Upper Lochsa River
Northeastern Idaho

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When I think of Springtime road trips, two places come to mind: California and Idaho.

California is best for creeking, with lots of granite and epic hike-ins, while Idaho is best for playboaters and big-water rivers, like the NF Payette, Selway, Lochsa, etc. Northern Idaho is vast and wild, with huge, rugged mountains and endless pine forests. The rivers are big, the creeks remote, and the spring weather features hot sunny days interspersed with fitful thunderstorms to spice up your day.

Idaho's Lochsa River is a classic Idaho roadside run, running big and fast in the springtime with lots of juicy holes and wide open wave trains that are guaranteed to entertain. Lochsa is a Flathead Indian word which means 'rough water', an apt description for this continuous, action-packed river. The Lochsa is also loaded with great playspots; huge surf waves abound on the upper section, while the lower Lochsa has Pipeline, one of the best roadside play waves in the lower forty-eight.

In the spring of 2004 we had just gotten off of the Selway wild and scenic section, and we had an extra day before we had to head home. We awoke to a glorious sunny Idaho spring morning, and the Lochsa beckoned with an irresistible roar from our campsite. On the previous night we had hooked up with Nate Garr and Chief, who were the last holdouts from the annual spring PDX Kayaker Lochsa Road-Trip/PBR-fest/Boating Bonanza.

Nate and Chief fed us steaks (thanks guys!) and we swapped boating tales. None of us had ever run the Upper Lochsa, so Nate offered to lead us down the run the next day. For the most part, you can figure out the Upper Lochsa pretty easily from your boat, but there are a few places (especially at high water) where big holes lurk, so having a helmet to follow is pretty useful for first-timers.

We still had most of the gang from the Selway, and just for kicks Jonathan and Matt decided to hop in a little R2 raft owned by a boater from California named Kelly. Kelly is a veteran paddler who was planning on boogie-boarding the Lochsa later that day, but he agreed to participate in a little rafting carnage.. it was pretty much guaranteed!

The initial rapids were big and splashy, with lots of waves and many different lines. Like most of the Lochsa, these drops were read-and-run..

Ryan Windsor in the midst of a big, fun drop on the Upper Lochsa

The next rapid contained a narrow, tricky hole that looked interesting. Nate went first through the hole, flipped, and rolled up.. from there it was automatic: Ryan flipped, Margi emerged upside-down, and Gabe got tossed as well. Of the kayakers, only Chuck managed to run it upright by slipping the hole on the right.. It was just about guaranteed carnage for the raft, so I got ready with the camera..

The raft crew came cruising down right into the hole and immediately got launched out of the hole, bodies flying everywhere.. it was great; you gotta love raft carnage!!

Matt (yellow), Jonathan (blue) and Kelly (red) approach the bottom hole with less-than-optimal angle.. time to join the Lochsa swim team, boys..

Matt Stamm gets on it.. flipping the raft over in record time before the next drop..

Human battering rams Jonathan and Kelly lean forward on the bow and get their heads in the game just downstream..

The river continues like this pretty much non-stop all the way to the take out. The lower section is a little less technical and continuous, but it features some excellent rapids as well..

Access: The best Idaho whitewater guide I have found is 'Idaho the Whitewater State' by Grant Amaral. You can pick this book up at your local paddle shop, or go online to Amazon.com and type 'Grant Amaral' and you should be able to buy a copy there.

Flows: We had a whole bunch of water when we ran this section, I think it was in the 7-9 foot range on the bridge gauge, which is about as high as it gets in the spring.