Little White Salmon - Willard to Columbia River

Little White Salmon, Washington, US


Willard to Columbia River

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 5.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 217 fpm

LWS - Wishbone

LWS - Wishbone
Photo of Paul Heffernan by Scott Collins taken 04/05/03 @ 4.0ft

River Description

The Little White Salmon is a highlight of Pacific Northwest creeking. This stunning run offers an incredible array of rapids, with everything from steep complex boulder gardens to dramatic vertical drops, all set in a pristine canyon filled with sparkling translucent blue water. The Little White has an incredible runnable season, and can be run at any time of year most years.

Below the putin bridge, a short class II-III section leads quickly into Gettin' Busy, a half-mile long class V boulder slalom that becomes a pounding hole-fest at higher water, but offers eddies at lower flows. At the end of Gettin' Busy, the tricky Boulder Sluice awaits. This ledge is best run far left.

Some fun boulder gardens lead quickly into Island, a steep boulder jumble that can be run center or center-right, or portaged on the right. This drop gets seriously manky at the lower limits of flows. After more fun boogie water, the ledges start to appear. First comes 10-foot Sacriledge, with a hazardous cave (Dave's Cave) under the left wall. Double Drop is next, a straightforward pair of 5-foot ledges, with a lava tunnel on the right.

The next major drop is S-Turn, a fantastic 14-foot falls into a soft pool with a small ledge as the exit. This drop can be scouted and portaged right or left, and is regularly run on the far left. This drops gets nasty at high water. Below S-Turn, more fun boogie water leads quickly into the Bowey Hotel, a 5-foot ledge that can pack a punch. Run right, and be on your toes: Wishbone lurks just downstream.

Wishbone is the second of the Little White's signature big drops. This fantastic 18-footer offers a great line on the left. From the pool below Wishbone, you must run a mini-gorge -- The Squeezes -- that ends in Stovepipe, a nasty lava bench. The entrance to the gorge is fun IV, but beware of Horseshoe, a 6-foot ledge with a backed-up hydraulic. Stay to the sides (the conventional line is far right) and out of that hydraulic. Stovepipe is lurking immediately below. Getting out to scout or portage Stovepipe can be challenging. The portage has traditionally been on the right over the log, and the line a sketchy move through a pothole on the left.  There is an alternate route using the far right channel if flows are not too low.


A short boogie section leads to the unparalled Spirit Falls. This legendary 33-foot waterfall is spectacular from any angle. It has a straightforward lead-in, plenty of room to scout or portage on the left (have a rope ready to lower boats). That said, this is not a drop to be taken lightly. The right wall has handed out its share of beatdowns over the years, and a swim out the pool may result in a very dangerous swim over Chaos, a ledge waiting in the outflow from the pool. Chaos is a straightforward ledge on the left side, but the key is being in control and in your boat to avoid the nasty walled-in hydraulic on the right side. This is a place to practice smart safety.

The last major drop on the Little White is Master Blaster, another steep boulder jumble that ends with a right hand bend. Stay right to avoid the huge ledge hole on the left. Two runnable low-head dams wait below Master Blaster, along with some class II-III boogie as you drift to the takeout.

The Little White Salmon is one of the most popular class V day runs in the country. The length of its runnable season, the wide range of flows that are runnable, and the high quality rapids keep even the best paddlers coming back for more. 

Warning: at high water, the combination of Spirit Falls and the next rapid, Chaos, can be very nasty! Read the description of a very close call that an expert boater had on March 4, 2002. Be smart, be safe, and have fun.

check out the Little White Salmon page on Jason Rackley's site.

He also has two stories from Little White Salmon trips: A Spiritual Experience and Little White Salmon at Low Flow

This section of the Little White Salmon is actually two separate runs. The stretch of Little White from the "town" of Willard to the fish hatchery is referred to as the Upper Little White.

Lat/Longitude data are very approximate.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-07-10 17:29:15

Rapid Descriptions

icon of message No rapids entered. If you know names, and locations of the rapids please contact and advise the StreamTeam member for this run.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
June 18 2012 (2346 days ago)
Doug HeymDetails
31 Year Old Oregon Paddler Dies on the Little White Salmon River, WA - August 9, 2009
( A crew portages Spirit Falls. On Monday, a crew of
local raft guides and kayakers found the body of 31-year-old Ryan Morgan pinned underwater in the
rapid below Spirit Falls on the Little White Salmon River, WA. During his run on Sunday, Ryan made
the portage around Spirit, got back in his kayak at the standard spot, and was swept into the
sieves and logjam on river left directly below the put in spot. This was the first kayaker fatality
on the class V Little White Salmon River. Ryan, who was paddling with a friend, made the portage
around Spirit Falls first. His friend saw him make it safely to the bottom of the portage and begin
getting back in his boat, and so he began lowering his boat down the steep slope. When Ryan's
friend got everything collected at the bottom he didn't see Ryan, so he assumed Ryan had already
peeled out and started making his way downstream through the remaining few rapids to the takeout.
When he hadn't found Ryan by the time he got to the car, he made the call to search and rescue. A
small crew comprised of local kayakers and raft guides from Wet Planet dropped into the Little
White on Monday morning to begin searching the river, as the steep canyon walls and technical class
V rapids made any search of the river by search and rescue teams highly impractical. The crew found
Ryan, still in his kayak, in a sieve below the Spirit Falls portage. The team was able to carefully
extract the kayak, but was forced to abandon efforts to extract the body. A technical rescue team
was being called in to recover the body. The Little White is at a low enough flow that the majority
of paddlers have stopped running it for the year. A select few however, still enjoy making low
water descents and emerge from the canyon thrilled with the quality of the whitewater. Several
other kayakers have been swept into the logjam below Spirit Falls in the past couple of years at
significantly higher flows, and have suffered uncomfortable swims as a result. The low water likely
had an effect on Ryan's ability to make it through the logjam as others had at higher water. Ryan
Morgan was a Molalla, Oregon councilman with a "lot of energy and a lot of ideas," according to
John Atkins, Molalla City Manager. Ryan, who grew up in Molalla, frequently led youth volunteer
programs and was active in the juvenile justice system. He is survived by his wife.

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Associated Projects

  • Columbia River Gorge (OR & WA)
    Several rivers in Oregon and Washington were protected under the 1986 Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area Act.
  • Volcano Country (OR/WA)
    The rivers of Volcano Country within and surrounding the Gifford Pinchot National Forest represent some of the nation's most spectacular whitewater resources.


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November 2018