Wenatchee National Forest

Chiwawa Valley Auto Tour

Human use of the Chiwawa River valley goes back a long way. Indians set up camp at various places along the river to fish, hunt, and pick huckleberries. Prospectors looking for gold, silver, copper, and marble further trampled the river trail. Mining claims and homesteads brought more traffic, enough to widen the trail to a wagon road. By the 1910's activity in the area that would later be known as Trinity was so great that Chelan County allocated funds for the Chiwawa"mine to market" road.

Today, the Chiwawa Valley Road #62 provides access to 15 forest service campgrounds, 22 hiking trails, and many opportunities for fishing, hunting, mushrooming, and snowmobiling. Black bear, mule deer, elk, beaver, cougar, bobcat, great blue heron, northern spotted owl, and mountain goat are only a few of the wildlife species that inhabit the Chiwawa forest. The half-million-acre Glacier Peak Wilderness lies just north of Trinity, the former mining town at the end of the 24-mile road.

This auto tour begins at the junction of the Chiwawa Valley Road #62 and Chelan County Road #22 (the Chiwawa Loop Road, just south of Fish Lake). If your vehicle has a trip mileage meter, you may wish to set it at zero at the junction.

2.9 miles: Chiwawa River Bridge
Step out of your car and walk to the bank of the Chiwawa River. Listen to the sound of the water rippling over rocks, and see if you can spot any of the native fish species that inhabit the river: spring chinook salmon, steelhead, rainbow and cutthroat trout, bull trout, sculpin, sucker, and mountain whitefish.

The Chiwawa provides excellent habitat for fish, especially upstream of Chikamin Creek. Vegetation along the banks provides cooling shade and fish food (insects). The river's diverse stream flow includes fast, bumpy stretches of water called "riffles" to add oxygen to the water, and pools for fish to rest and feed. Large woody debris in the water gives fish a good place to hide.

9.6 miles: Chikamin Flats
Chikamin Flats was once a popular Indian encampment during huckleberry season. On foot or horseback, then later by wagon, Wenatchi Indian families would journey to this area for a few weeks every August to pick berries and fish for salmon. They gathered the berries in huge cedar-root baskets, and spread them out in the sun to dry for winter use.

The most notable berry fields were on Huckleberry Mountain to the west, now called McCall Mountain; it was necessary to ford the Chiwawa to reach them. It was a common practice for Indians to set fire to small areas to burn young trees and make way for huckleberry bushes to spread.

12.0 miles: River Oxbows
The Chiwawa River is a "young" river in geological time. Formed by glacial activity, the valley has the characteristic broad "U" shape that allows the river to meander extensively. This meandering causes the river to slow down, deposit sediment, and form gravel bars-making deep curves called "oxbows." As water flows around a corner, the area with the fastest flow is usually on the outside. Silts and gravels are deposited on the slower inside of the curve. Logjams of dead trees from long ago line the oxbows below you. This large woody debris provides excellent habitat for fish.

13.4 miles: Debris Flow
Heavy rains around Thanksgiving 1990 caused major flooding in the Chiwawa-Lake Wenatchee-Leavenworth area. An interpretive sign at this auto tour stop explains how over-saturated soils yielded to gravity, causing a debris flow which knocked down mature trees and created a clearing. Can you imagine being carried along by the watery landslide?

13.5 miles: Guard Station
A wooden shed and a flagpole are all that remain of the old Rock Creek Guard Station. Built in 1913, the station was staffed in summer months by Forest Service rangers for more than 60 years. A phone line, installed here by 1917, enabled the ranger to relay forest fire reports from lookouts on Estes Butte and Carne Mountain to the Lake Wenatchee Ranger Station. The Rock Creek Guard Station was a gathering place for fire fighters waiting to be dispatched during lightning storms. It was also used to supervise Chiwawa valley sheep grazing allotments. Nowadays, Forest Service volunteers spend summers at the old station and offer information to visitors. The water from the pump is potable, and there is a toilet on the east side of the road.

15.5 miles: Chiwawa Horse Camp
You are now at the foot of 5,942-foot Estes Butte, where a major fire lookout stood from 1930 to 1969. Until the advent of radio in the 1950's, the lookout on duty communicated with the ranger station by hand crank telephone. Often on Saturday evenings someone would open the main telephone switchboard, enabling all Lake Wenatchee Ranger District lookouts to visit with each other. Estes Butte lookout Jim Curry would play requests on his accordion, while other lookouts sang along.

The Chiwawa Horse Camp was built in 1992 and 1993 to meet the demand for camping with horses. The Washington State Interagency Committee on Recreation provided the funding; the horse camp was built by the Forest Service with volunteer help from the Cascade Horse Club. Several short bridle trails take off from the campground, as do longer trails suitable for hikers and horses.

17.3 miles: Blue Pool
This section of the river is a good illustration of a flood plain. Flood plains are very important to river systems, for they allow high water flows to spread over a large area. This quiets the flow and lessens the destructive impact of a flood. When the river's velocity slows down, it deposits silt and sand. These deposits influence future channel positions within the flood plain.

In the late spring, when the river is swollen with melted snow from the surrounding mountains, the high water works on the river banks and can shift the main channel through bank erosion and deposition of gravel on the inside of corners. The Chiwawa River is constantly changing. The deep pool that was once at this spot gradually filled in when a logjam formed in the 1970's and slowed the river's flow.

21.0 miles: More Flood Damage
The flood of 1990 caused another massive debris flow here. Notice the trees that were carried from the hillside right into the river. The Chiwawa Road was closed for almost a year while crews cleared culverts and repaired the roadbed. At this site, a 250-foot stretch of the road was blocked by debris; the road crew rebuilt the road right on top of it, rather than clearing it away.

Effects of the landslide were not all bad. The logs in the river have created good fish habitat. The gravel that landed at the bottom of the river provides spawning habitat for chinook salmon, bull trout, steelhead, and resident trout.

23.8 miles: Trinity
The handful of buildings here are all that remain from a large mining settlement built in the 1920's. The Red Mountain Development Company of New York invested millions in a facility to mine and process ores of copper, silver, and gold. They built a sawmill to cut boards for the buildings and huge timbers for the mine tunnels. The mine and "town" had its own electrical power plant, running off Phelps Creek; still standing, the power house is the large dark wooden building behind the houses.

Mining operations began in 1930. But just as the first truckloads of ore were hauled down the Chiwawa Road to the railroad in the fall of 1931, word came from New York that the operation was bankrupt. The news caused a riot. The miners were to be paid on the basis of tonnage removed from the mine and sold. Most of the miners had spent their last dollars provisioning for the winter at Trinity, so they were devastated to learn that their sole source of income was destroyed.

Trinity is privately owned, with an easement to the Forest Service for the Buck Creek trail.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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