SEASON: Winter rains.
LOGISTICS: Paddlers meet at the Highway 9 Bridge just north of Arlington at
Highway 9 mile 34.9 to check the gauge and coordinate shuttle. If you're going to tack on the
middle run too then this is the take-out, but if you're just doing the upper start heading up river.
From the Highway 9 Bridge, drive 0.3 miles north on Highway 9 and turn right onto Finn
Settlement Rd. (labeled as 44th Ave NE in the Gazetteer). Drive 4.5 miles along this road until you
come to a Y. To reach the take-out (also the put-in for the middle section) turn right at the Y.
From this point you used to be able to drive 0.9 miles to the logging road bridge across the river,
but the WA DNR has gated this road and you'll now have to hike out if you want to use this access.
To reach the put-in, turn left at the Y and head 0.9 miles to Lake Cavanaugh Road. Head right and
continue another 4 miles up the road where the river runs right up againt the road. There is a spot
for a couple of cars at a small pull-out.
The upper section of Pilchuck Creek adds some fun class III/IV
rapids that can become very pushy and continuous at high flows with the
action building up to the most challenging drops which are 1.5 to 2.0
miles into the run. At high water this section can push class V as holes
start to appear and quick moves around wood hazards are required. The
upper section is a bit more continuous than the middle section, but the
character is mostly boulder gardens through a second-growth forest.
There is an old logging road that runs along much of the run so although
you can boat scout the run, getting out on shore is not as difficult as in the
bedrock canyon downstream. Drops on this upper section are a bit bony
with medium flows. Higher flows are generally best for this run.
The most challenging drop occurs near over halfway into the run
where a large boulder sticks out from river right and the river plunges over
a 5' ledge drop. It's run river right near the boulder. Another good drop
follows a short distance downstream before the action begins to taper off
a bit. It's a short distance to the take-out bridge (pull out upstream river
Those looking for more action continue downstream and paddle the
middle section which is best-known for Pilchuck Falls. Paddling the upper
and middle sections together can make for a great day with 10 miles of
See description for Pilchuck Creek,
Well, it was certainly interesting! We had all said previously that we'd never do the whole run (upper/middle) on a freezing winter (short) day...so, we dropped a car at the Hwy 9 take-out at around 10AM and drove to the put-in access on Lake Cavanaugh Road...it was snowing and 36 degrees. :)
Flow was low...just over 700 cfs on the DOE gauge. The upper run could not be run any lower, and in fact the lowness made it increasingly more difficult in places. It was a tense float around a lot of wood in places but only one real portage as going under and over some of the logs were Plan A. The 140 fpm Class IV section was the most difficult as the boulders made route picking very difficult, the snow was pounding down and there were so many steathly colored rocks boats took a beating (mine especially - 2 huge gashes in the floor). The bigger ledges are obvious when you approach them and are both run next to large rocks on river right. I had one swim right above one of the bigger ones and tested my helmets integrity in 6" of fast moving water before self-rescuing, checking if all my marbles were still in order than proceeding down through the rapid. Then I blew a line wound up getting side-surfed in a hole WHILE attaching myself to a sweeper. That was a first. Took me over 2 minutes to find a combination of moves that got my out of the hole and the sticks w/o flipping. The 2nd big ledge had Brian for lunch and Shaun and I took chase and recovered his boat. One more fun, big river-wide ledge remained and soon we were at the put-in bridge for the Middle run and we basically bombed down that as fast as we could in search of warm shoes. The Middle still had the same logs it did a few weeks back and should be approached carefully as another big water event might clean some up but also could push many of the sideline trees into the drink as well.
Running both runs together is great. No gate/hike-in issues like on the middle and the PI and TO are cake. I'd like to see about 900 or so next time to clean up the upper run. It is however easy to see how hazardous this run could become at higher flows. That 140 fpm section can become Class V and with the wood in there and less eddies could make it even harder. If you can't see the bottom of a drop, scout!
10 years ago
This is a rain-fed run and it generally
takes at least a day of good hard winter rain to
bring the water up. Department of Ecology recently
established a realtime
gauge for this creek. You can also check the
rainfall at the Arlington NWS station. The
river rises and falls very quickly and once it
stops raining the flows drop immediately. Of
nearby realtime gauges, the
North Fork Stilliguamish generally gives
you the best idea of area flows (look for a
winter rain event that brings flows up to around
8000-11000 cfs on this gauge). At the river, the
Pilchuck nr Bryant gauge is just upstream
from the Highway 9 bridge. It's no longer an
active gauge and getting to a spot where you
can actually read the numbers would require
you to go across private property (although
you can read it when paddling past). You can
see this staff gauge from the river left side of
the bridge. Although you won't be able to read
the numbers, the top of the board is at 5.7'
(approx 2800 cfs) so from that you can
estimate what the level is. Most paddlers use
the large rock in the middle of the river on the
upstream side of the bridge to estimate relative
flow. If water is only just reaching the rock but
not really flowing up on it then you probably
want to skip this upper section and just paddle
middle section. If water is flowing up over
the rock then this is the level where the upper
section becomes boatable (around 4.5,
approx. 1390 cfs) (see gauge photo). Once the
rock is fully covered the river is running at high
water--use caution. The staff gauge roughly
corresponds (channel has likely changed
since the last set of measurements) to cfs as
3.5' - 560 cfs
4.0' - 930 cfs
4.5' - 1390 cfs
5.0' - 1950 cfs
5.5' - 2600 cfs
6.0' - 3300 cfs
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.
Upper Pilchuck rapid
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.
Paddlers returning to Plichuck Creek with the winter rains have learned of a new access closure. The Washington DNR, in cooperation with other land owners has closed the access to the bridge just upstream of Pilchuck Falls.
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