Hike Swan Falls and Wees Bar Petroglyphs

Details

Distance

12 miles

Elevation Gain

839 ft

Route Type

Out-and-Back

Added by Chad Albright

At 12 miles long Swan Falls- Wees Bar Petroglyphs Trail is long and at times a bit tedious. But when you start to find all the ancient history buried here, your inner Indiana Jones comes out and it gives you a jolt of energy that keeps your feet pumping and your curiosity peaked.

To start your journey, you must cross the Swan Falls Dam. It’s a low-level thrill but it is not often you get to walk on top of a hydroelectric dam. If you are bringing a four-legged friend with you, make sure you have some treats to lure them across. The pathway across the dam is steel grate and that can sometimes make your pup nervous.

Priest Ranch Homestead and Orchard

After crossing the Dam take a left and take the trail a few hundred feet until you reach a larger jeep trail. Then go right and follow the river the rest of the way.  At a little over halfway to the petroglyphs, you’ll stumble upon the former site of the Priest Ranch Homestead and what is left of their orchard. The Priest Ranch ran a ferry operation that took settlers up and down the snake river in the early 1900’s all the way up to World War I.  The Snake River’s water level eventually rose higher and higher until it swept the homestead away.  The foundation still remains but is very hard to find due to overgrowth. Don’t waste your time searching for it as just up the trail is the Wees Bar Stone House which is much more impressive.

Wees Bar Stone House

In the beginning of the 20th century, James Lowell Wees bought the mining claims to the area surrounding you. The large stone building housed Wees and his partners. Wee’s once claimed there was enough gold in the cliffs to fully reduce the national debt. While the 4 bedroom house is bigger than you’d expect for that time period, its no mega-mansion. We can assume by the lack of solid gold walls and imported greek columns that Wee’s and his crew never found their fortune. But impressively the lava rock walls are still standing to this day. Perhaps he would have had better luck starting a construction company.

Wees Bar Indian Petroglyphs

Directly across from the stone house are the first of many petroglyphs you can find in the area. According to the National Register of Historic Places, the petroglyphs can mostly be contributed to the ancient ancestors of the Nez Pierce and Shoshone Indian Tribes.

The rocks are littered with pictures of humans, animals, and geometric designs. As one of the largest known collections of Petroglyph collections in Idaho, you can spend hours trying to find all the carvings.

If you would like to dig a little deeper into the history of the area you can read Nomination Report that was submitted to National Register of Historic Places in 1977 by clicking here. It covers the original archeological findings and their significance.

Thinking about biking to the petroglyphs? Check out this adventure.


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Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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