As of Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Thousands of people travel Idaho’s U.S. Highway 12 along the Lochsa River every year without noticing the waterfalls created by the sometimes unnamed creeks making their way to the river. The waterfalls don’t rival Victoria Ralls in South Africa, but a careful spotter is rewarded with pristine, beautiful surprises tucked amid the trees, yet visible from the road. Traveling east from Kooskia, the round trip for a little waterfall hunt will take about three hours and may be punctuated by wildlife sightings and opportunities to watch rafters and kayakers negotiate the whitewater.
The first of the waterfalls is at Tumble Creek between mileposts 113 and 114. As with the rest of the falls on the hunt, there is a highway pullout nearby. Get out of the car, stretch your legs and examine the waterfall more clearly. It may seem unimpressive at first, but if you look a bit higher up into the trees, you’ll see that it is falling 20-30 feet.
Watch for Horsetail Falls between mileposts 114 and 115. You’ll catch glimpses of it through the trees, high on the hillside, before you reach the turnout. In the spring, it looks like a scene from a fantasy movie with its lush, mossy backdrop. Horsetail Falls drops 60 to 100 over a massive basalt outcropping.
Shoestring Falls is across the river between mileposts 115 and 116. It falls 150 to 200 feet in a series of steps and may be the most difficult to spot. Watch the bank for the place where the creek enters the river and follow it up the hillside.
The final waterfall on the hunt is Wild Horse Creek Falls, also located between mileposts 115 and 116. The closest pullout is just past the falls and it is a short walk back to view them more closely. Use caution, as drivers will not be expecting pedestrians on the narrow shoulder of the road.
The grandmother of local waterfalls can be viewed on the way back to Kooskia. Turn left at the Selway River Road at Lowell, which is located at the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway rivers. The upriver road is paved partway and then turns to well-maintained gravel for the 18-mile trip. The Selway flows wide and shallow just before the falls and then is pushed between rock walls and down through gigantic boulders to form a powerful, crashing froth of whitewater that is easily viewed from the road above. Visitors in late spring and early summer may witness salmon leaping from the water as they travel upstream to spawn.