Winding Up the Rapid River Trail

The prairie sky taunted us with droplets of rain as I loaded my son and our gear in the truck. Thunderheads had rolled into Riggins the night before, and the forecast promised us afternoon rain. Now it looked like we might be hiking wet all day. But this weekend was the one shot I had to hit the trail, so off we went, wipers wiping.

The trick is to let the weather be part of the adventure.

We headed south along Highway 95 past Cottonwood and past Grangeville, taking that shortcut along Johnson Road. There’s nothing quite like that view as you come up over White Bird Summit headed south. The whole world falls away below you in watershed ripples of mountain ridge upon mountain ridge.

The jagged history of two peoples is written into those steep hillsides.

As we headed down the canyon toward Riggins, Jacob kept shouting, “Water!” every time he saw the Salmon River. When I tried to tell him it was called a river, he said, “No. Water!”

“Can you say, ‘river’?”

“Wiver?” He repeated back to me.

“Yeah! Very good!” And suddenly we had a new game.


“Can you say, ‘river’?”


“Good job!”

“Water!” He’d start again, laughing with delight.

We followed the “wiver” down through the steelhead town of Riggins, hung a right on Rapid River Road, and wound our way up to the fish hatchery. Brown Forest Service signs across the street led us up a steep drive to the trailhead parking lot where we were greeted by some fellow Trekkers ready to hit the trail.

Brief introductions between people who feel like they already know each other is a common experience for The Clearwater Trekkers. Soon, we were geared up and ready to go.



I wasn’t sure how far we were going to get today, because we kept stopping to take pictures at every bend. Pre-history and geologic mysteries painted high cliff faces. Shallow caves and deep holes bored into steep mountain sides. The trail wound its way down to the river carving its way through it all.

We pointed fingers and cameras at everything, and I soon learned that my hiking companions were Forest Service veterans with a wealth of knowledge about the local flora. We hiked at the pace of curiosity discovering Trillium flowers, Pacific Yews, and discussing the difference between Grand and Douglas Fir leaves. Grand Fir leaves lay flat while Douglas Fir leaves poke out like a bottle brush.

There are some primitive campsites along the trail, and even a small “beach” the dogs took advantage of to cool of their feet. The first bridge is a little less than a mile in and the second one is a little over three miles in. Shortly after the second bridge the trail splits off with Trail #59 following the Main Fork of Rapid River to the left and Trail #113 continuing to the right along the West Fork.

We didn’t make it that far, though. We stopped at the second bridge for lunch and a few more pictures before heading back. We set a slightly faster pace on the way back, but there was no rush. The rains never came, just the warm sun and welcome breeze.

We shared the trail with several other day hikers, too. The second bridge seems to be the popular turn around spot. It’s a good trail for families and dogs.

They say it’s a year-round trail, but the best times to go are late Spring and early Fall to avoid the heat and snakes. We seem to have hit the trail at a prime time for weather and blooming flora…and tics. I had to pick two of them off of myself, and brushed one off of my dog, but Jacob and my companions were tic free. Neither did I find any on my dogs after a full pat down when we got home. Maybe I just smelled good to ‘em.

We didn’t linger at the trailhead, but bid each other adieu, already looking forward to the next time we would share the trail.



The Clearwater Trekkers try to make it out once a month or so, sometimes joining up with other hiking groups. We also enjoy overnight trips that take us deeper into the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, or to places like Kirkwood Ranch. We appreciate you being here to share our stories, and invite you to join us on the trail. You can sign up for our newsletter, leave a comment, or message me below, and you can be part of the conversation on Facebook at The Clearwater Trekkers. We’d love to hear from you!


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