In our endlessly moist region, adrenaline junkies can simply turn to our bountiful watersheds for entertainment. Armed with whitewater kayaks, thrill seekers need look no further than the nearby Cascade Range for waterways overflowing with boulders, rapids, waterfalls and merciless drops. With thanks to the American Whitewater organization, we’ve included guides below to three of the roughest, toughest patches of hydrogen oxide in the state of Washington.
Middle Icicle Creek
Leavenworth, WA | ~5 miles
Johnny Creek Campground
to Eightmile Campground
Just east of the Cascades, this picture-perfect waterway spills over granite boulders and is surrounded by alpine forests. Yet this beauty earns a touch of ferocity for those who seek to tame it from the body of a kayak. If you need a Class III warm-up, put in at Ida Creek Campground, else simply jump into the belly of it all at Johnny Creek; there, the water almost immediately builds to Class IV with Roadside Attraction—a series of granite ledges at milepost 9.8—and then picks up quickly for about a half mile of Class IV+ obstacles. A brief respite is followed by the infamous Limbo rapid, which brings a large, churning drop especially in times of high water. Be sure to enjoy the peaceful float from there to Bridge Creek Campground, for it is quickly followed by a series of precarious events: a Class V+ drop with extremely hazardous pin potential and plenty of sieves in which to get stuck, followed by the Ricochet Class IV rapids with an option to take out at Eightmile Campground or continue on for bonus rounds of two miles, which brings a gradient increase of over 180 feet per mile culminating at the unrunnable Snow Creek Falls.
Nooksack River, North Fork
Glacier, WA | 4.5 miles
Canyon Creek Bridge to Glacier Springs
A stone’s throw from Mt. Baker Ski Area, this frothy creek lies just outside the Mt. Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest, where clear-cutting is permitted, making for a messy, log-jammed waterway at times. Watch out for wood! A half mile south of the bridge, the rough-and-tumble begins with large drops like a 10-foot waterfall followed immediately by a narrow slot with three ledges. Next are a series of six-foot ledges leading to a 15-foot waterfall and more six- to 10-foot ledges with very tricky lines to run between. After the canyon opens for a touch, expect some technical Class V drops, Class IV rapids and a “labyrinth of mini gorges” full of drops and rapids hugged close to a canyon wall. Portage a turbulent Class VI drop here, or take your chances if you dare. From then on, the river’s pace evens out a bit with easier Class IV and V drops with banked turns, tight slots and five- to six-foot drops and finishes with a boulder garden, a mandatory portage and a final ledge before simmering down to Class III for takeout at the Glacier Springs community.
Snoqualmie River, North Fork
North Bend, WA | 6.5 miles
Spur 10 Bridge to 428th St. Bridge
This stretch goes by the nickname “Ernie’s Gorge” in the whitewater community, stretching underneath Mt. Si for an easy commute from the Seattle area. Because it runs nearly year-round—except summer—it is ready to go whenever you have built up the necessary courage and stamina. Per American Whitewater, “when the flows are right, expert paddlers come from hundreds of miles away to challenge some of the most technical and powerful Class V creeking in the Cascades” at this very canyon. Start off with some mellow Class III/IV water in Hancock Rapids before diving into Ernie’s Gorge, where the river serves up two miles of big drops with names like Raft Catch and Room of Doom. After the last drop, stay tuned for the tightly banked Little Nasty and Big Nasty rapids followed shortly thereafter by the playful Toilet Bowl drop. It all culminates with a seemingly innocuous stretch of Class III that drops unexpectedly over an extreme 25-foot falls called “Jacuzzi,” chased with the ledges and seven-foot drop of Vertical Vortex. Call it a day at the bridge and eat something with lots of calories in North Bend.
➸ To learn more, visit americanwhitewater.org.
For a more mild adventure, the Bellevue Club offers annual rafting trips down the Wenatchee River. Look for details in upcoming issues of Reflections and youth newsletters.
Even More Epic Class V Whitewater
Cowlitz River : Lava Creek to La Wis Wis Campground
Ohanapecosh River : Ohanapecosh Campground to La Wis Wis Campground
Wenatchee River : Tumwater Campground to Leavenworth
Puyallup River : Niesson Creek to Electron
Elwha River : Grand Canyon
Stillaguamish River, South Fork: Verlot to Granite Falls
Cascade River : Marble Creek to Bridge
Lewis River, North Fork : Quartz Creek to Cussed Hollow
The Toughest Whitewater Raftingin Washington
Inflatables aren’t just for sissies. These rivers offer Class V rafting, and their corresponding outfitters are eager to make your spine-chilling dreams a reality.
Alpine Adventures, Wildwater River Guides
Alpine Adventures, Blue Sky Outfitters
Alpine Adventures, Wildwater River Guides
Alpine Adventures, Blue Sky Outfitters, Wildwater River Guides
White Salmon River
Blue Sky Outfitters, Wet Planet Whitewater, Wildwater River Guides
Wet Planet Whitewater