Matheny Creek - North Fork to FR 21 Bridge (Upper & Middle)

Matheny Creek, Washington, US


North Fork to FR 21 Bridge (Upper & Middle)

Usual Difficulty IV+ (for normal flows)
Length 9 Miles

Upper Matheny Creek

Upper Matheny Creek
Photo of Mark Leek by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 11/27/99 @ medium

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-12040500 5000 - 25000 cfs IV+ 00h28m 863 cfs (too low)

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

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2009-11-22 06:50:00


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.
November 28 2011 (2421 days ago)
Thomas O'KeefeDetails
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.
November 22 2010 (2793 days ago)
Nick BorelliDetails
Ran Upper, Middle & Lower on 11/20-21. Beware of some wood in the lower...easy to spot and portage
on either bank.
November 16 2010 (2798 days ago)
Nick BorelliDetails
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.
January 10 2009 (3474 days ago)
Thomas O'KeefeDetails
The Forest Service reports that the bridge across the tributary at mile 1.9 on the 2160 road has
washed out meaning you can no longer drive to the put-in.
January 10 2009 (3474 days ago)
Thomas O'KeefeDetails
The Forest Service reports that the bridge across the tributary at mile 1.9 on the 2160 road has
washed out meaning you can no longer drive to the put-in.
November 27 2006 (4248 days ago)
Kennet BelenkyDetails
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.
November 29 2004 (4976 days ago)
Thomas O'KeefeDetails
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.

Do more than just check gauges; join over 5,000 AW members today.

Or, consider donating

Associated Projects

  • Wild Olympics (WA)
    A campaign to protect the free-flowing rivers of the Olympic Peninsula.