Nooksack, N. Fork, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||II-III (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||53 fpm|
|NF NOOKSACK RIVER BL CASCADE CREEK NR GLACIER, WA|
|usgs-12205000||600 - 2000 cfs||II-III||00h53m||924 cfs (running)|
FUN FACT: Glacier melt water when other runs are going dry.
EVENTS: The annual Nooksack Slalom Race held in early October each year and organized by the League of Northwest Whitewater Racers.
SEASON: Glaciers on the slopes of Mt. Baker keep this run flowing from late spring to early fall. While year around paddling opportunities are available, this is often a good run in late summer or early fall when other runs are too low. Paddlers should note that with the 2000 paddling season, the Forest Service initiated management actions for salmon that affect paddler use of the river.
The Nooksack River is an important river for Chinook salmon which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. These fish are particularly vulnerable when spawning (August thru September). American Whitewater has developed the following guidelines with the US Forest Service for recreational activities on the North Fork Nooksack for the protection of these fish:
1) Avoid recreational activities that include contact access on the water (e.g. paddling, fishing, wading) from the second Monday in August to October 15th. During this period of low water, which occurs during the Chinook spawning period, fish are particularly vulnerable to disturbance from boats that pass overhead or individuals wading in the river. An exception is allowed at higher flows above 1000 cfs (as measured by the USGS gauge).
2) Following the completion of spawning in mid October, eggs in gravel are vulnerable through the end of March. Do not get out of your boat or wade in the river in areas where the substrate is smaller than the size of a grapefruit as you could crush eggs by walking in areas with gravel.
By following these voluntary guidelines we can protect fish and provide recreational opportunities. By demonstrating cooperation with these guidelines we can avoid mandatory river closures and retain this more flexible alternative.
DESCRIPTION: This run is characterized by several class III rapids formed by bedrock features and boulders through a nice canyon section. This canyon starts just downstream of the Douglas Fir Campground. As you reach Glacier Creek approximately 1.5 miles into the run the river spreads out across broad gravel bars. The rapids loose their punch but its still a beautiful river. If you're here mainly for the rapids in the canyon section then you can use the access point at the next Highway 542 Bridge as your take-out (the 4.5 mile run), or if you wish to continue through more class II gravel bar rapids (the full 8 mile run) then continue on to the milepost 27 access. Stay alert for logs on this run as it is not uncommon to have them completely blocking the channel.
ACCESS: Access continues to be a challenge on the North Fork Nooksack. While the put-in is located on Forest Service land, there is no formal take-out. This run is approximately 30 miles from Bellingham, east of the town of Maple Falls on Highway 542. As you make the drive towards Mt. Baker, the traditional take-out for this run is in the vicinity of Highway 542 milepost 27. Access points in this area are all on private property and there is a clear need for public access. At mile 26.9 there is a paved drive (gated) that leads into a good site that outfitters have used. At mile 27.0 (upstream side of the milepost marker) there is another site which has also been used by outfitters. Both of these sites are closed off to the public and offer no parking unless you have the key. Some have used the access at mile 27.2 which has space for a car off the highway.
The next potential access is at the Highway 542 Warnick Bridge at mile 30.9. Parking near the bridge is limited but there is some shoulder space a short distance from the bridge. A good option is to pull out at mile 30.7 where there is a small parking area off the road on downstream river right. A gate prevents vehicles from driving on the old railroad grade (owned by the County) but you can hike back up towards the bridge where a good eddy and beach on the downstream river right side of the bridge provides good access. These lands along river right are owned by Whatcom Land Trust. Some have also secured permission to access the river through the private land on river left.
For those who wish to access the river at the end of the canyon section the best access is Bourne St. located at mile 33.2 in Glacier. You can take this street down towards the river and an access trail downstream of the confluence where Gallop Creek joins the North Fork Nooksack. This is the preferred access during the most sensitive time of salmon spawning (mid August to mid October) and paddlers are requested to use this access during that time which avoids the best salmon habitat located in lower gradient sections downstream.
Continuing on Highway 542, the next access is the put-in at the bridge at mile 35.4. This is Douglas Fir Campground and there is parking for river day-use on the upstream river right side of the bridge. Sign in at the put-in (at the top of the steps that go down from the road) as this is important for documenting river use. For those who want to add an additional challenging section, see the description for the Horseshoe Bend section just upstream.
North Fork Nooksack River (WA) to Reopen
September 21, 2005