This is the Wilderness section of the Chetco Wild and Scenic River that flows through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Access is challenging but a couple-few groups do this incredible run every year.
An access overview is given at the bottom of this page.
There are two typical ways people do this run:
1) Summer flows: Low water runs in summer have become a more popular activity as featured on a recent Oregon Public Broadcast report. The whitewater is typically less difficult (class III with a couple exceptions), but route finding more challenging. This is typically done using packrafts or inflatable kayaks at flows under 1,500 cfs, and is considered more of an adventure than a classic.
From Chetco Pass it's a 4+ mile hike down to the river and it's easy to get lost since it barren earth that was scarred by the Biscuit Fire. There is no obvious path down and a lot of options. Bring a map, use good judgement, and have plenty of time for a long, hard hike.
2) Spring (or sometimes Fall) flows: Hardshell kayakers prefer flows over 1,500 cfs. If flows are right, there are no portages and much of the run can be boat scouted with a couple exceptions. Portaging is still always an option at 3,000 cfs, a friendly medium flow. 5,000 cfs and dropping is a solid medium flow with some push. Expect a class IV run with a handful of harder rapids at medium flows. The run is a high quality whitewater trip, in a world class setting at these flows.
If you are running this river when it is flowing enough to be good for hardshell kayaks, it is likely you will need to hike in on the Babyfoot Lake trail.
Once you reach the river, you'll be in heaven. Everything is pretty much Class III-IV with a couple slightly harder rapids, any of the rapids can be scouted and portaged. This is a spectacularly beautiful river canyon that you'll never forget, and you won't be able to stop talking about the water quality.
Campsites are small and there aren't too many of them, so don't be picky.
You can take out at Tolman Ranch or continue down to the typical take out at the steel bridge where the take out is easier. The recommended take out for hardshell kayakers is further yet at the confluence with the SF Chetco. Between the steel bridge and SF confluence are the two largest rapids on the whole river, along with a few miles of easy floating. Both of these rapids can be scouted/portaged on the right.
Read a trip report from a 2011 Chetco River Expedition
Shuttle Directions: The best way to do shuttle is to track down “Bearfoot Brad” out of Gasquet. If you insist on setting shuttle for yourself, drive to the town of Brookings and head upstream along N Bank Chetco River Rd (784). Just under 16 miles up this road make a left on a gravel road just before the S Fork Chetco River Rd crosses the South Fork Chetco. This spur road ends shortly at the confluence of the South Fork and main Chetco rivers (the take out). An alternate take out that avoids the final two challenging rapids can be reached by crossing the bridge over the South Fork Chetco and taking an immediate left. Follow this road for 4.2 miles to a bridge over the Chetco River.
To reach the put in return to the town of Brookings, then traverse the coast range an hour and a half to the east via Hwy 101 to 197 to 199 into the town of Cave Junction. From Cave Junction, drive north on Hwy 199 for 5.4 miles. Turn left onto 8 Dollar Rd/NF 4201 and follow for 7.2 miles. Then turn left (the name changes to NF 4201) which you will follow for 7.4 miles. Turn left at the “Y” and continue 0.7 miles along the main gravel road to reach the Babyfoot Lake trailhead.
From here you will hike about 10 miles along the Babyfoot Lake trail and a series of decommissioned roads to reach the Chetco River. When Babyfoot Lake is reached, the trail may disappear for a short while, start by following the rivulet exiting the lake downstream, but staying at roughly the same elevation as the lake as you wrap around the hill on the rivulet-left side of the lake (take care not to get too far downstream) until you meet up with a decommissioned road that you follow (uphill at first) for 5 miles. You will follow this as it gains, then traverses the ridgeline. After 5 miles turn right and follow this trail/road 4 more miles down to the put in at the confluence of the Chetco River and Carter Creek. The trail can be difficult to follow near the Bailey cabin site, but it is there if you poke around a bit. Bring at least a map, maybe even a GPS.
When flows are high, class V boaters have the option of reducing the hike to three miles and the shuttle to 15 miles by entering from near Vulcan Peak via Box Canyon Creek. Beta on that access and creek can be found here.
You can also reach the put-in when flows are low by crossing the low water crossing of the Illinois at McCaleb Ranch. There is a Port Orford Cedar (POC) Gate here that is typically open June 1st of each year. The gate won't open until the ground is dry to help prevent the spread of the Port Orford Cedar Root Disease. It's a 5 mile drive up a narrow 4x4 road to Chetco Pass.
During the winter months rapids are Class IV and higher depending upon flow conditions. If you go in the winter you'll need to hike 5 miles up to Chetco Pass before starting the 4 mile hike down.
Summer floating during low water conditions has become an increasingly popular activity on the river. You float the pools and portage the Class IV rapids that don't have lines.
From here you will hike about 10 miles along the Babyfoot Lake trail and a series of decommissioned roads to reach the Chetco River. When Babyfoot Lake is reached, the trail may disappear for a short while, start by following the rivulet exiting the lake downstream, but staying at roughly the same elevation as the lake as you wrap around the hill on the rivulet-left side of the lake (take care not to get too far downstream) until you meet up with a decommissioned road that you follow (uphill) for 5 miles. You will follow this as it gains, then traverses the ridgeline. After 5 miles turn right and follow this trail/road 4 more miles down to the put in at the confluence of the Chetco River and Carter Creek. The trail can be difficult to follow near the Bailey cabin site, but it is there if you poke around a bit.
In the heart of Box Canyon Creek
The Upper Chetco Gorge
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!