This short run just outside of Darrington is one of the true gems of the Skagit River system
serving up a mile and a half of continuous boulder garden rapids. On a clear late spring or early
summer day, the scenery is beautiful and the river is absolutely stunning set against the backdrop of
impressive peaks as you look back upstream into the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
You can do one quick run--a good option if you're enjoying other activities in the
National Forest or just want to crank it up a notch after a run on the main Sauk--but more typically
folks arrive planning to run a couple laps. The run can be described as technical class IV+ with a couple
of sections that push class V and that's especially the case as flows increase. Scout carefully for log
hazards and be prepared for several depending on what the previous season's storms have flushed into
the river channel. You will likely be able to maneuver around most of them if you know where they are,
but be prepared for a portage or two. The run contains more pin hazards than many of the other class
IV+ runs in the Cascades and this is therefore not a place to bring the playboat. The other issue is the
continuous nature of the run which could quickly turn rescue situations epic if you had to chase down
From the put-in beach it's an easy launch into the pool below a big boulder garden rapid
that can be run if you want to hike your boat through the woods upstream of the beach access. From
the put-in pool slice your way through the next boulder garden downstream and grab an eddy on river
left above Where's Scott Drop. This rapid offers a couple alternatives and the option you choose will
likely depend on flows: you can take the left slot and head back towards the center for a nice boof
move, ride a strong jet down the center, or take the third option down river right that sends you up
against a large boulder. It's not a bad idea to check this drop out before the run if you've never seen it
as it only takes a minute or two from the put-in down the fisherman's trail on river right. That way if
you blow the eddy you'll know what's coming up.
From this point on the river tears through a series of long boulder garden rapids, with
the biggest rapids about midway through the run. If you're feeling on edge at the start, the road is
never far away on river right. Most of the drops are fairly straightforward to boat scout, but make sure
you have your next eddy clearly identified and have someone make a quick check for wood when
necessary. At medium flows, you should find decent eddies between sections of boulder gardens. The
run eventually tapers off to class III for a little ways and then you have a long pool with a generous eddy
on river right before the river disappears off to the left at an obvious horizon line marking the lead-in
rapids to North Fork Falls. Make sure you know the take-out as you don't want to risk plunging over the
falls. Those who are curious can hike the short trail down to the falls.
From the main intersection in Darrington turn onto the Mountain Loop Highway (FR 20)
and head up along the Sauk River. The pavement ends shortly after crossing the Sauk 9 miles out of
town. Continue up the dirt road and 15.8 miles from town at Mountain Loop Highway mile 37.8 turn
onto the North Fork Sauk Road (FR 49). Heading up this road to mile 1.2 you will pass a small pullout at
the trailhead for North Fork Falls and at mile 1.3 there is shoulder parking for a couple cars on the
outside of a curve in the road. This unmarked access is the take-out and requires a hike of about 5
minutes down to the river; you should find yourself at a pool just above the lead-in rapids to the
unrunnable North Fork Falls. To reach the put-in, continue up the road to mile 2.9 where the river
comes up against the road at a nice eddy with beach access. Although you'll see the river through the
trees in a couple places on the shuttle, this access is the first convenient to the river and is also an
informal riverside camp site. If you pass the Lost Creek Ridge trailhead (trail 646), then you've gone just
a bit too far. If it's early or late in the season and you want to get a road update, you can call the
Darrington Ranger District (360-436-1155) and ask about road conditions to this trail or check the current conditions report. This is an easy
shuttle to jog (only 1.6 miles) if you only have one vehicle.
The Forest Service opens the North Fork Sauk (Forest Service road 49) July 20 restoring access to the Glacier Peak and Henry M. Jackson Wilderness Areas along with the Pacific Crest Trail from the Darrington Ranger District. There are only two major access points into the wilderness, the North Fork Sauk and Suiattle River Roads. “I’m excited this road is open,” said Peter Forbes, Darrington District Ranger. “We have been working hard to open access back into the wilderness,” he said. The Suiattle River road remains closed at mile 12 until repairs can be made.
As of December 18, 2004 there are no log portages on this run. There are a few logs here and there but nothing that spans the channel.
As of 27JUN2004 this run was fairly clean. We had one wood portage where there were a couple trees that had fallen in from the left at one of the bigger boulder gardens (the one with the massive log jam on river right). There was additional wood here and there that could largely be avoided if you took the correct channel.
8 years ago
by Thomas O'Keefe
10 years ago
by Chip Maney
A review of strengths, weakeness, opportunities, and threats to enhancing river access.
Excerpts from the River Management Plan Covering Recreation
The Sauk ab. Whitechuck
will provide some indication of flow in the basin;
the North Fork is probably about 1/2 the discharge on
this gauge which is located about 10 miles
downstream of this run and below the confluence with
the South Fork and several small tributary streams.
Discharge is dependent on freezing level and if the
freezing level is low you might be getting rain flow on
the main Sauk but relatively less flow on the higher
elevation North Fork. A great first-time level during
late spring snowmelt is around 1250 cfs on this
gauge. The run starts to get a little pushy above 2000
cfs although runs at higher levels are possible if you
know the river. 1000 cfs is an estimate of the lower
limit; the issue at lower flows is the pin hazard in the
tight and technical boulder gardens.
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.
North Fork Falls
Where's Scott? Drop
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
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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.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!