Difficulty IV+
Length 9 Miles
Flow Range 5000 - 25000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 45 minutes ago 56400 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 05/30/2019 4:22 am

River Description

FUN FACT: Great class IV creek boating in an incredibly beautiful canyon.

SEASON: Winter rain storms.

PUT-IN: North Fork Matheny Creek bridge on a FR 2160-100 spur

TAKEOUT: FR 21 bridge across Matheny Creek

ACCESS: At mile 137.5 on Highway 101 take FR 21 east (this is also marked as West Boundary Road). Follow FR 21 to mile 7.9 and the takeout bridge across Matheny Creek (parking upstream river right). Continue another 200 yds. along FR 21 and turn right onto FR 2160. At mile 3.0, after crossing the Hook Branch which is a major tributary, you will come to another potential intermediate take-out (recommended if you get a later start). It is at a pullout on the right located directly across from the 2160-060 spur which heads up the hill to the left. It's about a 10 minute scramble down the bank to the river but you will need to mark it as there are few distinguishing features from the river (the culvert Korb mentions is long gone). Continuing upriver on the 2160 to mile 5.1, you will pass the turn for the 2160-080 which heads down to the right and across a bridge. This bridge is the traditional dividing point between the upper and middle sections. This can be used as an alternate put-in for the middle section as you can scramble down on the river right side, but bring rope to assist your descent. To reach the upper put-in, continue on the 2160 to mile 7.3 and a Y with the 2160 heading up the left (it's gated) and the 2160-100 heading down to the right. Follow the 2160-100 about 0.3 miles down to a bridge across the North Fork which is the put-in. As a final check on levels, this fork should have just enough water to float/bump your way down--if it's bone dry the canyon is probably too low and if it's a raging torrent the canyon is probably too high. Even at a good water level for Matheny, boating down this fork is a little bit absurd but it can still be fun (don't worry, once the South Fork joins in there is more water). It's about a quarter mile from the bridge to the confluence. Find a forest trail if the North Fork paddling experience looks totally unappealing. For current information on roads check the Olympic National Forest web site (check rec reports for Pacific Ranger District - South), or call the USFS/NPS Resource Information Center in Forks 360-374-7566 or the USFS Ranger District office in Quinault 360-288-2525.

DESCRIPTION: Matheny Creek is one of the best runs on the Olympic Peninsuala for experienced paddlers. It has good access, great scenery, and plenty of fun pool-drop class IV rapids. This run can be divided into an upper and middle section. You will likely start your run down the North Fork, a tight little tributary that will have you bouncing off lots of rocks. Stay well spaced and soon you'll be at the confluence with the South Fork and a fun rapid that starts things out with a big toilet bowl flush through a narrow constriction in the bedrock. Although not easily visible from the top of the rapid, there is a good recovery pool at the bottom.

Within a short distance the river plunges over the first of several great 6' ledge drops at the Tongue of Pleasure. The river calms down a bit while still providing constant action with some fun class III drops through the scenic bedrock canyon. The pace picks up again in a tight section with a number of ledges packed close to together, and the first of these is Shark Fin Falls which is the biggest ledge drop on the run. You can recognize it by the major tributary that comes in from the left just below it. What follows downstream of Shark Fin Falls is a fun class IV sequence of ledges that you will most likely be able to boat scout. This section is the highlight of the run and finishes off with a beautiful drop where a waterfall comes in from the right.

Soon you will come to the 2160-080 bridge which crosses the river high above. This is the traditional dividing line for the upper and middle sections and although access is not great it's a good landmark and obvious on a Gazetteer map. Intermediate paddlers comfortable on a creek run can join the group here. Just under the bridge, the river starts its plunge through a final class IV sequence before settling out to fairly continuous class II whitewater with several class III drops and boulder gardens for approximately 6 miles of scenic boating.

If you do both the upper and middle section keep the short winter day length in mind and remember that this is a 9 mile creek run--rope and a flashlight are not a bad idea. If you're with a really efficient group you can always continue on for another 4.2 miles and run Lower Matheny.

lat/long approximated by Tiger map server

for additional information see

  • Korb, G. 1997. A paddlers guide to the Olympic Peninsula. third edition.
  • local expert: Gary Korb & Carol Volk, 4930 Geiger Road, Port Orchard, WA 98366, 206-876-6780
  • Bennett, J. and T. Bennett. 1997. A guide to the whitewater rivers of Washington, second edition. Swiftwater Publishing. Portland, OR.
  • Pacific Ranger District, South - USFS Olympic National Forest web site

Rapid Descriptions


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Thomas O'Keefe
11 months ago

As of Thanksgiving 2011 road to the put-in was clear and in good shape. All the drops on the Upper and Middle were clean.

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Matthias Fostvedt
1 year ago

Put on the Middle section as the Queets gage was peaking at 35,000. It was solid class IV big-water. There is one large log-jam about 2-3 miles into the middle section. There is a decent portage trail on river right. At the flows we had, there was extremely limited eddy access for the portage, so be careful. Regarding the Upper, a local told us that the road was washed out and you couldn't reach the put-in. We did not confirm this.

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Nick Borelli
9 years ago

Ran Upper, Middle & Lower on 11/20-21. Beware of some wood in the lower...easy to spot and portage on either bank.

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Nick Borelli
9 years ago

I just got off the phone with the Ranger district and the bridge has been repaired. They confirmed access to the bridge over the Matheny, the middle put-in. There is a washout on the way up to the upper...I would check with them before you go but it appears the Middle is open for business.

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Kennet Belenky
13 years ago

We tried to run Upper Matheny on 11-24-2006. There is a 2' diameter log across the road, a mile or two above the takeout.

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Thomas O'Keefe
15 years ago

We ran Matheny on 26NOV2004. As of this date the road has been repaired and is open to mile 5.9. There is a washout at that point requiring you to hike for about an hour to reach the put-in to the upper, but it's an easy walk on the road bed. The Queets was at 8000 cfs and dropping. It was a fun level but the river could have used a bit more water. All the drops were great but a few of the sections in between were a little boney. All the drops were clean except for one massive log jam on the North Fork that we had to portage.

Gage Descriptions

Something around 300-400 cfs is about right. Check the USGS Queets gauge and look for flows around 10k or slightly above after moderate rain. At the takeout bridge, check the big rock on upstream river left and look for about a foot of rock showing (and the smaller rock to river right of the big one should be covered). If the big rock is significantly covered the upper canyon may be too high and if most of the rock is high and dry it's probably too low.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

No Accident Reports




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Congress to Take Up Wild and Scenic River Bills Covering Over 1000 River Miles

Thomas O'Keefe

This week, the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands will hold a hearing on bills that would designate over 1000 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers. American Whitewater has brought the voice of the whitewater paddling community to the discussions that led to these legislative proposals with a goal of protecting rivers and the whitewater paddling experience.

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Matheny Creek Access Update

Thomas O'Keefe

During summer 2004, repairs were completed on the access road to Middle and Upper Matheny Creek although additional repairs are pending.
article main photo

Addressing Road Problems in Olympic National Forest (WA)

Thomas O'Keefe

The extensive road network in Olympic National Forest has deteriorated over the last few years with the reduction in logging intensity and corresponding lack of routine maintenance. The road failures have resulted in destruction of aquatic habitat and reduced access. Repair work and decommissioning has begun with the introduction of a new road management plan in fall 2002.


Thomas O'Keefe


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1191955 11/29/04 Thomas O'Keefe n/a
1211501 03/22/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1212501 05/30/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1196646 11/22/09 Thomas O'Keefe
1210897 01/25/19 Thomas O'Keefe photo update