Okay. So you are heading to the legendary Lochsa River. It’s time to get fired up.
The Lochsa is a designated Wild and Scenic river in north central Idaho. It’s a free-flowing (undammed) river, and in the early spring offers some of the best whitewater in the world. The river is cold, and a typical spring day on the Lochsa presents a mixture of rain, sleet, snow, and maybe a spot of sun if you’re lucky. With these thoughts swirling through your head like foam in an eddy, it’s essential that you be prepared for the adventure. We are here to help.
Before the Trip
Gas. The Lochsa is located in the middle of nowhere. There is no gas between the Lochsa Lodge and Kooskia, ID. Fill up your gas tank in Lolo, MT or Kooskia, ID.
Food. If you plan on camping or running the river, you have to do your grocery shopping before you arrive in Lowell, ID. It’s a great idea to bring some pre- and post-trip snacks. There is also a great café in Lowell called Ryan’s Wilderness Inn.
Beer. If you think you have brought enough, double it. You can always bring surplus back home. Don’t short -change yourself here.
Yourself. You need to be a proactive self-rescuer and a willing paddler on the Lochsa River.
Camping comforts. If you’re spending the night in the Lochsa corridor (and we strongly suggest you do!), don’t forget the creature comforts you need to deck out your campsite: firewood, coffee, French press, camp chairs, pop-up tent/tarp, yard games (like corn hole or horseshoes), rain gear, and warm, dry layers.
During the Trip
Gear. Bring Capilene, merino wool, or polypro to wear underneath your wetsuit. Make sure your layers aren’t too bulky, as thick, bunched-up material will not be comfortable or keep you as warm under your wetsuit.
Camera/Go Pro. If you want Go Pro footage, bring a mount for our helmets. And you’ll want to make sure your selfie game is strong.
Snacks. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
After the Trip
Warm/Dry Clothes. There is nothing more comfortable than being warm and cozy after being on the river all day. Add a nice warm hat to your post-river kit, as well.
Extra Cash. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, cash is king. Paper bills can be used for a trade, tip, or gambling at river camp yard games.
Water/Beer. Bask in the glory of the Lochsa River: make sure you drink some water before having a beer!
All kids should go rafting. It’s not only a great way to “unplug” from the daily consumption of electronic devices that we are all so accustomed to but it’s also a great way to explore the outdoors and have fun. Here is some advice for your next adventure on the river.
Pick the right river
A river company will help you make this decision based on 2 important factors: Age/Experience. Short is sweet for many young kids. If it’s your first time rafting, it’s crucial that your first experience is a good one. This sets the foundation for the success of future trips.
The river can bring out the best in all of us. Taking kids out of their comfort zone will allow them to discover new things about themselves and will give them confidence on and off the water. Your river guide will also give you sound advice and approval before your kids decide to jump off of a rock or swim a rapid. Let them rip!
Most guides are well prepared and pack extra snacks and water in their day bags. However, don’t rely on it. When kids are playing hard, they get hungry and thirsty. Bring some snacks such as trail mix, bars, chocolate, and water to keep them from crashing.
Many young kids are all skin and bones. Bring some extra synthetic clothing for them including a windbreaker in case they get cold after swimming in the river. You would be surprised how often we offer kids a fleece sweatshirt or hat when it’s 90 degrees out..
A guide prerequisite is being a people person. Many of us have kids and are childlike. We like to have fun. We love kids. However, we are not babysitters. If your kids play hard enough, they will probably be too tired to argue with you anyways.
If you could do a snapshot of a kids attitude and behavior before and after a raft trip, it’s night and day. Post trip, kids reminisce about swimming rapids, paddling, jumping off rocks, playing games, and water fights. Get kids out on the water!
5 must-see spots you might have missed on the Lochsa River
We have guests that come to the Lochsa River year after year. Our Lochsa guests ebb and flow like the river: some folks are just starting a multi-year “Lochsa Run” and for others, the run is coming to an end. It always amazes me how this river brings so many folks together each year, congregating at all the popular spots like Wilderness Gateway, Fish Creek, Split Creek, and Lowell, ID. The Lochsa boasts cold, clear water, towering wilderness, and cedar trees that hover over the river. In short: it’s a badass place. No matter what draws you to the Lochsa River, it’s that connection to the river that brings us all together each spring.
Most folks come to enjoy the thrill of the rapids. The Lochsa’s world-class rapids overshadow so many other amazing features in the river corridor. Perhaps you’ve already floated the Lochsa and never noticed the spectacular creeks, side hikes, camping, and waterfalls in the area.
Here are a few things that you might have missed on your last trip or something new to look forward to.
Fish Creek Butte Trail
Have you ever waited for hours at Fish Creek for your raft/kayak buddies to show up? Well, next time you have some time to kill, get your legs moving and do a quick hike. You head up Fish Creek and hang your first left at the bridge (Trail #223). Once you start hiking, you will come to a junction. Keep going uphill, as the other trail goes along the river. Hike until you get to a nice overlook. From there, you can get a nice overhead view of all the action taking place down at Fish Creek and the Lochsa River.
Historic Lochsa Ranger Station
This ranger station is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The station is full of history and there are plenty of old photos and literature that illustrate what this place was like years ago. A visit to the ranger station is a great way to get connected to the area.
Stanley Hot Springs
This primitive hot spring is a 6-mile hike in from Wilderness Gateway campground. It’s not recommended to do this hike during the peak of spring runoff, as you will have to cross Boulder Creek at high water. Try to do this adventure before spring runoff or during the hot summer months. Trail #211 is located right before you get to C loop in the campground.
