Pretty mountain stream with no crowds
Type: out and back
Distance: 20 miles round trip (can be made shorter or longer to suit the individual)
Difficulty: moderate with around 1,500′ elevation gain over the trip
Best season: May – October
We had been curious about hiking the Weitas Creek trail for some time. We had camped at the Weitas Campground many times over the years and had covered the first couple miles of trail back before we were “real” hikers. All we knew was that at approximately 2 miles in, the trail narrowed from an ATV road to a trail, crossed a bridge, and climbed steeply away from the water.
In 2011, the Forest Service closed the access bridge that crosses the North Fork of the Clearwater River into Weitas Campground to all traffic (including foot) due to structural concerns. Begrudgingly, we obeyed the rules and did not visit Weitas for five long years.
In late September 2015, the Forest Service reopened the bridge after stabilization repairs were made. We drove through on our way to fall camp in October 2015 and found the campground and road moderately overgrown. Fast forward to June 2016, I called the Forest Service and inquired if they had any information on the trail. They reported having no information since the bridge had closed and that no crews had worked the trail during that time.
The forecast for the first weekend of June 2016 was for well above normal highs. With temperatures at 90-100 degrees at home, we would have loved to hit the high mountains— problem is, the good stuff is still snow bound the first of June in the Inland Northwest. After some deliberating, we decided on Weitas Creek where we thought the angle of the canyon would provide morning shade and Jason would be able to do a little early season fishing.
Thanks to getting off work a little early and freshly graded access roads, we pulled into Weitas Creek Campground (elevation 2,348’) at 7:45 Friday night and found it empty except one quiet couple. We headed straight to the back of the campground to a spot that was perfect for one small tent and was a distance away from all the other spots, guaranteeing we wouldn’t have close neighbors if someone came in late. We threw the tent up quick and settled into bed by 8:30.
We were awake before daylight. We quickly agreed that we should pack up and hit the trail early while temperatures were still cool. The pinpoint forecast for Weitas showed a high around 90 degrees both days, but at that early hour it was a cool 45 degrees. We climbed out of the tent at 3:45, had coffee and breakfast, and were ready to hit the trail at 5:45. Not knowing what we’d find ahead on the trail, we left our car camping tent set up at the campground just in case we had to turn around.
The Weitas Creek trail begins at the back of the campground. The early start was wonderful with the cool morning temperatures making for very comfortable hiking. We quickly covered the nearly flat double track trail 2.3 miles to Johnny Creek. The trail in this stretch was in good condition, but had obviously seen negligible use over the past 5 years. This is an enjoyable stretch of trail with some good creek views. I recommend it for those wanting a short hike.
Immediately after crossing Johnny Creek bridge, the trail began a relatively short but moderately steep ascent. We climbed a couple hundred feet and then the trail made its way along the hillside high above the creek. We had limited creek views, the forest was recovering from a burn, and there were a lot small downed branches to navigate along this narrow stretch of trail. A few spots had some decent exposure. I didn’t particularly care for this section of the trail which continued for roughly 1.5 miles before dropping down closer to Weitas at about 3.8 miles.
We were still a ways above the stream, but this was a much more enjoyable stretch. There were lots of big, healthy cedar trees and lush green ferns which provided shady and cool conditions as the day time temperatures rose. The only downside was the tick that I picked up here on the way out— no doubt because it was so damp and cool down in there.
At about a mile before the bridge that would take us across Weitas, we pulled up and away from the creek again. To the left we could see burned forest- maybe 5 years prior. Ahead, we reached a section of blown down trees. We had seen several trees that had recently been cleared from the trail, but that stopped here. We had at least a dozen large downed trees to navigate around, but it wasn’t too bad. The trail became faint in a few places.
At 8 miles in, the trail bottomed out at FS road 555. This was a narrow single track that appeared to be very lightly used. We turned right and walked a short distance to the nice bridge crossing Weitas. There were two trucks with horse trailers parked next to the bridge. We wouldn’t see anyone the whole time we were there, but clearly the road in was navigable (the FS website had said it was still closed due to snow drifts).
