Nisqually - 3 - McKenna to Yelm Hydro Plant

Nisqually, Washington, US


3 - McKenna to Yelm Hydro Plant

Usual Difficulty II-III (for normal flows)
Length 7 Miles

Nisqually River

Nisqually River
Photo of David Elliott by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 12/31/07 @ 1580 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-12089500 900 - 3000 cfs II-III 00h26m 545 cfs (too low)

River Description

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.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2004-12-03 14:54:35

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-21.0Boulder GardenII+Photo
-16.0Little KahunaII+
-12.0Military Tank Crossing BridgeN/AAccess Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Boulder Garden (Class II+, Mile -21.0)

Boulder Garden Rapid

Boulder Garden Rapid
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 01/12/16 @ 2090 cfs

Kahuna (Class III+, Mile -17.0)


Photo of Paul Butler by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 01/12/16 @ 2090 cfs

Military Tank Crossing Bridge (Class N/A, Mile -12.0)

Military Tank Crossing Bridge

Military Tank Crossing Bridge
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 06/02/15

An alternate access point downstream of the powerhouse.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 26 2016 (810 days ago)
shanna (150424)
4/23/16, 830 cfs. Rapid after Big Kahuna, I believe it's Little Kahuna. Also marked by a huge right
hand cliff wall just before the rapid. There was always a car in the water on river left, it looks
like the car has moved downstream and a portion of it is still on the left bank, but the actual
frame of the car is now in the center of the rapid. Very dangerous as it's the frame and a water
craft could accidentally blunder into it, especially if the water was just a little higher it would
be hard to see. Best to stay as close to the right bank as possible even though there would be
larger rocks / pourovers on the right to contend with.
April 27 2013 (1905 days ago)
rivermomma (155355)
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
August 22 2012 (2153 days ago)
thrivewithin (154824)
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.
March 26 2012 (2302 days ago)
x (1)
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.
August 9 2010 (2897 days ago)
mokelumnekid (152256)
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.
June 4 2010 (2963 days ago)
Steve WaddellDetails
A tree is half way across the river on the left side of Kahuna rapid. Work your way to the right as
you go down.

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