This is a good beginner run but be sure to go with experienced paddlers and make sure you have good boat control skills. Wood hazards can be significant and may require some precise manuvering. This run is also one of the most scenic trips through the Mt. Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest, flowing through magestic riparian forests in a beautiful river valley–it stands out as a true gem of the Wild and Scenic River system.
The run starts out on the lower section of the North Fork Sauk before soon joining the confluence with the South Fork a couple minutes downstream of the Bedal Campground. The river starts of with lively class II rapids. The best rapids on the run are in the first four miles where the river cuts a course through class II/III gravel bar rapids interrupted by occassional boulders. Although you will encounter a couple sections of bedrock, most of the river freely migrates across the floodplain contributing a constant supply of wood as the river carves new channels through sections of forest.
Once the rapids taper off, the river meanders back and forth across the floodplain but still continues along at a good pace. On a clear day, you will have great views back up the valley and into the Glacier Peak Wilderness. High above the valley on river right you will pass by Pugh Mountain and if the river is at a medium flow you will find several gravel bar beaches that make great lunch stops or a campsite for an overnight trip. Bring your firepan and practice Leave No Trace Camping. Overnight use seems to be increasing and boaters have reported increased evidence of impacts.
This section of river finishes off with the best rapid of the trip at Rocky Road, a fun class III drop just upstream of the Mountain Loop Highway bridge. You will recognize the approach by a gaging station on river right. Within a short distance of passing the gage, the river enters a short section of bedrock-constrained channel with several boulders that create a fun technical drop.
You can take-out after running Rocky Road or continue your trip downstream on the Middle Sauk and enjoy one of the longest whitewater trips in the Western Cascades.
The take-out is at the White Chuck boat launch. To reach this access, head out of Darrington on the Mountain Loop Highway (FR 20). Less than 10 miles out of town you will reach the Sauk River Bridge at road mile 44.9. A short distance after this, turn left and cross the White Chuck River on the new bridge. There is a large parking lot with bathrooms just downstream of the boat launch.
To reach the put-in continue up the Mountain Loop Highway. The pavement soon ends, but continue on to mile 37.4 (just past the turn-off for the North Fork Sauk Road) and turn into the Bedal Campground. Follow the road within the campground down to the boat launch between campsites 11 and 12. Once you have dropped your gear, take your car back out the campground entrance and park in the boater lot on the other side of the road. If the campground is closed you can always access the river from the downstream river right side of the bridge across the North Fork that is adjacent to the boater parking lot. American Whitewater worked with the Forest Service to identify an access site that did not involve walking through someone's campsite and designating a place to park.
For current conditions, you can call the Darrington Ranger District (360-436-1155) and ask about road conditions or check the current conditions report.
I floated this section yesterday in a 16' SOAR inflatable. 1,000 cfs is definitely right on the cusp of being unrunnable for all vessels. None of the channels we chose had strainers, but at higher levels some of the trees/logs we passed under would come into play. It really was a beautiful stretch of river, just a lot of work dodging rocks and dragging the boat occasionally.
A review of strengths, weakeness, opportunities, and threats to enhancing river access.
Letter from American Whitewater expressing our interest in formalizing the Bedal River Access.
Excerpts from the River Management Plan Covering Recreation
Letter to Mount Baker - National Forest regarding impacts of October 2003 floods.
The Sauk ab.
Whitechuck gauge is located at the end of this
run just upstream of the confluence of the Whitechuck
River. Kayaks can still get down this run and have an
enjoyable day as low as 800 cfs although you may
scrape your way across a few of the gravel bars. Rafts
will likely want more water. Flows above 2000 cfs are
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 Sauk, North Fork
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.
American Whitewater joins a coalition in unveiling a new "Destination Darrington" map as Highway 530 opens to all traffic this weekend restoring access to recreational opportunities along the Sauk and Suiattle Rivers.The colorful brochure map spotlights recreational opportunities around Darrington and local businesses.
Today through Sunday contractors will be on site to conduct blasting operations associated with the construction of a new bridge across the Whitechuck River. This bridge will replace the one washed out in the October 2003 floods and will provide access to the Whitechuck Launch on the Sauk Wild and Scenic River.
The Forest Service has initiated planning efforts for a new put-in on the Upper Sauk River. This planning will continue through summer 2002 with a goal of initiating site improvements beginning in fall 2002. The new put-in will be designed to accomodate additional users and minimize conflicts. Those who have input are invited to contact the Forest Service.
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