This is a great run for IKs and kayaks, and it's an excellent run for self-supported overnight trips. The first 4 miles are utterly gorgeous with class III whitewater and one or two class IV's depending on flow.
You can boat scout everything until Big Creek Gorge – when you see a big gravel bar on the left and a headwall on the right curving hard left, land on the cobbles and scout left. Big Creek Gorge has a tricky entrance that throws boats into the right wall, then a crux consisting of several large boulders with tight slots that can catch logs. It deserves a class IV rating even at low flows and is probably class V at higher flows. Kayaks can run this in sections and portage left as needed, though portaging is more difficult when the left side rock bar is under water. Those who know ahead of time that they don't want to run it (and can recognize it in time) can land early on the right and climb up to the Lewis River Trail, then drop back down to the river below the rapid. Rafts will have a significantly harder portage, so pack light and leave lots of time.
Below Big Creek Gorge, the rapids calm down significantly. You may want to combine this with the 4.5 mile run down to the Eagle Cliffs Park at the head of the reservoir. There are several nice rapids and great views of waterfalls.
Logistics: The take-out for this run is at the FR 9039 bridge which is accessed by going to FR 90 mile 20.6, turning on FR 9039 and heading 0.6 mile down this unpaved road to a bridge across the river and a trailhead downstream river left; an advantage of this option is you can do a bike shuttle on the trail that follows river left.
Many just continue on downstream to the next run (which is a short addition) and take-out at the Eagle Cliff Park Recreation Area at the head of Swift Reservoir. This recreation site, maintained by PacifiCorp with bathroom, parking, and picnic area, is located is 45 miles east of Interstate 5 on Highway 530. It is at mile 15.9 on FR 90.
The put-in is at FR 90 mile 28.5 where FR 90 crosses the Lewis River. Access is available through a campsite upstream from the bridge on river right. The parking area on the downstream river left side has been designated "no parking" in 2020. Mind the parking signs in this area, they are ticketing. You can shuttle on the road along river left or mountain bike the trail on river right.
We ran this Saturday June 13, 2020 at about 1000cfs. This is about as low as I would go--the cobble bar rapids are getting bony at this flow and I do not want to see what they become at 800. Big Creek Rapid is still a serious rapid at this flow but it does not have any wood that stopped us from running it. There is wood in an eddy on river right in the entrance. There is an underwater log bridging the channel leading into the crux. As long as you're in your boat at that point it's not a problem and a twig helps mark your line. There is a giant woodpile down below the rapid, same as always.
We ran this on 5/27/2020 at about 1500 cfs. Very fun level, some large hydraulics in the early rapids, but overall what I'd call a medium flow. Our group elected to portage Big Creek Gorge on the trail on river right. From the left gravel bar, a quick look with the binoculars showed some wood in the water just after the entry pinch. We did not have time to thoroughly scout the gorge so elected to move along with expediting the portage up to the trail that follows the river along this entire segment. From the right gravel bar, cross the small side channel and bushwhack up to the main trail. From here it is several hundred yards of ups and downs on the trail before a small side trail appears to lead you down to the river. From here, the rapids never exceed Class 2. There is one river-wide log below Big Creek that can be easily portaged left or paddled right with a log-hop.
For 1st timers, you cannot scout Big Creek Gorge from river right. Stop early on the right and consider sending one or two strong paddlers across to the left to take a look. The ferry over and back isn't a gimme at some levels and having someone blow it and end up swimming or running the Gorge when you really didn't want to might not be good. I was on a trip when someone swam the first half of the gorge - mostly underwater - and popped up in an eddy full of loose wood. I have heard similar spooky stories that fortunately turned out OK, so this is not one to boat scout. If the first half of the gorge is runnable, but it's clogged up at the end, there are eddy-hopping and portaging options in the gorge, sometimes including an opportunity to climb up to the trail from a right-side eddy (not easy, but we've done it).
1 month ago
by Brian Vogt
Flow range based on an estimate by Bennett.
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.
Above the first rapid
Above Ski Jump
Unnamed rapid in the sun
Big Creek Gorge low water run
Below Big Creek Gorge
Big Creek Gorge
Big Creek Gorge perspective
Big Creek Gorge Final Slot
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.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!