Spruce Tree is a beautiful, scenic float on a pristine part of the St. Joe. While there is minimal
whitewater, the gradient (by eyeball) runs around 40 to 50 feet per mile, and there is a
high potential for dangerous wood and a couple of rapids that require a plan. Given the
lack of eddies and pools, this is not a great section for float fishing, and most
of the best fishing spots are easily accessible from the road anyway. However, if you want to
appreciate the wild character of the Joe, this run is worth doing.
From Spruce Tree Campground to Red Ives, the run flows through a wide open valley with moderate, but continuous gradient. Just below Red Ives, there is a short section of whitewater on a left hand bend, visible from the road. From here down to Indian Creek, the gradient backs off a bit. Just below Indian Creek, the river drops into a deep, oxbow gorge that runs well away from the road. At the exit of this gorge is another section of whitewater that I call "Run Out" rapid (class III). The section from the gorge through Run Out is highly prone to collecting wood. In June 2022 there was a large log jam at the bottom of the Run Out rapid that was sneakable on river right.
To scout the blind spots in the gorge, look for a large turn out / parking area, just as the river swings back away from the road and climbs (just above Wahoo Creek). Here there is an unmarked trail, popular with fly fishermen, in the back of turn out that follows the ridge out to the back bend of the gorge. There is also a scouting trail (more of a game trail) just above the mouth of Wahoo Creek, where the road drops back down to the river. It can be used to scout the jam at the tail end of Run Out rapid, but its hard to find and steep at the top.
From Wahoo Creek down to the take out, the canyon opens back up and the gradient eases up, though it is still very continuous swiftwater with no eddies. At Fly Flat campground, the river swings away from the road again, making road scouting difficult. Be extremely weary of wood on this entire section, and scout it carefully before committing to your run. The water is moving a lot faster than it looks from the road, and wood shifts around frequently. Wear a lifejacket and propper clothing for cold water and cold weather.
There is no formally designated launch site for this run, but there is easy access for
rafts and kayaks at Spruce Tree Campground. Just past the entrance sign to Spruce Tree, look for a small
grassy spot along the bank, very close to the river. It fairly easy to get a raft in
the water here, but be extremely careful not to damage the vegetation in the riparian zone.
Also, be extremely careful not to block access, especially to the turn around road (directly
opposite the launch) when parking. The turn around is frequently used by rigs pulling horse
trailers as Spruce Tree is a popular trail head for horse packers.
As of 2022 there is an officially designated boat ramp at the extreme downstream end of Gold Creek Meadows (see map). Unfortunately, RV campers often block access to the ramp. The ramp is quite primitive, but it is possible to back a trailer all the way to the water's edge. There is not much of an eddy to land in, so be on the ball when approaching. The water moves fast here and it would be easy to blow by the take out, and hard to line back up. It is also possible to take out a few miles downstream at Conrad Crossing - the put in for the Tumbledown run - but in my opinion Gold Creek has the best boat trailer access. There is another small, undesignated turn out a mile or so above Gold Meadows, with trailer access, but it is often occupied by campers or day users.
Gold Creek Meadows is located a mile or so above the junction of Forest Road 50 and Forest Road 218. There is no signage marking it. Its just a large undeveloped camping area in a big field. The outhouse is the most prominent landmark. To get to Spruce Tree, continue 12 or so miles upstream, following the river to the end of road 218. Spruce Tree is also the take out for the Heller Creek Section of the St. Joe, the section classified as Wild under the Wild and Scenic Rivers act.
If you're travelling into the area from the North (Coeur d'Alene or Missoula) best access is via St. Regis, Montana over Gold Creek Pass. The pass usually opens by late May each year. If coming from the South (i.e. Moscow), continue upriver from the town of Avery.
I have run this section at 900 cfs on the Red Ives gauge, which provided plenty of coverage, and was very manageable read and run boating. If I had to guess, I would estimate it could be run as low as 500, but I've never been down it below 900. Most years the run will likely be finished by mid-June, but in years with heavy snow pack the season can extend into the first week fo July. Hoodoo Basin is the nearest snow gauge. See link under planning tools.
|Ave Gradient:||40 fpm|
|Min Level:||~500 CFS|
|Season:||May - June|
in a larger window.
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