Less than an hour from the coast, this playful section makes a delightful diversion for the whitewater paddler who happens to be cruising the coastal highway. The Smith River upstream from the North Fork Confluence is mostly class 1, but in this brief section it winds its way through a series of bedrock layers forming small ledges and slides. The river meanders relative to the angle of the rock, sometimes crossing the ledges at an angle, other times perpendicular. At low flows there are pools and the ledges are shallow enough to be slow going, but small surf waves and holes still abound. At medium and higher flows the holes will become more retentive, and the surf waves taller. The entire run is roadside so you can scout as you shuttle. Everything but the falls, and perhaps the big slide after the falls, is fairly straightforward.
At Smith River Falls (mile 3.9) a portage may be in order. We talked to a fisherman who said he ran the falls in an aluminum drift boat at "lots higher water" but at low flows the left channel lands on a shelf and the right channel (main flow) has a sticky hole. Smith River Falls may be recognized from upstream by the concrete of the fish ladder on river right, which will be decorated with sunbathers if the weather is nice. At low flows there is an easy portage around the falls on river left; just slide your boat over the ledges. It is possible to portage on river right on top of the fish ladder as well. At higher flows these options will close off. Some of the best surfing is immediately below the falls.
Amusing slides and small ledge drops continue to the takeout. On a right bend at river mile 4.3 is the largest slide, after a pedestrian bridge overhead. There are rocks at the bottom; one troublesome stone has been painted red. Below here the ledges gradually shrink until you reach the takeout, a roadside pullout with easy access. Very high tides may reach this far up the river.
We discovered this run after investigating the Upper Smith River class I-II float with wood obstacles that is some 40+ miles long and written up in the 5th Edition of Soggy Sneakers, but not here on the AW site.
A roadside hangout and multiple-channel waterfall.
Goal: miss the rocks at the bottom. Might form a hole at some flows.
The Siuslaw at Mapleton is the next drainage to the north and will indicate when widespread rainfall has brought the Smith into range. 2200cfs on the Siuslaw correlated with bare minimum. 3000 might be optimal. Not sure what the high limit should be, but I'll peg it at 4000 and await feedback.
Siuslaw at Mapleton
The Umpqua to the south drains a much larger area all the way from the Cascades and will likely be less useful.
From Highway 101 (the Oregon Coastal Highway) on Bolon Island (just north of Reedsport) turn east on Lower Smith River Road. Cruise upstream about an hour until you see the Smith River Falls, a runnable but significant drop. Backtrack about a mile to a roadside pullout and you have found the takeout. Load up and head 5 miles upstream to Vincent Creek Campground and Day Use area to launch. If the Vincent parking area is closed/gated, there is also good river access just downstream from the Vincent bridge on river right, past the gravel piles.
From I-5 take exit 162 at Anlauf and head west on highway 38 for just over 33 miles. Turn right on Weatherly-Big Creek (BLM) Road and wind slowly over the mountain for 14.5 miles to Vincent Creek Campground and Day use area. This route not recommended for large vehicles or trailers. Bring a chainsaw if you have one.
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This week, Oregon House Bill 2835 re-passed the Oregon House on a 52-7 vote. Having earlier cleared the Senate, the bill now awaits a signature from the Governor to be signed into law. For decades, opportunities to protect and improve the ability of the public to access and legally use waterways for recreation have seen minimal progress, while efforts to severely limit access have been a consistent threat. Oregon House Bill 2835 is a pivotal piece of legislation in Oregon, and the first proactive waterway access bill in recent history to have made it through the state legislature.
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