Horsetail Falls is one of the more technical rapids on the Lochsa River. Because river runners are so focused on the run, the falls itself is many times overlooked. At Mile 114.8, if you look river left, there is a beautiful waterfall. You can access the falls via kayak or raft by pulling out on the river left, just above the rapid.
Selway Falls is a magnificent sight at any time of year. It’s a cauldron of whitewater and siphons. Bring some cold beverages and have fun discussing “what if” scenarios if you were to one day choose to run this rapid. From Lowell, cross the Lochsa River and drive about 19 miles up the Selway River.
Living in Montana and other northern states can be difficult in the winter months when temps aren’t exactly ideal for kayaking. Here are some tips on how to dress for success while kayaking in winter conditions, from a kayaker who always finds herself shivering!
In my opinion, a drysuit is one of the most important pieces of safety gear a kayaker can own. Not only does a drysuit extend your paddling season by several months – or in some places make it possible to paddle year-round – but it can also save your life in the case of an unexpected swim in 40 degree water. If a drysuit is out of your price range, dry bibs and a dry top used together can be a good substitute. I recommend Kokatat drysuits and drytops, as I have always found their gear to be extremely dry, reliable, breathable, and comfortable.
UNION SUIT / FLEECE ONESIE
Though this one-piece layer is not entirely necessary, I do find it to be the most comfortable way to layer for warmth underneath a drysuit. You don’t have to deal with tucking shirts into pants, shirts bunching up to your chest, and most importantly the chance of you getting a wedgie is diminished quite a bit. NRS, Immersion Research, and Kokatat all make great union suits.
*Pro tip for women! Make sure you buy a union suit with a butt flap if your drysuit has a drop seat!
ADDITIONAL FLEECE/SYNTHETIC/WOOL LAYERS ON TOP (depending on temps)
I am a naturally cold person, so I tend to wear more layers than most other people I see on the water. If I am paddling in the winter when it is below 35 degrees, I generally attempt to wear as many layers as can comfortably fit underneath my drysuit. This usually works out to be one silkweight layer for wicking sweat, one warmer long underwear layer (Patagonia’s capilene 4 works great!), one thin fleece (Patagonia’s R1 is my favorite), along with a union suit.
ADDITIONAL LONG UNDERWEAR ON THE BOTTOM
One lighter long underwear bottom worn underneath a union suit is usually all that is needed, since your legs are protected from the elements by your kayak.
THICK FLEECE/WOOL SOCKS
Acorn fleece socks are the only socks I have found that keep my toes warm inside my drysuit during the winter.
Pogies work great when river running in fall weather. But once the thermometer drops below 35, or if I am playboating in cold water, I find that mittens are the only way to keep my hands toasty warm. The NRS Toaster Mitts are my mittens of choice. They even have a handy snot-wiper on the thumb!
NEOPRENE SKULL CAP
The best protection against ice cream headaches!
OVER-THE-DRYSUIT NEOPRENE SOCKS
I only added these to my gear collection this past season, and I am so glad that I did. By keeping dirt, rocks, and sand away from your drysuit socks, they will greatly increase the lifespan of your drysuit and help keep it 100% dry for much longer.
BOOTIES WITH GOOD TREAD
Falling on your butt is sometimes inevitable when walking to the put-in over icy trails, however, a bruised tailbone can be mitigated by buying booties with good tread! I recently purchased a pair of Astral Brewers and am super happy with how sticky the soles are on slick surfaces.
These are not always necessary, but can definitely come in handy when hiking over icy portages.
A must-have item for playboating at all times of the year! Swimmer’s ear can be extremely painful and can take you off the water for weeks at a time if it isn’t treated properly. Mack’s waterproof silicone earplugs can be bought at most drug stores and can be reused several times. They even come in a handy case that can easily fit in the pocket of your PFD.
Summoning the motivation to paddle in the winter
Paddling and surfing in the winter is quite common here in Missoula, Montana, and, crazy as it seems, it’s one of my favorite times of the year to enjoy the river. There is a feeling of hardiness when you slip on your wetsuit or cold PFD while snow is at your feet, ice is floating in the river, and the air you’re breathing is frosty. Wintertime paddling is not for the faint of heart. But once that cold water splashes you in the face, you get a sudden sense of appreciation and self-awareness that reminds you that it’s all totally worth it.
Here are some creature comforts that will make paddling in the winter much more enjoyable.
No doubt, the right gear makes all of the difference. It also makes winter river sports enjoyable. If I’m cold, I’m miserable.
Winter kayaking gear (on top of the year-round essentials): skull cap, drysuit, synthetic layers, neoprene mittens, and paddle wax.
Winter surfing gear: 5/4 wetsuit, 5/4 booties, and 5/4 mits.
It’s definitely harder to motivate when you’re rolling solo in the wintertime. Finding a friend to go with is not only a good idea from a safety standpoint, but is also great for holding you accountable when you might want to bail.
WARM BEER + COFFEE + TEA AT THE RIG
Your body is working hard out there to stay warm. Having some hot tea or coffee at the truck sure is nice for after your icy surf session. If beer is your thing, there is nothing more enjoyable than a warm PBR on a cold day.
A COZY CHANGING SET-UP
Having a dry surface to stand on is clutch for getting dressed and changing. Really, any barrier between you and the ground will work. I recommend using an old foam sleeping pad, door mat, or car mat. It’s also a great way to keep your gear clean and in good shape. Of course the changing robe (aka, the snuggie) is also a great piece of gear to have. It serves as a towel and private changing room, all in one.
SHORT IS SWEET
It’s cold! So don’t beat yourself up if your winter sessions aren’t as productive as your summer sessions. Just be stoked that you motivated to get out on the water.