Tumbledown can generally be run starting in early May, going into early July in good snow years. The character of the run varies considerably with flow. At levels above 1,500 CFS on the Red Ives gauge, it is pushy, big water with tall crashing waves and big holes that can flip rafts. At low flows below it becomes technical and creeky.
The first four miles are straighforward, read and run class II and III, building up to the standout
rapid on the run, Tumbledown Falls (class IV). Tumbledown Falls starts with a long
train of large crashing waves on a sweeping left-hand bend, leading into an almost river-wide
ledge hole on the right, where the canyon walls up and makes a dogleg to the left. The
normal line is left of center down the wave train, then hard left to avoid the ledge hole.
As flows drop, a river right entrance line opens up. Immediately below the ledge hole is a
walled in pool that can become very boily at certain flows. Below
Tumbledown there is one more standout class III+ / IV- rapid Wild Mile (near mile marker 72)
and lots of indistinct, read and run class II/III swiftwater.
Scout the entire section very carefully before your trip. Logs and sweepers are very common and seem to shift around unpredictably. Also remember that while there is a road the entire length of the run, it is still very remote country. With a put in elevation of 3,300' air and water temperatures can be very low even late into the season. Dress appropriately. Paddlers should have strong intermediate skills for Tumbledown, it is not a beginner run. Do not underestimate the consequences of a swim on this run, boaters have died here.
There is a designated put in with a primitive dirt ramp at the Conrad Crossing Forest Service Campground.
Once you have launched your boats, park in the parking area along side the main road in order to
avoid blocking access for other boaters. If you park near the ramp, there may not be enough
room for vehicles with boat trailers to get around you, and to have enough room to back down
the ramp, etc. There are alternate put in locations above Conrad Crossing, including at the
downstream end of Gold Creek Meadows, where there is designated, but primitive boat ramp.
As of 2021 there is a designated take out site at Eagle Creek. While it is possible to get a boat trailer to waters edge here, the ramp is very steep so having a winch on your trailer is a plus. Be sure to park on the opposite side of the main road, on the mouth of the Eagle Creek road. Parking in the launch area is prohibited and could result in a fine. There are a couple of undesignated take out sites above Eagle Creek, but for rafters they involve more of a carry than Eagle Creek. Note that parking is no longer permitted at Bluff Creek, which used to be a common take out for kayakers.
Best access to Tumbledown is via St. Regis, Montana over Gold Creek Summit. Exit interstate 90 at St. Regis, drive west through town onto the frontage road for roughly 1-2 miles. Cross the bridge over I-90 and continue 30 miles south up Little Joe Creek (road 282) over Gold Creek Pass (seasonal) to the St. Joe (about 45 minutes). At the Joe turn right and head downstream until you reach Conrad Crossing.
|Ave Gradient:||41 fpm|
|Max Gradient:||67 fpm|
|Season:||Apr - Jul|
in Google Maps.
Crowell, Sandra and David Asleson.Up the Swiftwater:
A Pictorial History of the Colorful Upper St. Joe River Country. Museum of North Idaho Publications, 2003.
Egan, Timothy.The Big Burn:
Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America. Haughton Milflin Harcourt, 2009.
Hoffman, Todd."Locals Favorite: St. Joe Drainage."
American Whitewater Journal July/August (2006):12-15
Copyright Todd Hoffman 2009 - All Rights Reserved