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.
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.
GAUGE: Depending on freezing level, this river can be very flashy and quickly responds to big rain events.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Horseshoe Bend Trail
~2 Mi. Section
Nooksack River Access
North Fork Nooksack
Fun ledge below Bench Drop
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Do you enjoy boating on the Nooksack River? If you do, please tell us about your experience. American Whitewater is working with several partners through the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program to develop an updated recreation plan for the upper Nooksack River basin. Your input will help us guide development of this plan.
Following a two and a half year process, the Upper Nooksack River Recreation Plan, has been finalized. This new, comprehensive plan will help guide the management of recreation and natural resources along the upper Nooksack River system in Washington state. The plan recognizes and supports the economic and health benefits of recreation, along with protection and restoration of the natural and cultural values of the upper river basin.
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