With its origin on the slopes of Mt. Rainier, this is a great little float along a Puget lowland river that has not been extensively developed. The first part of the run passes through some residential areas interspersed with patches of forest but as the run passes along the Fort Lewis Military Reservation mature forests border both sides of the river. Wildlife and birds can be seen along this section of the river. Most of the rapids are class II and there are several good boulder gardens that make ideal training areas for those who want to practice eddy turns. Although are some sections of flatwater the river moves along at a good pace and the rapids are fairly evenly distributed. A couple of the rapids push class III particularly as flows increase.
As you see the powerhouse on river left, continue just past it to the boat ramp on river left. Alternative take-outs are available downstream for those who want to continue their journey.
An alternate access point downstream of the powerhouse.
January 5, 2019
The river was at 1550cfs. The run was mostly clear of wood with a few logs in the river but easily avoidable.
One tree above kahuna on River left, but very easy to spot and avoid. Otherwise the run is clean and clear. A few minor pieces of wood that are not an issue easily spotted and avoided
floated from McKenna to the hydro plant on Saturday April 26th. 2080cfs. The river is clear and runnable. All the wood is easily avoidable, lots of room to get around all of it. It was a great level with lots of fun staircase rapids. Make sure you can read and run, there are some holes to be avoided. See you on the river! The Budrow group
I floated 8/21/2012 on a tube. I wouldnt float this section with a tube unless your a really great swimmer, in perfect athletic shape, you can handle extreme cold, and you have a full wrap around vest life preserver to protect your ribs, with some sort of hard shell helmit. There are three major rapid sections that will throw you from your tube inevitably. The first one is about a quarter mile past the first trussel at the beginning of your float, there is a huge log jam on the left side, so you have to circle to the right to avoid that and then the river funnels at this point into the rapids. The rapids come out of total surprise because you have to circle from the right. It appears that you need to stay to the left side of these rapids to avoid hitting boulders just under the water level. Iv done it twice now and both times we all got tossed, its very very dangerous. The next couple hours there is no real danger. The portion of the river after the Nisqually Pines River park is the worst section. There are trees in the river in various spots usually avoided if you stay in the middle of the river. There are areas where the water level is too low to float unless your in a Kayak maybe, but everything else is going to get hung. And then there is two sections of rapids that are also very dangerous with boulders under the water surface that will beat you up like a rag doll. And in the middle of one of those rapids is a huge piece of car wreckage sort of on the corner of a major rapid section, its very hard to avoid. Very Very Very dangerous who knows what would happen if you hit that, and for that matter what else is under the water right there. You better really know what your doing before passing up the Nisqually Pines River park as your last point of getting out. Cause from there down, there is no getting out of the river, due to high dirt bank cliff walls, and fort lewis military property, your asking for a death sentence in this section the river. No one is going to be able to help you at this point! This comment is to for warn people that this section of the Nisqually is far more dangerous then it appears. You better have real river experience before floating this area. Its not a kick back and lay in your tube and drink your beer kind of area. You will be on your toes the entire time. The river is loaded with all sorts of logs, metal debri, and boulder sections that can turn dangerous at any time. The float time for me took 5hours and 40 minutes, the 40 minutes is the time taken for getting out of the river to warm up. So plan that into your float time. Or else your going to have people wondering what happened to you, when you show up at the destination late. Also if your in a large raft its probably going to take even longer due too a lot of confined boulder areas and some low spots in the river where your going to have to stand and walk it out. I wouldnt float this section unless your in a kayak!! and you no what your doing.
Ran the river on 03/24/11 at 2200 CFS. Almost immediately after the put-in, under the first railroad bridge, there is a log spanning across the left channel. This is very easy to avoid by taking the right side under the bridge. Also, at the second railroad bridge (which comes about a third of the way into the trip as the river makes a sharp left bend) there is a log spanning across the left channel. The log is elevated and you could easily go under it in an IK at this level, and probably also in a raft, but it's best to just run the right channel instead to be sure to avoid it. No other major hazards were seen on the river. Good level for an IK with a few decent sized waves and some good surf spots.
FYI- the tree at Kahuna has been cut, so things are pretty much good to go. There is however metal auto wreckage, river far left, at what I think is Little Kahuna, forming a small pour-over at levels about 900ish.
2 months ago
by Rebecca Post
1 year ago
by James A. Laitila
3 years ago
by Shanna Gachen
9 years ago
by Steve Waddell
This gauge is located just upstream of the put-in and accurately provides the flow for this reach.
Permits are not required for this reach.
The put-in for this run is McKenna. The parking area that includes toilets and a boat ramp is just 1/2 block upstream of the Highway 507 Bridge on river right (Highway 507 mile 30.8). To reach the take-out head 2.5 miles west towards Yelm and then head straight onto Highway 510.
The takeout is 2.4 miles northwest of Yelm on Hwy 510 (Highway 510 mile 13.2). Look for the sign for the Centralia City Light Yelm Hydro Project on the northeast side of road which marks the turn onto Powerhouse Road. It will be on the right as you're coming from Yelm. The road wonders down 0.8 mile to a gated parking area with boat ramp and toilet. The gate and parking area closes at 3:30 pm. You can also takeout at the Tank Crossing. It's located another mile or so northwest on Hwy 510. Look for the TANK CROSSING sign and turn right in a northeast direction down to the river.
High Bluffs Near Take-out
Paul Finds a Surf Spot
Low Gradient Section
Yelm Hydropower Project Sign
Yelm Hydropower Project River Access
Yelm Hydropower Project
Spillway Warning Sign
Scenery on the Nisqually
Springs along Nisqually River
Boulder Garden Rapid
Yelm Hydropower Plant
Yelp Powerhouse Access
BNSF Bridge Access Site
Military Tank Crossing Bridge
Yelm Hydro Plant
Yelm Hydro Plant River Access
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.
The Nisqually River Council (NRC) is preparing a plan for the development and management of a water trail on the main stem Nisqually River from below LaGrande Dam to the Nisqually delta. To help with the planning process, we would like to hear from paddlers who know this river.
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!