White Salmon, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||II-III(V) (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||50 fpm|
|WHITE SALMON RIVER NEAR UNDERWOOD, WA|
|usgs-14123500||300 - 1000 cfs||II-III(V)||03h11m||596 cfs (running)|
With a gradient comparable to sections upstream and a deep bedrock canyon, paddlers wondered what whitewater treasueres were buried beneath the waters held back by Condit Dam. With that in mind and recognizing the opportunity to restore this great river, American Whitewater formally requested a dam removal study in 1992 and was a party to the 1999 negotiated settlement to remove Condit Dam and drain Northwestern Reservoir (photo). This reservoir buried the river for a century blocking fish migration and innundating a whitewater run. The dam was breached in October 2011 (photo) and opened to paddlers in November 2012.
From the put-in at Northwestern Park near the Buck Creek confluence, the river flows through the historic reservoir descending into a basalt canyon. As the vertical basalt wall rises up on river right you enter the Lower Gorge and a great series of class III whitewater that builds to a crescendo as you float through the former Condit Dam site. Waterfalls cascade in from the sides making this one of the most beautiful and dramactic sections along the entire river--a section that was hidden from view for over a century below the waters of Northwestern Reservoir. The dam was built in a bedrock notch with a nice pool downstream. It makes a great spot to stop and marvel at the scale of the restoration effort (historical photo prior to dam, photo of dam, photo as it looks today).
The reach downstream of the dam has been paddled over the years including a study that American Whitewater did back in 1992 as part of relicensing with PacifiCorp and the National Park Service (study photo).
The first mile below the dam site is characterized by fun series of pool-drop rapids within the Lower Gorge but proceed cautiously as you approach the Narrows. As the river makes a hard bend to the left and then turns back to the right in a big S turn, you will find yourself at the top of the class III lead-in rapid that disappears in a horizon line at the entrance to the Narrows. There is a nice bench of river left that makes an easy place to pull-out and check out what lies ahead (be sure to scout before you commit). Looking downstream (photo), the class III rapid builds in intensity with progressively smaller eddies until it disappears over a horizon line--Steelhead Falls which is worth a scout. Depending on flows there are descent eddies on river left but you need to be careful to not boat past the last eddy you can catch and risk going over the drop backwards.
Steelhead Falls marks the entrance to the White Salmon Narrows (photo) and is a class IV/V rapid, more challenging than others on this section. The river pours over a ledge creating a beefy hydraulic. At moderate flows around 2' route options include a chute down the left side or a boof more towards the center. In either case you want to be sure and avoid the hole. As flows increase the drop increases in power and intensity. The portage is not easy as you have to scramble along small foot and handholds to pass over a basalt knob that extends out into the river from river left. It's the kind of scout/portage that class V creek boaters do on creeks throughout the region, but it can present a challenge. At higher flows the portage route is innundated so first timers should start at lower flows and work their way up or get trusted beta from local regulars. There is a very nice bedrock bench downstream of the Steelhead Falls on river left that provides a great platform to set safety. The risk of a swim at Steelhead Falls is that you will likely get very worked in the hydraulic and if you get out you are likely headed through the Narrows that always has the potential to collect wood hazards.
Below Steelhead Falls the river flows through a narrow gorge known as the White Salmon Narrows (photo). In the past wood has collected in the Narrows and this could be an issue in the future so be sure to get a recent report especially if there has been a major storm (photo).
About 1/2 mile below the Narrows you will reach the powerhouse (photo). There is some more good whitewater downstream, starting out as class II (photo) and finishing with a bang with a series of three long III-III+ drops. The last of these is great fun (photo). The river quickly goes flat and you can either hike up the fishermen's trail or continue another 1/2 mile downstream to the Columbia.
Logistics: Follow Hwy. 14 along the Columbia River and at mile 63.6 there is a bridge across the White Salmon at the confluence with the Columbia providing river access. The public can't use the tribal in lieu site on river right but you can scramble up the bank on river left at the Alt Hwy. 141 junction (photo). Alternatively you can head up the river 1.1 mile from Hwy. 14 to a large pullout (photo) that provides access via a fishermen's trail that leads down to the river. From the river you can recognize this site by the cable that extends across the river overhead just downstream of the last significant rapid.
To reach the dam site, take Alt Hwy. 141 north from Hwy. 14 (just to the east side of the bridge). Continue 2.2 miles to the junction with Hwy. 141. Just past this junction you will see the turn for Powerhouse Road. Follow this road down to the dam where it will make a 90 degree turn to the left to continue downstream. If you look over the edge at this point you will be able to see down into the gorge where Condit Dam once stood.
To reach the put-in, head 2.0 miles north of the junction between Alt Hwy. 141 and Hwy. 141 and turn onto Northwestern Lake Rd. (Hwy. 141 mile 6.7). Follow it 0.4 miles down to a bridge. There is a park with a launch ramp, picnic tables, and a changing area on the downstream river right side of the bridge.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|-3.3||Condit Dam Site||N/A|
Looking back upstream towards the site of the former Condit Dam.
Steelhead Falls marks the entrance to the White Salmon Narrows.
The powerhouse that has since been shut down and no longer diverts flow from the river.
Final Rapid on the White Salmon is one of the best class III rapids on the whole river.
This access comes at the end of the whitewater. You can hike up the trail here or paddle the flatwater down to the Columbia River and take-out at the confluence.
White Salmon Riverfest and Symposium
May 27, 2009
ACTION ALERT: Restore the White Salmon River
September 22, 2009
Washington State Gives Condit Dam Removal Green Light
October 12, 2010
Condit Dam Removal Takes Another Step Forward
November 16, 2010
Feds Support 2011 Condit Dam Removal (WA)
April 21, 2011
Anticipation Builds for Condit Dam Removal (WA)
July 27, 2011
Restoring the White Salmon River Film Released (WA)
October 11, 2011
Washington's White Salmon River Runs Free Again!
October 26, 2011
White Salmon River near Condit Dam still off limits (WA)
November 1, 2011
Temporary Closure of White Salmon River Access (WA)
November 22, 2011
Year of the River Film Released on Elwha and White Salmon (WA)
February 15, 2012
White Salmon River Homecoming Celebration (WA)
September 7, 2012
The White Salmon is Officially OPEN!!
November 3, 2012
Share Your Vision for the White Salmon (WA)
July 17, 2014
Fact sheet on dam removals scheduled for the Pacific Northwest.
Comments on License Application for the Condit Project on the White Salmon River.
Report on whitewater recreation downstream of Condit Dam completed as part of studies for the relicensing of the hydropower project.