We crossed the bridge and continued up road 555, passing the continuation of the Weitas Creek trail to the left followed by the side road to Weitas Guard Station. We continued approximately 0.5 miles uphill to where a spur road took off to the right. We followed this single track road approximately 0.5 miles downhill.
The road bottomed out at a major stream crossing and then the single track road continued on the other side. We decided to wade the crossing and see what was further ahead. The topo map showed a flat and Jason thought the fishing might look more accessible there. We dropped our packs and waded across. The crossing was moderately difficult for me. The water came to above my knees and was quite swift. It required full concentration and trekking poles for me to remain vertical.
Safely on the other side, we found a lovely flat grassy area at 9.3 miles from the trailhead. Weitas access was better here and there was the side stream that Jason could fish. As we explored a little more, we found a sweet campsite tucked back in and under some cedar trees. It was well shaded, had a nice grassy spot… and even had a picnic table and fire pit!! We couldn’t believe our luck.
We went back to the stream crossing where Jason was nice enough to carry my pack across for me. By 11:00 we were setting up camp and temperatures had climbed to 71 in the shade. We had managed to hike in shade almost the entire way. The early start had paid off.
As we set up camp, a bald faced hornet flew into the tent. I was half inside and blowing up our air mattresses and was mortified when I realized what the buzzing insect was and then even more so when I saw him snatch a little bug from inside the tent and proceed to devour him right in front of me. We had a few flying around camp the rest of the afternoon, but they were pretty non-aggressive to us- thank heavens!
After setting up camp, Jason did some fishing while I grabbed my camp chair and Kindle and hung out in the shade. I had a nice view of Weitas Creek in front of me. Across the way, I had views of the hillside which had burned several years prior. The grasses were very green and it was pretty despite the burned trees. Temperatures reached 86 degrees in the shade for most of the afternoon— a great afternoon to relax in the mountains.
Highlights of the afternoon included an osprey that flew right over me and landed in the trees a short distance away as well as more butterflies than we had ever seen in one place. They were everywhere and in big clusters. We saw the same thing the following day on the way out.
We settled in for an early dinner and spent the evening reading our Kindles. We had quite a few mosquitoes hanging around, but otherwise it was a lovely evening.
After probably my best night’s sleep out backpacking, we awoke around 3:30 and were up by 3:45. The temperature was 46 degrees and we were hoping to beat the heat again. We had to use headlamps for just a bit, but not long thanks to the long days. We had our coffee and breakfast and then got busy breaking down camp. We were all packed up and on the trail by 5:45. By now the mosquitoes were also awake and we were happy to get moving in an attempt to outrun them.
First up was that stream crossing. Neither of us had been looking forward to crossing in the cold morning temperatures, but we had no choice. Once again, Jason was my hero and made a double crossing in order to carry my gear across. Immediately after crossing, we got moving to warm up. Fortunately, we had a half mile uphill stretch first thing which helped warm us up. We weren’t cold for long.
The return hike was uneventful. We made our way over the downed trees without much incident. We enjoyed cool temperatures and shade for nearly the entire hike. We did have some sun for a few short stretches on the last couple miles of trail.
We returned to the Jeep around 10:30. We hadn’t seen a single soul the entire time, but we did see steller’s jay, osprey, kingfisher, white tail deer, snake, hundreds of butterflies… and ticks, mosquitoes, and bald faced hornets.
Directions to trailhead: Take highway 12 east from Lewiston to Greer. Take a left onto Highway 11 in Greer. Climb the Greer Grade and continue through the small logging town of Weippe and almost to Pierce. Just before entering Pierce, turn east onto well signed French Mountain Road. This winding mountain road is initially paved and then turns to gravel several miles mast French Mountain Summit. Travel approximately 30 miles to a bridge crossing the North Fork of the Clearwater River. Turn right immediately after crossing the bridge onto FS Road #250 and continue another 4-5 miles to the well signed Weitas Creek Campground. The trail begins at the back of the campground.