OVERVIEW: The North Fork Alsea is a great intermediate run through a classic Oregon coastal range canyon. Much of the run is class II/III with about a mile of III/IV whitewater in the middle. There are also two larger drops, one is the straight forward 18' Vahorten Falls near the beginning of the trip, and the other is a 10' ledge near the end of the good whitewater. Wood can be an issue so be sure to scout when needed (no mandatory portages in Jan 2016, but 3 quick wood portages in 2017). The shuttle is about 30 minutes on gravel logging roads, so while the route is explained below, it is a good idea to have sussed it out for yourself on maps with satellite imagery (google earth or hillmap.com is likely best) beforehand. The run is far from any roads, so hiking out would be difficult and is discouraged. The preferred take out is the NF Alsea fish hatchery.
STREAM: From the standard put in bridge, it is only a short way to Vanhorten Falls. Less than a quarter mile below the put in stay right as the stream bends left in order to get out and scout the falls. The portage on the right is pain free if the obvious line on the right is not to your liking.
*2016-2017 there has been a log in Vanhorten Falls that dramatically reduces the margin for error on this drop. It has been run successfully to the right of the log at least a handful of times at medium flows but take a careful look from the right bank before attempting and consider making the easy portage if you are not confident in hitting the line*
Downstream channels between grass banks and islands are class II and unique. The stream takes awhile to pick up, but eventually the stream channelizes and abruptly becomes boat scoutable class III-III+. One or two of these might earn a class IV rating at healthy flows. Scout the horizon line at the end of this series of rapids on the right, where a large 10' ledge is backed up center and left by a downstream shelf. At normal flows there is an easy portage on the right, with obvious lines to paddle on the right side of the drop.
Below here the run begins to taper off to easy floating past a couple of farms before reaching a dam at the fish hatchery. The portage is easiest on the left. This is private property here, so be curtious and don't loiter.
If there are fisherman on the run, be respectful and try to stay out of the way. Many of them fish below the dam where the salmon get backed up as they try to get back into the hatchery. A gauge is passed on the left, then a diversion comes in from the right. Just below the diversion is an easy point of egress on the right that should be used if the banks are lined with fisherman. If not, some boaters choose to continue the extra few hundred yards to the Hwy 34 bridge.
FLOWS: There is a gauge on river left in the vicinity of the fish hatchery. Anything below 2' will be scrapy, a minimum/maximum on that gauge has not been established but 2.5' was on the friendly side of medium. The Alsea Fish Hatchery can be reached at (541) 487-7240, and may be able to tell you what the gauge reading is.
Pat Welch has an online correlation gauge that can give you an idea of what kind of flows you will find in the NF Alsea.
If flows are dropping 400-700 will be slower going, with some scrapy parts. 700-1000 will be good for the sections with gorge walls, but still a little slow outside of them. 1000-1500 is medium with clean and fun whitewater in the gorge and outside the gorge sections things will still move along quickly. Anything over 2,000 is high water. Remember that this is a correlation, so 750 one day may be higher than 900 a month later. If you get hard data from the staff gauge, please comment below with the level, feel of the run and date.
The NF Alsea has been run with as much as 2,500 cfs on Pat Welches gauge, the report was that the two main drops were portaged. The ledge had a huge hole, requiring a portage that was complicated by the high water and unpleasant. The rest of the run was said to be a lot of fun, this assessment was made by class IV-V boaters.
Take Out: From Corvallis take Hwy 20/34 west towards Philomath. Just after passing through Philomath turn left onto Hwy 34 (not the turn immediately adjacent to the sign reading "HWY 34: Alsea, Waldport left in 1/4 mile", but the turn 1/4 mile past that sign). 13.7 miles after this turn HWY 34 crosses over the NF Alsea, turn right at the Fish Hatchery sign (Fish Hatchery Rd). Park here or drive up to a parking lot (complete with porta-potty). Walking upstream from the parking lot along the road a short ways will give a view of the staff gauge.
Put In: Return to HWY 34 and drive east (if you passed through Philomath it will be the direction you came from) 3.2 miles and turn left onto a gravel access road and stay left. From Hwy 34 it is exactly 9 miles on 'BLM Road 10' to the put in on the main gravel road. At mile 2.1 stay left, 2.3 stay right, 4.6 stay right, 4.9 take the middle road, 5.4 stay right, 5.6 stay left, at 6.1 you will cross over Slide Creek, at 7.9 you will cross Parker Creek and stay left, then at 9 miles the put in bridge will be off to the left. If in doubt, stay on the main road.
The shuttle will take at least 30 minutes.
Description of Upper North Fork Alsea at Oregon Kayaking.
Another report is available at Into the Outside.
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Vanhorten Falls - Lexi
Typical NF Alsea Whitewater
Log in Vanhorten
Zach - Vanhorten Falls
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