The season for this run is during the winter after heavy rains, and it's a great creek run to check out when other runs are blow out.The Mashel starts out with a bang on a neat little III/IV gorge. The biggest danger is wood which can lodge in any of the narrow slots in this sequence of rapids. Before committing to the put-in above the gorge, it makes sense to walk along the railroad tracks and scout from the railroad bridge to determine if it's clean of wood.
After leaving the gorge, the river opens up into mixed agricultural and residential areas. Most of the rapids from this point until the next gorge are class II with maybe some class III. It wouldn't be much fun at low water (a lot of bump and grind), but with good water you move through and can even find some small surf waves. After passing under the Center Street bridge in Eatonville the river slams into some old bridge pilings. It makes for a neat little rapid, but requires some caution (there have been reports of log jams here).
Next you will pass under the Highway 161 bridge and pass a few homes. The next formidable set of rapids is the highlight of the run where the river momentarily leaves the human-dominated landscape and carves through a narrow gorge with some great class IV ledges. From the top it is a committing series of drops but it all tapers off just out of sight. At good flows these drops are a lot of fun although they are over all too soon.
The river changes in character once again as it crosses under the Highway 7 bridge. Those without access to the key (needed for access to the lower takeout at the Nisqually confluence) will need to take out here, but those who continue will be rewarded with some really neat conglomerate walls and an old forest not often found in the Puget Sound lowlands. There is no significant whitewater in this reach but you will need to be on your toes for wood hazards.
Those who have another half day to kill and want a mellow class II exploratory trip could even continue down the Nisqually . The next access point is the bridge in McKenna at 14 miles downstream, but at 3000 cfs on the Nisqually you move along at a good pace. The only obstacle is a lowhead dam that must be portaged. It is a real drowning machine so pay attention to the warning signs and get out on river right.
PUT-IN: Take Center Street out of Eatonville for 0.5 miles to the Mashel River bridge and continue another 0.2 miles to a forest road that leaves the highway to the left (this will be the second of two roads closed with yellow gate #413). From this point you will need to hike 0.3 miles to the railroad tracks and then head to the left down the tracks a couple hundred yards (this private forest land has been closed to public entry at time so read the current signage and use your own judgement). To put-in above the first gorge slide down the hill to your right when you see the river or if you want to skip this then just take the path down to the left. You can scout the gorge from the railroad bridge across the river.
TAKEOUT: Getting all the way to the Nisqually is problematic so the usual take-out is to head south on Highway 161 out of Eatonville and then turn north (right) on Highway 7 and follow it a short distance to the bridge across the Mashel. The take-out and parking are on the downstream river left side of the bridge (you can also check the gauge here). If you want to continue down to the alternate take-out at the Nisqually confluence you will need a key to the gate. If you have any contacts in UW Forestry they might be able to get you the key (the land is part of the Pack Research Forest). To get to this access from the junction of Highway 161 and Highway 7 head west on the unpaved road. This is the road that goes to the takeout. Note that although some maps show this road actually crossing the Nisqually, the bridge no longer exists (some concrete evidence remains), so best to use the bridge across the Mashel just before it dumps into the Nisqually. It is reached by taking a short spur road before you reach the dead end at the Nisqually.
SHUTTLE: From the put-in back track to Eatonville take Highway 161 south and follow the takeout instructions to the point you find accessible.
There is a USGS gauge for the Mashel
at the Highway 7 bridge (downstream, river left), but it
is not available as a real-time site. This run starts to
get fun around 4.5' on this gauge (approximately 600
cfs) and around 5.0' (approximately 950 cfs) is a treat.
Look for minimum flows of about 3,000 cfs on the Nisqually at McKenna gauge
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.
Mashel, First Gorge
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