The California Legislature added The West Walker River and a short segment of Leavitt Creek (a tributary), to the state system in 1989. The river’s designation was in response to a state study mandated by the Legislature in 1987 that found the river to be eligible for state protection. Designation of the West Walker (along with the East Carson) was the first expansion of the state system since it was established in 1972. The public lands along the river’s protected segment are managed by the Forest Service as part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. There are also state wildlife lands managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Forest Service has also found the river to be eligible for federal protection.
The state study of the West Walker found the river from its source at Tower Lake in the Hoover Wilderness to where the river flows into the Antelope Valley near the small town of Walker to possess extraordinary scenic, recreational, fish, wildlife, and hydrological values. The West Walker is a rare undammed eastern Sierra river. With its upper watershed framed by the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada, the river flows through the Hoover Wilderness and into scenic Leavitt and Pickle Meadows. After meandering through meadows, the river then enters a rocky canyon, where it is paralleled by Highway 395. Fishing access spots, campgrounds, and picnic areas along the river are accessible from the highway.
Jeffrey pine and sagebrush dominate the canyon slopes, with cottonwood and willow found along the riverbank. The river maintains high quality habitat for wild trout and provides diverse habitat for a variety of wildlife, including several sensitive, threatened, and endangered species. The protected segment of Leavitt Creek tumbles over a high waterfall viewable from Highway 108 upstream of its confluence with West Walker River.