Big Water

Selway Falls over Boulders

A small dream came true for me a few weeks ago: I got to go see the Selway River at really high water. I’ve run central Idaho’s wild rivers at pretty high levels, and those high-water trips were always exciting, intense, wonderful experiences. But these rivers can go much bigger, way bigger than is safe for rafting. I’ve always looked at the spring hydrographs, watching for peak runoff and wishing I could go see it for myself. Thanks to my recent move to far eastern Washington, these rivers are finally within striking distance for me in late spring, and I’m very happy to take advantage.

Selway Falls Bottom Drop

So a burst of warm, snow-melting weather at the end of May sent me up to the lower Selway. The river was running about 29,000 cubic feet per second (for river-folk keeping score, that translates to just about 9 feet on the Paradise gauge; 6 feet is generally considered quite high water and was our cut-off for running commercial trips). It was raging, with ordinarily nondescript riffles in no-name spots transformed into massive surging wave trains.

Branch over Whitewater

The river trail was beautiful, with whitewater views, current through the trees and late spring flowers.

Gold Flowers Selway

But the real show was definitely at the massive cascades of Selway Falls. I enjoyed some beautiful evening light at the top of the falls.

Selway Bridge Evening


Selway Falls Sunset


Selway Falls Entrance

One reason rafters don’t run these rivers at really high flows is the logs. All afternoon I had watched a steady stream of tree trunks heading downstream. Watching a 25-foot log drift into Selway Falls and virtually disappear certainly gave a dramatic sense of scale to the whitewater.

Sense of scale: it’s really hard to show in photos how big Selway Falls is. The upper rapid is strewn with 8- to 12-foot-high boulders, while the lower chute plunges ten feet into raging hydraulics. It’s a powerful place even at low water, and at these flows it was thunderous.

Selway Falls Rage


Selway Falls Lower Drop

I miss living in the desert, but it’s really nice to spend time around moving water and wild rivers again! This may become an annual pilgrimage for me. I especially want to see the Main Salmon when it’s flowing at 100,000 cfs.

Selway Falls Chaos


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