Nooksack, N. Fork - 2 - Nooksack Falls to Douglas Fir Campground

Nooksack, N. Fork, Washington, US


2 - Nooksack Falls to Douglas Fir Campground (Horseshoe Bend)

Usual Difficulty IV+ (for normal flows)

Bench Drop

Bench Drop
Photo of Damon Goodman by Keith Robinson

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-12205000 500 - 1800 cfs IV+ 01h15m 710 cfs (running)
Higher flows possible for skilled groups. Frequently paddled up to 2500 cfs by locals. Expect continuous IV+/-V below Bender Rapid.

River Description

FUN FACT: Short little creek run good for the advanced boaters who want some fun before joining intermediates for the run from Douglas Fir Campground down.

SEASON: Glaciers on the slopes of Mt. Baker keep this run flowing from late spring to early fall. This is often a good run in late summer or early fall when other runs are too low. The seasonal river closure on the North Fork Nooksack does not affect this section (i.e. it's open for boating as spawning habitat for salmon is generally limited in this reach).

DESCRIPTION: For boaters in the Bellingham area, this is a good starting point for the harder runs in the drainage.  Roughly from easiest to hardest, it goes Horseshoe, Canyon on the Middle Fork, Upper Middle Fork, Clearwater, and (above and beyond the rest) Racehorse Creek (600 FPM)!

The first rapids are easy, but really fun to warm up on. You can find some decent play depending on levels. After a couple III+/-IV type drops, it's time to start keeping your eyes peeled for a big log jam on river right.  This marks Bench Drop. Scout right, to choose your door. After two more quick rapids, you arrive at a small pool above SAT.  Definitely scout SAT, for the last drop in the rapid has an undercut and a pin rock to avoid.  If it's your first time on Horseshoe, SAT may tax your ability to remember your line.  After SAT it's a short jaunt to the take out and it's common to head back up for another lap. Alternatively you can continue down past Douglas Fir Campground to the intermediate run downstream.

Logistics: This run is approximatly 30 miles from Bellingham, east of the town of Maple Falls on Highway 542. As you make the drive towards Mt. Baker, you will first reach the take-out access at the bridge at Highway 542 mile 35.4. This is Douglas Fir Campground and you will find parking for river day-use on the upstream river right side of the bridge. Sign in on the river user log (at the top of the steps that go down from the road) as this is important for documenting river use.

After several years of advocacy by American Whitewater and local paddlers, the Forest Service completed a new trail for river access in 2014 that serves as the put-in. Drive up to the large pull-out at Highway 542 mile 37.3. The trail is at the upstream end of the pull-out and it is a short and easy walk down to the river. Another alternative is to just hike up from the take-out along the Horseshoe Bend Trail and paddle the bottom rapids.

From the put-in, it's another couple miles up to Nooksack Falls but this section is less frequently boated. Although there are rapids at the base of the falls and it is navigable, access is a challenge and then the channel consists of class II gravel bar sections with a fair amount of wood. For those who want to continue downstream on an easier section, see the description for the North Fork Nooksack from Douglas Fir Campground.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2014-10-04 04:36:23


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.
September 17 2003 (5602 days ago)
Justin ADetails
This run can be paddled at lower levels, down to about 400 cfs. It does get a little rocky though.
The length of the actual run is only about 1 mile up from the takeout bridge.


  • Access Guidelines for the Horseshoe Bend section of the North Fork Nooksack to protect Chinook salmon.

  • Complete Recreation Plan Document with Appendices.

  • Summary of Recreation Plan.

Associated Projects

  • Nooksack Stewardship (WA)
    Public access, hydropower development, and resource stewardship are all ongoing issues on this river system.