Redbird Canyon


Why? Fine open canyon available early and late; hints of the past; rock outcrops and groves of lichen-coated locust.

Season: Though probably open year-round, this hike is best done when the weather is cool, before late April and after late October.

Ease: Difficult. It’s 5.5 miles and a bit over 2,200 feet in elevation change, one way, down on the way in and up on the way back to the car.

Redbird Canyon is a delight of a hike, though one that will get your attention, especially if hiked early in the season before your feet are hardened. It’s a place to enjoy the shape of the hills that make up the Snake River country, to look for wildlife and enjoy the plants that thrive in a place that bakes all summer.

And don’t let the elevation change put you off, even though you’ll be hiking uphill on the way out. The grades really are quite fine, and the general pattern of the hike seems to be to intersperse an uphill with a bit of almost level. Which is not to say that you won’t be glad to see your car at the end – I surely was. Just that it’s a more enjoyable walk than you might think.

The trail actually is old roadbed, which also should help tell you that the grades aren’t too bad. Though it’s mostly in the open, there are enough treed glades to provide a bit of relief – plus the creek itself has shrubs and trees in the bits of creek bed nearest it. All along the way, there is occasional evidence of habitation: bits of old wood fencing, an old corral, a few rock walls, a crumbling foundation.

I hiked Redbird in early March, during one of those years when spring seemed uncertain about whether or not it should arrive. There were bits of snow in the highest hills, fields of fluffy white seed heads nearby. The rose bushes showed red in their stems. The ground level vegetation was just starting to show green, sometimes only if you looked real hard.

The most amazing color was in the bottom third of the trail, where lavishly decked out locust trees glowed orange with what I assume was a lichen.

The most abundant wildlife was deer, oddly all white-tailed but one, even though the area looks much more like mule deer country that white-tailed.

The trail is rocky in spots, with two crossings of Redbird Creek. There’s a fine beach at the end with picnic tables, though one is almost buried in the sand and another is hanging and slanting at the river’s edge, looking like it will be carried away in the next big dam release. While you’re picnicking, you’ll notice the biggest oddity of all: you’ve hiked all this way to picnic on a beach with a view of the road from Asotin to Heller’s Bar complete with houses and traffic.

History: The beach at mouth of river was winter village for Nez Perce Tribe for at least 2,500 years, until 1863. That land was homesteaded starting in 1887. In 2006, the entire canyon was purchased by the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the benefit of wildlife and recreation. It’s leased to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Corral area at beach.

Directions: From Lewiston, drive Thain Grade to its end on the Tammany Creek Rd. Go right when Tammany Creek becomes the 540 Road, the right again on Waha Road at milepost 13. Turn right on Redbird Rd. between milepost 7 and 8, and right into the parking area 0.8 mile later.

Information: Idaho Department of Fish and Game, (208) 799-5010

Maps: USGS Waha and Captain John Rapids, Idaho, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area map.