A great roadside run on the Wild and Scenic Elk River for the class IV paddler. Can be split into two runs with an upper run from Butler Creek to Purple Mountain and a lower run from Purple Mountain down to the Fish Hatchery.
The upper run is class II and III with one class IV. The lower run features about 5 class IV's, two harder than the rest. One of the big ones is visible from the road, but most of the others are not that easy to see. High water quality with good gradient and a tight gorge. There is camping year round along the river, making this a good weekend option when other small stream around Oregon may be running a little low.
There is a good trip report linked below, with a neat video about the conservation of the area. This is really one of Oregon's special places.
For flows, call this number: (541) 332-0405. 3' is about the minimum recommended level as of 2016. The right bank near the gauge is all sediment, so this gauge may vary slightly year to year.
3.5' was a good first time level
4' was also reported as a good first time level.
According to Soggy Sneakers 5.5' is also a good class IV flow.
Like the nearby Smith drainage, this river can be run at a wide range of flows without a large fluctuation in difficulty.
We ran this river on Sunday (Jan 3, 2016) at 3.3'. There was no precipitation after a rain event earlier in the week and the drop in flows was reflected like so: Thursday the recording said flows were at about 4', Friday at 3.8', Saturday at 3.6', then Sunday morning when we ran the river the recording just said it was "low". We checked the physical gauge after our run and had 3.3' which we felt was a low, enjoyable first time flow for the run. It could be more enjoyable higher, but could also be worthwhile a little lower. There were no wood portages.
I agree with Sean Welsh...great run. I've been down twice, both times putting in at the campground 7+ miles upstream of the hatchery (Sunshine Bar?). This gives you a mile of class 1/2 warm-up before the first class 3/4 gorge. The first gorge has a bunch of pool-drop class 3 and a couple of class 4 rapids. One of which is the 'Sluice' the most dramatic rapid on the run...a 3+lead-in to a 6 to 8' sloping drop into a chaotic looking hydraulic that is easier than it looks. The other drop in the first gorge that is worth a scout is the last one (you can see this one on the drive up if you pay attention and thus avoiding a river scout). On the river you'll spot it by the boulders narrowing the stream with mist raising from river left and the river swinging 90 degrees to the right...run hard right to avoid the sticky looking hole on the left. After this is a three mile or so section of mostly class 2 with a few class 3's towards the end, just before the last gorge. The last gorge is great!; Five somewhat blind class 3+ to 4 drops separated by boiling class 2/3 water with tight to the walls surging eddies all in just over a 1/4 mile. Next time I'm going to figure out how to lap this gorge.
Awesome run. came up from sacramento to paddle the smith...everything is frozen or not accesible. we drove up from the smith (1.5 hours) and ran the middle section of the elk. REALLY GOOD RUN for the class IV paddler. about 5 class IV's, two harder than the rest. one of the big ones is visible from the road, most of the other hard rapids arnt visible unless you whack down into the gorge (wouldnt be that hard). Water quality is similar to smith, rapids were steep, gorge was tight etc... We camped and ran the chetco the following day.great run but a little high. Overall..if the smith isnt working out, great alternative.
8 years ago
by Nick Sinderson
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Crystal clear water
First big rapid in upper run
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