Difficulty III-V
Length 4.7 Miles
Flow Range 800 - 3200 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 19 minutes ago 1570 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 07/22/2019 5:22 pm

River Description

This is a beautiful section of river just downstream of Big Cliff Dam with two rapids of note. The Narrows is encountered within the first mile and can be scouted on river right. Niagara is a narrow slot further downstream that can be scouted from Niagara County Park. Just prior to the take-out the river pours over a hazardous fish collection dam that can be portaged on the right.

At the put in are some slalom gates that can be lowered if paddlers want to practice on them, please take the time to put them back up when done.  Class II rapids are encountered downstream, with small features to look for if you want to spice things up.  About a mile below the put in is a long class III rapid that is a noticeable step above what has come before.  This rapid can be spiced up with some fun moves created by the larger boulders by those who are looking to get more of a challenge.  This long rapid ends with a small river-wide hole and enters a moving pool with a generous eddy on the right for those in control.  

This moving pool empties into the Narrows, the largest rapid of the run during the Summer (at Winter Flows Niagara is larger).  This rapid is easiest to scout and portage on the right.  While the turbulent hydraulics are intimidating, this rapid has been called "the quintessential class IV rapid" and at Summer flows doesn't pose many hazards (at Winter flows the left wall at the bottom is of concern).   More than one line exists so take a look and decide if the rapid is for you.

Downstream the class II continues, this is a good run for slicey river-runner boats with lots of splat rocks and fun eddy-lines.

Eventually the river builds to class III again and a large wall is visible downstream at the entrance to Niagara.  The class III lead in rapid weaves between boulders and has numerous routes to choose from before the river is forced left by the wall.  There is again a generous eddy on the left for paddlers in control.

The crux move in Niagara changes with flow, at flows around 1,000 cfs in the Summer it is the entrance pinch.  It is a class III-IV move at most to make it through the slot, but failing to get into the narrow pinch places paddlers against a dangerous wall, so be confident you can make the easy move through the pinch, or portage high on the left from the eddy.  At medium flows this move is easier, then at higher flows it gets tough again.

Below the pinch in Niagara is a pool with vertical walls, in the Summer it is a friendly pool.  As flows increase much above 2,000 cfs it is no longer a safe place for class III-IV boaters and continues to have proportional push around the corner.  Over 2,000 cfs this rapid should be scouted by groups unfamiliar with the run (preferably before putting on from the park).  At 4,000 cfs this is a class V rapid. 

Downstream of Niagara the river splits around a large rock outcrop, the right has a small boof but the left channel is going to be more fun for most with a couple breaking waves in a row.   Keep an eye out in the next rapid for an excellent boof at the bottom on the center-right before things peter out.

After some easy floating, flat water and infrastructure on the right warn of the upcoming low-head dam.  There is a signed portage route on the right that goes up and around the infrastructure.   While local kayakers often run the far left side of the dam in the summer at around 1,000 cfs, the hydraulic in the center is extremely dangerous and has lethal potential. 

After the outflow from the dam, but before entering the next riffle downstream, paddle to the right side of the river to take out at Packsaddle County Park.

 A river description and photos are available from Oregon Kayaking.

Rapid Descriptions

Big Clif Dam

Class - Mile - -58
Flows from Big Clif Dam regulate discharge on this reach.

Big Clif Dam put-in

Class - Mile - -57.6
This run starts below Big Clif Dam.

The Narrows

Class - IV+ Mile - -56.6
Right around 2500 cfs is a nice level for this rapid. This is one of those drops that becomes more technical and hazardous as flows drop but cleans up as flows increase.


Class - IV Mile - -55.3
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Niagara is just a stretch of calm water as flows decrease but as the flow builds and the river tries to squeeze through this narrow slot in the bedrock, the boils can become very chaotic.

Lowhead Dam

Class - N/A Mile - -54

This dam forms an extreme hazard just before the take-out and can be portaged on river right.

Packsaddle Park take-out

Class - Mile - -53.8
A good boat ramp provides river access at this county park.


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Jacob Cruser
2 years ago

June 2018: The log in the previous comment is gone. Keep an eye out for wood in the boulder gardens leading up to where the river pinches down at Niagara, there were a few large pieces strewn about that appeared mobile.

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Directions Description

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article main photo

Army Corps Proposes to Close Section of North Santiam River (OR) for Two Years

Thomas O'Keefe

The Army Corps of Engineers has just released a Draft Environmental Assessment to rebuild the Minto Fish Collection Facility on the North Santiam River. Most boaters know this facility as the place with the hazardous low head dam between Niagara County Park and Packsaddle County Park on the river. The project to rebuild the facility, which would keep the existing dam in place, would result in a two year closure of the river from Niagara to Packsaddle. The current proposal is to build a portage trail that would accommodate kayaks. It is unclear if this would accommodate rafts. Those who use this river are encouraged to provide public comment.


Thomas O'Keefe


Jacob Cruser


Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1199292 02/26/11 Thomas O'Keefe copy edits
1213382 07/19/19 Jacob Cruser updated description
1212700 06/04/19 Jacob Cruser updated image position
1213393 07/22/19 Jacob Cruser updated description
1213363 07/17/19 Jacob Cruser updated description
1196588 11/20/09 Thomas O'Keefe
1191345 07/06/02 n/a n/a
1210852 01/15/19 Jacob Cruser photo id