Weitas Creek


Forest Service Trail #20, formerly #174

Why? Spawning kokanee salmon in season, an easily accessible walk if you’re on the North Fork Clearwater.

Season: It depends on where you start. It’s May through October at the lower elevations, July through September at the higher.

Ease: Moderate to difficult, depending on how far you walk.

The trail up Weitas Creek from the North Fork of the Clearwater River starts as a couple of miles of old road, then settles into being just a nice path to walk. It’s also a largely level trail for the first 6 miles or so, with the exception of an early, long uphill stretch after the trail crosses Johnny Creek about 2 miles from the trailhead. Walking it is a woodland meander in and out of many small drainages, with the cedar trees growing bigger the farther you walk. The views are pleasant but not exciting, mostly of the clear, wide creek and the hills on its other side. The best view is within a mile of the long uphill, of an area ahead where the creek splits to curve around both sides of an island.

But don’t expect to be alone when you hike Weitas, for the trail obviously is used by a variety of travelers. The entire trail is open to motorized vehicles, and I’m told that motorized use can be heavy on weekends. My personal experience hasn’t shown that, however, for although my visits have been on weekends, each time I met only one small group of users.

Weitas Creek also can be hiked from the trail’s other end, at 12-Mile Saddle on the Lolo Motorway. There are some lovely meadows to be seen in the first 2 to 4 miles, and views of the side of Bald Mountain that overlooks the lake of the same name.

The mid-section of the trail along Weitas can be reached from the 555 Road along Lean-to-Ridge and down to the Weitas Work Center, or from the #649 and #650 trails down from Liz Butte, off the Lolo Motorway. From personal experience, I know that the two miles of the creek between the #649 and #650 trails are lovely. It is quiet and serene, the creek often splitting into as many as three flat, rippling strands as it wends its way toward the North Fork.

Name Note: Weitas Creek’s name is a euphemism for the original name of the creek, according to Idaho Place Names. The creek originally may have been named by the soldiers in General O.O. Howard’s Nez Perce campaign or by the engineers laying road. Whichever is the case, the Forest Service changed the original Wet Ass to the current Weitas, a more exotic but less expressive name.

Note: My first hike up Weitas Creek was decidedly fine. It was in September. I’d never heard of kokanee salmon, or much about other salmon – or dams – either. So I was surprised when I saw bright orange-red fish swimming upstream, first along the North Fork and then along Weitas Creek. And overwhelmed by what they were doing once I figured it out – especially when I was a close to them while walking the Weitas Creek trail and could see the individual fish as they fought their way upstream, or floated back downriver with the current when their energy was gone.

Kokanee are land locked sockeye salmon. They have been stocked into several streams in the region, after dams were built without accommodations for the fish that must pass the dams if they are to breed and spend their early years in fresh water streams, yet travel to the ocean to grow into adulthood. Behind Dworshak Dam is one of those areas.

The fresh water that Kokanee mature in is much less nutritious than the ocean. They weigh about one pound when they spawn, while sockeye mature at seven to 14 pounds. But the sight of hundreds of kokanee swimming upstream to spawn and die is still breathtaking.

Directions: Take Highway 12 east from Lewiston to Greer. Turn east on Highway 11 at Greer and continue through Weippe almost to Pierce. Just before Pierce turn east on French Mountain Road. Soon after, you’ll see signs indicating the mileage to Kelly Creek – 49 miles. This road is paved at the start, then gravel, as is the road along the North Fork of the Clearwater which you’ll turn east on 30 miles later. Weitas Creek is about four miles up the road on the right, signed and with a bridge across the Clearwater. If the French Mountain Road is not open, take the Grangemont Road out of Orofino and the Beaver Creek Road to the North Fork and Weitas Creek.

Information: North Fork Ranger District, CWNF, (208) 476-0129.

Maps: USGS Pot Mountain and Lean-to-Point, Idaho. The Lolo Motorway end is on Lookout Mountain, Idaho. Cook Mountain, Liz Butte, and Holly Creek have the mid-sections of the trail.