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South Fork Coeur d'Alene: Mullan to Wallace


Tunnel Rapid - South Fork Coeur d'Alene River

Flow Information:

There is an online gage at Wallace above Placer Creek (but below Canyon Creek). At 350 CFS, the run starts feeling low and scrapy. Above 1,100 cfs there is a serious risk of not being able make it under the low bridge in Wallace at the mouth of Nine Mile Canyon. At high flows the run is non-stop with no eddies. Runs are possible from April to June, depending on snow pack. If you are in the area and the South Fork is too high to run check out nearby Canyon Creek.

Run Description:

The South Fork (known locally as "Lead Crick" in tribute to the region's rich history of Lead and Zinc mining), is a unique run that closely follows interstate 90 from Mullan to Osburn, careening off the west side of Look Out Pass. It is generally used by local paddlers as a convenient boating fix, given its easy access and relatively early season. It is definitely not a run for beginners or shaky intermediates, and its best to make your first trip with someone familiar with it.

Most of the South Fork’s bed has been heavily modified, and many rapids are made up of sharp, jagged blast rock. There are several other unique hazards on the run including low bridges at high water, railroad trestles that collect wood, log jams on blind corners, concrete channels with no eddies and a tunnel, where the river flows under part of the town of Wallace. The river has also sustained contamination from heavy metals. However, with proper scouting and safety, the South Fork is a fun and convenient run with class III+ rapids linked by long sections of continuous swiftwater.

Scouting the South Fork is imperative given the nature of the hazards, and frequently shifting wood. Unfortunately, road scouting from the freeway isn’t easy at 65 mph, and the most difficult and dangerous sections are not visible from the road. Stopping along the narrow freeway is next to impossible due to the lack of a shoulder and high volume of speeding traffic. However, there are a couple wide turn outs, some off ramps and limited frontage road access you can get a look from.

Somewhat helpful for scouting is the bike trail (Trail of The Coeur d’Alenes) that follows the river almost the entire length of the run. It is often covered with snow in the early season, but you can still walk down the trail to scout the hard to see sections. Make sure you visually check every inch of the run before getting on the river. Most of the difficult sections do not have eddies, and seem to be on blind corners. You simply can’t boat scout this run safely.

The scariest part of the South Fork is Tunnel rapid, just off the eastern-most exit of I-90 at Wallace. Here the entire river passes through a fairly long tunnel, maybe 50 yards long, that goes under the main road. The entrance to Tunnel is a long, steep and fast moving rapid, without good eddies. It is completely walled in on both sides by vertical concrete slabs and steep rocks faces. As such, portaging is not really an easy option. You would need to get out well upstream, and there is no easy spot to get back in below it.

About halfway through the tunnel is a large and mysterious breaking wave. More optimistic paddlers speculate that its formed by a joint in the concrete base of the tunnel. Others recon its caused by the remains of an old couch that washed down the creek and became stuck during high water. After the tunnel the river flows into a concrete channel (aka Love Canal) that skirts the northern side of Wallace, passing by the County Jail and several old brothels that share the same street. The brothels were shut down in the 1990’s. From Wallace to Obsurn is a swiftwater float with some play features thrown in.

Stream Stats:

Ave Gradient: NA
Max Gradient: NA
Difficulty: III+
Consequences: IV
Min Level: 350
Max Level: 600
Season: Apr - Jun

Planning Tools:

USGS Gage - South Fork at Wallace NOAA Snowtel Data - Lookout Pass Wallace Brewing Company City Limits Pub

Key Places:


South Fork

in a larger map.

Local Beta:

The historic town of Wallace is full of colorful history, and seems to have more bars than residents. For a good beer and food check out the City Limits Pub, home of North Idaho Mountain Brewing, located at the mouth of Nine Mile Canyon. Its a favorite hang out of local boaters. The Wallace Brewing Company, located on mains treet, also has great local brews. They don't serve food, but the local pizza joint will deliver your pie right to the bar.

Copyright Todd Hoffman 2009 - All Rights Reserved