North central Idaho is blessed with some of the most beautiful flowing water in the world and this trip will give you a taste of the region’s wild heart — all from the comfort of roads.
Selway Falls is more of a complicated, multilevel and multichannel rapid strewn with giant boulders than a true plunging waterfall.
But its churning waters are mesmerizing and the drive is a treat.
From Lewiston, travelers heading to the falls via U.S. Highway 12 along the Clearwater River are exposed to the various microclimates and forest types of the area. At Lewiston, the hillsides of the Clearwater River canyon are open and covered only with grass and brush. As you proceed east toward Orofino, ponderosa pines begin to dot the slopes. Soon the forest thickens. Firs and cedars take over as the dominant tree species the farther upriver you proceed and the climate becomes more moist.
At Lowell, about 100 miles from Lewiston, the Selway and Lochsa rivers converge to create the Middle Fork of the Clearwater. The falls are 18 miles to the east along the mostly gravel Selway River Road. The area is a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts and there are several campgrounds along the way, as well as the scenic Fenn Ranger Station. When the high flows of spring recede, inviting sandy beaches emerge and the water turns emerald green.
There are roadside pullouts at the falls but no formal viewing area. Notice the remnants of a fishway, an attempt to provide returning salmon and steelhead an easier route of passage around the torrent. The powerful fish don’t need the help. Lucky viewers who visit at the right time of year can watch adult fish leap while making their way upstream.
The falls are just a few miles from the end of the road and the beginning of the 1.8-million-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area. n
LOCATION: From the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, travel east on U.S. Highway 12 through Orofino, Kamiah, Kooskia and Syringa to reach Lowell. From there, take a right on the Selway River Road and travel 18 miles to reach the falls. Expect some washboards if the road has not been freshly graded.
WHAT YOU’LL DO: Take in the beauty of the river and the surrounding Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Stop and fish for westslope cutthroat trout or have a picnic in a shady spot.
DIFFICULTY: 3 out of 5. It’s an easy but long drive.
DON’T FORGET: Both rain gear and sunscreen because you never know.
NEARBY SITES OF INTEREST: Can’t get enough of Idaho rivers? Explore the Lochsa as well and watch whitewater rafters take on its many rapids.