Lion Creek is an incredible trip that takes quite a bit of time to figure out the first time down but which can be completed much quicker on succeeding trips. The overall difficulty of the run will increase as flows increase. If you get to the put-in and are concerned about the major rapids, it is easy to scout from the road grade that parallels the creek. This run is also hiker-friendly because the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail parallels the creek, so this is a great run to bring non-boater or photographer friends looking for an adventure.
To get to the creek, head toward Priest Lake and then drive up the road that parallels Lion Creek. Drive to the end of this road and visually mark the take-out. Due to the hazardous nature of the rapid just below the take-out, it is imperative to mark your take-out with flagging or something visible from river level. Below the take-out the creek enters a rapid with a nasty overhang at head level and then drops 200 feet in the next quarter mile.
The trip to the upper section begins with an easy hike on an old road grade. You will reach a point in the old road grade trail that is easy to identify as a primitive camp site at approximately 1.5 miles in. At this point the road seems to cross Lion Creek and head toward Kent Creek on river left of Lion Creek. You may choose to put in here, or hike a little bit further up Lion creek on the PNT and to the put-in at the top of a large granite slide. Above the put-in slide is more whitewater, but this is marginally navigable and more on the Class V+ side of things.
After running the slide, a locally known natural waterslide is found above the Kent Creek confluence on river left. A hike up Kent Creek to do the waterslide can be a good addition to the trip. Hike through some brush on a primitive trail following up Kent Creek. Note that it is critical to stop at a pothole halfway down the slide: The consequences for missing the pothole are continuing 100 feet further down the slide and into a nasty undercut. Lower summer flows are more advisable.
The next bedrock feature on Lion Creek below the confluence with Kent Creek wraps around a couple of corners, starting with some easy read-and-run whitewater and quickly building into a significant and sometimes portaged rapid. It is easiest to get out on the left before the first of the small slides to be able to scout the whole series of drops.
More interesting whitewater continues below this rapid. Be sure to scout thoroughly and watch for snags throughout the run; wood has been a problem in the past.
From this point there is a break from the action that provides excellent views of the expansive landscape and local wildlife. This area has many similarities to some of the often visited areas in Yosemite National Park. At the end of the meadow there are some Class III rapids that are quickly interrupted by a large horizon line.
The first drop is best scouted on the left and portaged on the right. The most obvious line is down the left, though there were other options that had potential. It is prudent to place someone with a throw rope at the base of this drop as it leads directly into another large slide with high injury potential in the event of a missed line. Fortunately, the second drop has a clear line on the far right. The two drops together make for a very exciting rapid, but one to also be taken seriously. There is a small pool in between these two and another tall granite cascade to follow.
The next cascade features a number of fun moves in the right channel and some serious injury potential in the left. This cascade can be easily scouted and portaged on the right. Because the bank is so easy to move around on, it is easy to set up safety where it is needed. It can be helpful to position a person in the channel below the first vertical part of the rapid to help direct boats over a shallow bit mid-rapid. The rapid ends in a couple of sizeable holes that can be cleared with the speed attained from the slide following the shallow spot.
Downstream of this is a final challenging rapid before things ease to Class III-IV down to the take-out.
Road and stream conditions vary year to year. Be sure to check snow levels, road conditions, and scout on the river. Flows for this trip were 450 cfs on the Boundary Creek gage and 600 cfs on the Pack River gauge.