From I-5 exit 77 head 20 miles west on Highway 6 to Pe Ell. As you enter town the
highway turns right on 4th Avenue. To reach the take-out continue on 0.3 miles from this turn to
the bridge across the Chehalis just outside of town at Highway 6 mile 28. You will find limited
parking on river left and a rough trail that leads down to the river.
To reach the put-in head back into town and turn right on 3rd Street. Follow this
road out of town. At 0.8 miles bear left and at 1.3 miles bear right to the Weyerhaeuser timber
yard. As you pass the yard you'll be entering the McDonald Tree Farm (in some years the road has
been closed by a locked gate but as of 2004 the road was open). As you enter the tree farm you
will catch glimpses of the longest gorge section on the run including the covered bridge. In 2.6
miles from town you will reach the first bridge across the Chehalis. Zero your odometer and from
this point you will cross 4 more bridges over the Chehalis at mile 1.1, 4.3, 6.9, and 9.1 before you
reach the confluence of the East and West Forks at mile 9.9. The confluence is clearly visible from
the road and at this point the 3000 road turns off to the left, crossing the West Fork and heading
up along the East Fork,
while the 1000 road continues straight up along the river left side of the West Fork. As you drive the shuttle, avoid
roads that turn away from the river and stay on the main line that parrallels the river and allows
you to road scout nearly the entire run.
Unless you are planning a long day that includes a run on the East or West Fork, the
bridge at mile 9.1 is a good access for a put-in. The bridge at mile 6.9 would shorten the run a bit
more. You also might want to take a look at Cape Horn on the shuttle. As you cross the bridge at
mile 4.3 you will be looking upstream towards a bedrock gorge. Continuing on a short distance as
the road parallels river left you should see obvious whitewater down in the gorge.
The Chehalis is a little off the beaten path as one of the few whitewater runs in the
southwest corner of the state, but it serves up some great whitewater for a wide range of interests.
River cruisers who want to get in a good workout can enjoy up to 15 miles of continuous
whitewater, intermediate paddlers can find several fun sections with only a couple portages,
experts can find a couple very challenging drops, and playboaters can find several fun features.
Although the run is plenty of fun at lower levels the middle section moves a little slowly for some.
The big drops provide added excitement at higher flows and this run has long been known as a
place to check out after a good heavy rain. The scenery on the run can best be described as
working forest, with clearcuts dominating the landscape. Despite that the geology is striking and
with new riparian forest protection guidelines for the benefit of salmon, the forest along the river is
The run can be divided into six sections marked by the bridges that cross the river.
The river forms at the confluence of the west and east forks, and from this point to the first bridge
downstream the river flows at a lazy pace through continuous class II rapids. Unless you are
paddling down from the East or West Fork or otherwise looking to add miles to your trip you might
want to consider a put-in at the next bridge downstream (mile 9.1 bridge).
With the start of the second section the pace picks up with several class III ledge
drops and fairly continuous action. The road will be to river right and closely follows the river here
and the section ends as it crosses back to river left (mile 6.9 bridge).
Although the third section starts slowly you will recognize a change in the charcter
of the river as you enter the first significant class III+ drop on the run. There are a couple great
before you reach the approach to Cape Horn and the entrance to the first gorge. This rapid, also
known as Fisk Falls, starts with a series of ledges that build in intensity as the river bends around
the corner to the right (photo). Use caution as you approach and don't over commit before scouting
as the class III approach leads you in before you quickly realize this IV+ rapid can push class V at
certain flows. There is a bedrock bench on river left (photo) that provides a good scouting
platform and potential portage route. The rapids in this gorge are only a couple hundred yards
long (video) and you
soon pass out of the canyon after crossing under another bridge to enter the fourth section (mile
The pace of the fourth and fifth section move a bit more slowly but still provide
good continuous class II/III rapids with a number of ledge drops and several fun waves. If flows are
lower than 1000 cfs and especially if you are getting a late start you might want to think about
doing half the run and finding an appropriate access along this section. At flows above 2000 cfs
this section moves along at a good pace.
