Western Washington supports a diverse set of rivers with amazing scenery of all kinds and a varied landscape of mountain ranges, rainforest, and coastal regions.
Green River Gorge
The Green River Gorge is usually rafted in March and April, when spring rains cause stronger releases from the dam. Dam releases are unpredictable, though, making timing trips at good water levels difficult. Most trips begin in Kanasket-Palmer State Park. Rafters soon find themselves surrounded by the tall canyon walls of the Green River Gorge. Ledge Drop 1 and Ledge Drop 2 supply challenges early on. More class 4 rapids like Pipeline, Mercury, and The Nozzle keep rafters on their toes. After navigating Paradise Ledge, take a moment to soak in the scenery and then whitewater continues. Once through the canyon, the lower section allows some time to relax with some easy class 2 and 3 rapids as rafters float into Flaming Geyser State Park. The park provides restrooms, changing rooms, picnic areas, and plenty of green grass for playing.
Forested river areas include the Skykomish and the Cispus. The Cispus River is just outside of the small town of Randle, about an hour and a half east of Chehalis, off of Highway 12. This river offers class 3 to 4 whitewater. The Cispus gets its water from snowmelt and rain, making the late spring through early summer its main season. Within the canyon, rafters encounter rapids with names like Big Bend and White Lightning. At this point, the river descends into a small basalt canyon. The river then widens and the mountains return into view to finish the trip.
Just an hour from Seattle, the Skykomish River is considered the most challenging commercially run river in Washington State. The “Sky,” provides plenty of action for even the most seasoned rafting pro. Most of this river is class 3 to 3+, the highlight of the trip is Boulder Drop, a class 4+ rapid. This is the only river that the State of Washington steps in and requires helmets by law. Skykomish River rafting season is April through July. Most trips start in the town of Index. Trips end in a calm area of the river called Big Eddie.
Suiattle and Sauk Rivers
Both the Suiattle and Sauk rivers are federally protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers act. Both are located in the Northern Cascades near Darrington. The Suiattle offers class 2 to 3 whitewater. Since the Suiattle’s water source is glacial, the hotter weather brings more water and the best levels for rafting are in July and August. The Sauk River offers class 3 to 4 whitewater.
Upper Skagit River
For calmer trips allowing for viewing of wildlife along with the scenery, try the Skagit or Nisqually Rivers. Located just north of Darrington in the North Cascades, the Skagit River plays two roles in river rafting. In the summer the upper portion of the Skagit serves as a mild run, with mostly class 1 to 2 rapids and one class 3 rapid called The ‘S’ Curves. This is a late summer run, usually August through October. Blue-green water and views of the Cascades round out this trip.
Lower Skagit River
In the winter months, December through February, people from all over come to the lower section, which runs through the Skagit River Bald Eagle Natural Area, to view the largest gathering of bald eagles in the lower 48 as they feast on salmon. This float trip is the best way to get up close to these birds as they perch along the river’s edge. It’s not unusual to count over 200 eagles while on the river. This stretch is a class 1 float and is calm enough to drink hot chocolate and photograph the eagles.
The Nisqually River, located about 45 minutes from Olympia, provides a leisurely class 1 to 2 float. Thick forest and abundant wildlife serve as the backdrop to this trip. Most of the scenery on this trip is untouched by modern man providing a window into the past. The Nisqually River is raftable for most of the year but spring through early fall is the preferable time as the weather is warmer.
For great whitewater close to civilization, the Wenatchee is the place to go. People flock to the Wenatchee each season from April through July. Considered to be a low hazard river, the Wenatchee offers sections of water to suit just about every paddling or rowing skill. Located about 2 hours East of Seattle, the Wenatchee runs right through Leavenworth.
White Salmon River
Federally protected as a Wild & Scenic River, the White Salmon River is one of the most beautiful rivers in Washington State. Located in South Central Washington, the White Salmon is just across the Columbia River from Hood River, Oregon and within an hour and a half from Portland. The water in this river is provided by melting glaciers and underground springs, supplying the White Salmon with some of the cleanest water in the country. Lush greenery and trees complete this picturesque river.
Only 10 rafting companies hold permits to run the White Salmon river. Most trips start out in BZ Corner, a little town whose recognition is for its access to the White Salmon River. Here the river flows through a 135 foot deep canyon. Rafts once had to be lowered by cable to river due to the steepness of the decent into the canyon. In 2001 the Forest Service replaced the cable system with a sliding rail system that makes access easier not only to rafts but to rafters, whom have to hike down into the canyon. The excitement of the White Salmon begins right away as the BZ Corner put in is actually in the middle of Top Drop, a class 4 rapid! The river continues in a “pool and drop” pattern, with exciting rapids that drop down into calm pools, like Corkscrew and Waterspout. Stairsteps is a favorite, with a series of one to three-foot ledges like a set of long, wide stairs.