RIVER OF THE MONTH
Big Sheep Creek Big Sheep Creek pours from Canada’s Monashee Mountains and crosses into the remote northeast corner of Washington, where it winds through a broad, lush valley before joining the Columbia River. The valley’s fertile terrain traverses an area known as “the Wedge,” a major travel route for large mammals migrating between the United States and Canada.
Why It Matters
TOM AND PAT LEESON DIANE HIGDEM
Big Sheep Creek is flanked by pristine wetlands, meadows, ponds and side-streams that nourish everything from insects and trout to bighorn sheep and grizzly bears. The stream is the centerpiece of the Wedge, one of the most important wildlife corridors in the Pacific Northwest. It’s critical for rare and imperiled animals that depend on routes like this for survival.
Flowing clear and cold from its Monashee Mountain headwaters, Big Sheep Creek is an important refuge for two imperiled trout species: redband rainbow trout, designated a species of special concern, and bull trout, which is a threatened species across the Columbia basin. The creek is also an important source of cold water for the Columbia River, which sustains numerous salmon, steelhead, lamprey and other coldwater fish species. DAVE JENSEN
More than just about anywhere in Washington, the Big Sheep Creek area is known for its large mammals and rare predators like Canada lynx and wolverine. It is ground zero for Washington’s recovering grizzly population and supports caribou, moose, Rocky Mountain elk and the creek’s namesake bighorn sheep. Birds like American peregrine falcon, great gray owl, northern three-toed woodpecker, spruce grouse and goshawk abound.
BIG SHEEP CREEK, WASHINGTON
How to See It
For those with patience and a sense of adventure, Big Sheep Creek offers incredible wildlife encounters in a remote, wild landscape. From the town of Northport, Big Sheep Creek Road traces the Valley through the Colville National Forest to within a half mile of the Canadian border. Due to snowpack, access is best April-October.
One of America’s wildest hiking routes, the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail bisects the Big Sheep Creek Valley along its spectacular, 1,200-mile route from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. Trail section 4 includes the Sheep Creek Campground. Check conditions and plan your trip before you go.
The fishing on Big Sheep Creek can be excellent, if only for the splendid isolation that makes the trip worthwhile, with or without fish. Anglers chase redband trout starting Memorial Day weekend, with multiple access points off Big Sheep Creek Road.
Monashee Provincial Park (British Columbia Parks)
Grizzly bears could make a return to WA — for real this time (Crosscut) Moose: Living with Wildlife (Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife) 25 Photos that will make you want to hike the Pacific Northwest Trail (Outdoor Project) Best Times of Year to Visit Fishing: Jun-Oct Hiking: Spring through fall Wildlife: Spring and fall Hunting: Fall www.westernrivers.org
View Wildlife Wildlife sightings are almost guaranteed, with plenty of opportunities to see bighorns, elk (they rut September-October), beaver, small mammals, migrating birds and waterfowl. Use caution when viewing moose and bear, and wear orange during hunting season.
CO N S E R VAT I O N
THE WRC STORY In 2015, Western Rivers Conservancy protected a crucial stretch of Big Sheep Creek when we acquired 2,440 acres at Bennet Meadows. A virtual Eden for wildlife, the property includes four miles of stellar riparian and wetland habitat, as well as the sprawling meadows for which it is named. The acquisition connected a vital corridor for animals like grizzly and Canada lynx moving between the Kettle Mountains and the North Cascades. Five grizzly bears documented on the property form more than half of Washington’s recovering grizzly population. WRC conveyed the lands to the Colville National Forest to forever protect this important wildlife area. We also preserved access to a key reach of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail that runs through the property, ensuring that the public will always be able to hike, fish and view wildlife in this unique landscape.
How to Help
TOM AND PAT LEESON