewater, and hiked back to the put-in from the Storm Creek confluence.
Another atlernative that some packrafters have been doing is to hike up the Colt Killed Creek Trail (trail 50) from the Lochsa confluence to Storm Creek or above. The higher you hike up this creek, the more challenging the rapids.
Whitesands is a really fun run. Don't worry if you don't have 2 vehicles to run shuttle. We were able to leave our truck at the put-in, paddle the first four miles then take out at the Storm Creek pack bridge river right. The hike back was tough but do-able for sure. Great Idaho mini-adventure. The strainer was easily portaged.
Brian, Great idea on early take out and hike back, one I wish we had thought of, as the first 1/3 of the run is the best, the remaining 6-8 miles to regular take out at the bridge is long, not much excitement, but scenery is worth it.
We did this run on June 23rd. We still had snow at the pass and had to dig a path for our vehicles. The Lochsa was at 7800 cfs which corresponded to a great level for this creek. Lots of great fluffy class IV but still plenty of eddies on the side to catch your breath. At this flow, the class II at the end moved really quickly. We encountered some wood that was in play but it was all visible and easy to get around.
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Start of the Run
Storm Creek Pack Bridge
White Sand Creek
First big drop on White Sand
White Sand Put In
An Idaho Roadless Gem
the hike out...
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