Pend Oreille River Water Trail

2021-09 Paddle from Newport ID to Ione WA

In early September 2021, a friend and I paddled the first 50 miles of the 71-mile long Pend Oreille River water trail: from it’s beginning in Newport, Idaho to Ione, Washington. We used a car and our bikes for the shuttle.

This was three days of paddling and biking. All biking was on the east side of the river. Hot weather, no shade, and the river was very slow, so this was a long, lake-like paddle. Not many places to stop for bathroom breaks. Some camping options along the route, but not a lot. Enjoyed the adventure, but overall this was a slow, not very scenic trip (with some exceptions, primarily near Boundary Dam, and the section just above Box Canyon Dam looked interesting), with limited stopping points, and I probably won’t feel compelled to repeat the portion we did unless perhaps I am able to find a time when the river current is up due to a dam release. But I would like to cover the portions of the water trail I didn’t get to, and I wonder how hard it would be to do the remainder of the river in Canada, joining the Columbia River and returning to the U.S. that way.

Day 0: Drove to eastern Washington to be ready for a morning start.

Day 1: Drove the rest of the way to Newport (just across the border in Idaho); dropped off kayaks by the launch; drove to the water access at Usk; biked back to Newport (18 miles; 1 hr 45 min); paddled to Usk (17 river miles; 6.5 hrs); drove to Panhandle Campground for the night. (Panhandle is on the river, and we had reserved two nights as we would be boating in and staying here again the next night.)

Day 2: Dropped car at Ione City Park (*not* Riverfront Park, which despite its name is not on the river); biked back to Usk (35 miles; 4 hrs including a stop for lunch as we passed camp); and paddled to Panhandle Campground (15 miles; 5.5 hrs; arrived shortly after dark and almost ran into a gravel bar or something we couldn’t see until we were paddling right beside it).

Day 3: Broke camp and paddled the rest of the way to Ione City Park (19 miles; 8 hrs). Started encountering motorboats etc. as we approached Ione. Collected the car; dispersed camping in Colville National Forest.

Day 4: Some sightseeing around Metaline Falls, then drove up to Boundary Dam (lots of people here) and paddled from there upriver. You quickly come to Pee Wee Falls, which is tall and dramatic. Not much further you enter Z Canyon, which is very scenic. Then we camped at Edgewater Campground for the night.

Day 5: Drove back to Usk to collect our bikes, then returned to Seattle.

Other notes:

  • Reportedly the literal Metaline Falls section of the river, now completely under water due to Boundary Dam, remains dangerous depending on paddler’s skill, preparedness, and the water level. I never found info on how to gauge whether it’s safe to paddle.
  • A bike shuttle between the town of Metaline Falls and Boundary Dam would involve significant gradient.
  • We were completely unable to find the Dewitt Road stop along the water trail approaching Ione. (It is supposedly merely a stopping point and Ione City Park is but two miles further down, so not a huge loss, but disappointing if you’re really looking for a break.)
  • Skookum Creek Campground is given as a possible camping spot along the route, but it involves paddling a little ways up Skookum Creek, including passing through a culvert which was impassible when we drove by to check it out, and there was no real option for a portage. Furthermore, in our exploration we didn’t really see how you would get from the creek to the campground. (Though perhaps that would have been clearer if arriving by the creek.)
  • Supposedly there are occasional dam releases which result in more current on the river, but I don’t know how to find out when these would be.