The sixth and final section begins at the bridge where you zeroed your odometer
after entering the McDonald Tree Farm. This section contains the most challenging drops on the
run. After one class III+ rapid you'll soon be at the covered bridge rapid that starts just upstream of
the now abandoned bridge. This class IV is a tricky one to scout from river level but a good chute
down river left provides a flume ride through the chaotic hydraulics below (video). The Covered Bridge rapid
marks the first rapid at the start of the Lower Gorge and you'll find four additional great class IV
rapids awaiting downstream. Shortly after crossing under the bridge, the second drop curves
around to the right and has a good wave at the bottom. After a short pool the next rapid provides a
fun S turn ride over a ledge and requires you to weave your way around a couple holes (video). Another short
pool and horizon line marks the fourth big rapid with a fast tongue that skirts the base of a wall
along river left (video
). After a short recovery stretch the river then plunges over the last big drop of this section as
it disappears to river right between two large boulders. You'll probably want to scout the hole at
the base of this drop by pulling out for a look from river right. If you don't like the looks of it there
is a decent portage option on the right.
Once you navigate this final big drop the river continues with a couple more easy
rapids and more scenic bedrock gorge, but you'll soon pass under a railroad bridge and leave the
tree farm as you start to see homes along the river. In a short distance you'll come to the take-out
In Feb 2009 Lewis County PUD released a draft study for a water retention facility and hydropower project with a reservoir that would innundate a 9.6 mile portion of this run approximately to this point.
In Feb 2009 Lewis County PUD released a draft study for a water retention facility and hydropower project with a dam that would innundate a 9.6 mile portion of this run.
Access to this run is still closed as of 12-2-2012. There are road washouts and locked gates within .5 mile of the McDonald Tree Farm entrance. A large Weyerhauser facility there might be able to provide access info by phone. Be friendly if you try.
The road is washed out in the a mile up the Weyerhaeuser road. not worth the drive
American Whitewater Comments on Washington State Department of Ecology’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Chehalis River Basin Flood Damage Reduction Project
Letter from Governor directing Chehalis Basin Board to develop and evaluate a basin-wide non-dam alternative to reducing flood damage.
Letter from Governor to state agencies directing development of a non-dam alternative to flood control.
The gauge is a couple miles downstream of
the take-out. At flows below 1000 cfs the
middle section will move a bit slowly. The
gorge sections are challenging above 2000
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Lower Gorge, 4th drop
Lower Gorge, 3rd Drop
Cape Horn, downstream
Cape Horn, upstream
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.
This past week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee directed Washington State Department of Ecology, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Chehalis Basin Board to cease planning efforts and environmental review of a proposed new dam on the Chehalis River and instead develop and present a basin-wide, non-dam alternative to flood damage reduction. American Whitewater appreciates the Governor’s decision that is responsive to concerns we raised throughout the environmental review process.
The Chehalis River has one of Washington state’s longest continuous sections of Class III whitewater, yet it remains relatively unknown to many paddlers due to access issues involving restrictive policies of a private timber company. A new flood control dam proposal would eliminate 14 miles of this wild and free-flowing Class III whitewater (West Fork to Pe Ell), forever keeping paddlers from discovering this underused trove of quality whitewater in southwestern Washington. Paddlers and other river enthusiasts have an opportunity to provide input on the fate of the Chehalis River by submitting a comment on their Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Take this opportunity to comment and help protect this free-flowing river today! Take Action Today
The Chehalis Basin is the second largest river basin in Washington State. It is a uniquely fertile and abundant river basin, but it has suffered from devastating flooding for decades. One proposal to address the chronic flooding issue is construction of a new dam that would represent the largest new dam in Washington State in years on a currently free-flowing river. A public comment period is now open on this project through November 14th.
This spring Lewis County PUD released a Draft Study Report for Chehalis River Water Retention Facilities. If implemented, the plan calls for the construction of two dams including a 220 foot high and 1960 foot wide dam on the mainstem of the Chehalis River and another slightly smaller dam on the South Fork Chehalis. This project would inundate a whitewater river along with high quality salmonid habitat.
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