Pilchuck Creek - 1 - Lake Cavanaugh Road to Pilchuck Creek Campsite

Pilchuck Creek, Washington, US


1 - Lake Cavanaugh Road to Pilchuck Creek Campsite

Usual Difficulty IV (for normal flows)
Length 4.4 Miles
Avg. Gradient 60 fpm

Upper Pilchuck

Upper Pilchuck
Photo of Dave Wilson by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 01/26/02

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Pilchuck Cr. @ Bridge 626
wadoe-05D070 800 - 4500 cfs IV 04h55m 22 cfs (too low)

River Description

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 right).

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 paddling.

See description for Pilchuck Creek, Middle Section.

StreamTeam Status: Verified
Last Updated: 2004-09-07 13:53:55


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.
December 29 2006 (4216 days ago)
Nick BorelliDetails
12/28/06 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. Overall: 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!

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