Skokomish, S. Fork, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV-V (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||36 fpm|
|Max Gradient||90 fpm|
|SOUTH FORK SKOKOMISH RIVER NEAR UNION, WA|
|usgs-12060500||650 - 1600 cfs||IV-V||00h58m||420 cfs (too low)|
SEASON: Winter or spring. Avoid high flow or periods during heavy rain.
CAMPING: Brown Creek Campground just upstream of the put-in is open year-around or use one of the unimproved campsites in the National Forest.
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 river channel.
lat/long approximate by tiger map server
for additional information see:
Addressing Road Problems in Olympic National Forest (WA)
January 18, 2003
A comprehensive guide to 75 river runs on Washington's beautiful Olympic Peninsula.