SEASON: Winter or spring. Avoid high flow or periods during heavy
CAMPING: Brown Creek Campground just upstream of the put-in is
open year-around or use one of the unimproved campsites in the
ACCESS: At Highway 101 mile 339.5 turn west on to Skokomish
Valley Road. Follow this road 4.5 miles to a pullout along the river just
before the Vance Creek Bridge. This is the take-out. Continue another 1.2
miles to a turnoff up the hill to the right on FR 23 (toward Brown Creek
Campground). Follow this road 8.9 miles to spur road 220 that winds
down to the river at the Oxbow Area (there is a big Forest Service sign
here). This road will likely be gated during the winter but it's only about a
15 minute hike down hill to the river. Aside from the final hike down the
spur road, the rest of the shuttle road is a paved logging road. Check road
conditions on the Olympic
National Forest web site under current condition reports.
Every year fall rains usher in another flood season for the Skokomish
River and Seattle's local television stations show footage of
salmon crossing the Skokomish Valley Road. Logging in the
headwaters has likely been at least partly responsible for the increased
flooding that seems to get worse each year. More than half of the South
Fork Skokomish watershed has been logged in the past 40 years and the
density of logging roads is among the highest in the nation. Failure of
these logging roads has significantly increased sediment loads so that
the river bed in the lower watershed is actually increasing in elevation.
Coupled with this increased sediment, the diversion of North Fork
Skokomish waters from Cushman Reservoir means that total power
available to move the sediments out to Hood Canal is now reduced. The
result of all this sediment sitting in the river channel is a river that
constantly over tops it's banks. It's not uncommon to see salmon
carcasses on the road or in the fields after the flood waters subside. The
flooding has little direct impact on paddling opportunities which are
available in secluded bedrock gorges upstream.
The river has two great gorge sections where massive chunks of the
bedrock walls have broken off to form challenging rapids. It's a long run
and you want to give yourself plenty of time. Outside the gorges the river is
class II but at recommended flows the river moves quickly and the
scenery is enjoyable. Since this river normally runs during the short days
near the winter solstice, an early start is highly recommended. Keep in
mind that this is an 11 mile run and you might consider camping at the
put-in or grabbing a hotel room in Shelton.
The run starts with a mile of easy paddling as you approach the first
gorge. Here you pass through some really interesting geology as you
paddle through old lake bed sediments from when the river was dammed
by glaciers of the last ice age. You also paddle through some ancient tree
stumps. The walls close in as you enter the first gorge which is
approximately 2 miles in length. The first rapid can be easily boat
scouted, but then you arrive at the first distinct ledge. Make sure you have
a good boof if you take the river right chute as there is a really bad pin spot
where a deep notch in the bedrock sits just below the water's surface.
There are some good class IV rapids in this gorge along with one, Big
Momma Jomba, that's a bit more challenging than the rest and a
warm-up for the rapids in the second gorge (video). Aside
from this rapid, that you'll probably want to scout from the left, most of the
rest can be boat scouted.
The river then opens up a bit for about a mile of class II before you
reach the second gorge which is approximately 3.5 miles in length.
Once you enter the second gorge you are committed to the run and
the action starts right away. The entrance is a bit intimidating where two
large boulders block your view of what awaits downstream (video). There
is a very sketchy scouting option along the bedrock wall on river left which
gives you a peak at the left chute. Either chute is possible although wood
could create problems through either. Once you've made your way
through there is a good eddy behind the big boulders. You'll want to get
out on the left to scout one of the more technical class V boulder gardens
on the run. There are lines through the center (video) and
right or you can sneak the drop on the left. Just downstream the river
plunges over a fun ledge drop. Less than 100 yards downstream you'll
come to a nasty sieve with a portage option on the right. You can boof it
but there have been incidents here.
You'll enjoy great continuous rapids as you approach the High Steel
Bridge with a fun ledge drop that can be run on river left (video). Just
as you're about to pass under the bridge look up to the right at Vincent
Creek which enters the river in an impressive cascade.
After you pass under the bridge, two class V drops come in relatively
rapid succession--High Steel Falls and Bobbing for Butler. Get out on
river right to scout High Steel Falls (video). Most of
the flow heads river left and plunges into a fairly significant hole, but you
can grab a quick eddy on the right and then line up for a route that takes
you through a couple of smaller, but still significant holes. You'll wind your
way through a fun boulder garden before you arrive at Bobbing for Butler
which is also scouted from the right. There is quite a lot of action in this
rapid which consists of a fun sequence of ledges and holes. After this
drop there is evidence of a large landslide that entered the channel from
the left. It may be clearing up, but it's still pretty grungy. You'll most likely
want to portage this one on the left.
Below the landslide, you'll enjoy several class III rapids as you take
in the impressive canyon scenery. The final class V- drop on the run is Mr.
Toad's Wild Ride (video) which can be recognized by a fun ledge drop
and more huge boulders that nearly block the river. At flows below 700 cfs
this one gets a little tricky to negotiate with one barely-covered rock ledge
and some tight slots you need to weave your way through.
After Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, the river quickly tapers off to class II and
the walls of the gorge begin to peel back. Once you pass the gauging
station and are on the floodplain, it's another 3.5 miles of class I/II to the
take-out. At flows around 800 cfs the gravel bars are covered and this float
goes pretty quickly, but as flows drop you can expect a slower ride and
some scraping in spots. Be cautious of log jams as this is a very dynamic
lat/long approximate by tiger map server
for additional information see:
None of the video links worked, either "Page Not Found" or "403 Forbidden"....other than that a good write up and the link to the 2003 Oregon Kayaking site has nice pics and write up. Met Jurgen Nickles a number of years ago btw....
A comprehensive guide to 75 river runs on Washington's beautiful Olympic Peninsula.
Skokomish. As flows get higher
you can expect the rapids to get a bit
more pushy and some of the scouting
and portage options may disappear
(i.e. if it's your first time avoid high
water). At lower flows, there are a
couple drops that expose some pin
hazards. Beware that this river can rise
rapidly during heavy rain events. It's
safest to catch it on the way back
down. This gauge is operated for flood
warning purposes and is typically
online from the beginning of October to
the end of May.
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.
Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
High Steel Falls
rapid above High Bridge
Second Gorge First Rapid
Entrance to Second Gorge
South Fork Skokomish 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
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
This week, the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands will hold a hearing on bills that would designate over 1000 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers. American Whitewater has brought the voice of the whitewater paddling community to the discussions that led to these legislative proposals with a goal of protecting rivers and the whitewater paddling experience.
The extensive road network in Olympic National Forest has deteriorated over the last few years with the reduction in logging intensity and corresponding lack of routine maintenance. The road failures have resulted in destruction of aquatic habitat and reduced access. Repair work and decommissioning has begun with the introduction of a new road management plan in fall 2002.
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!