Known simply as "The Sky", the Sunset run on the Skykomish is where experienced boaters can go for their weekly whitewater fix and still be home by dinner. Only an hour from Seattle, the run offers excellent whitewater throughout the year and plenty of fun play spots. In a good water year it can be paddled all twelve months of the year. You may be grinding your way down on the coldest winter days or after several days with no rain in the summer, but you are just about always guranteed to have a good time.
Historically, kayakers began their trips from the base of the dramatic Sunset Falls with a seal launch from the rocks (before access was closed at WDFW). The first rapid on the river is a short series of ledges ending with one of the favorite surfing waves on the run. Pull out on river right to line up for First Wave.
The next rapid is a straightforward boulder garden ending with a sometimes meaty hole just to the left of center. You can hop in for a wild ride, but at most levels it's not for the timid. The river passes through another boulder garden before reaching Powerline.
Powerlines overhead and a horizon line mark the entrance to Powerline Rapid (otherwise known as Cable Drop). Good lines can be found down river left or river right. At most levels you can find some good surfing in this rapid and this has been the site of the SkyFest freestyle through a rapid competition. Continuing down on river left you pass through a boulder garden with a nice ender spot at some levels, and then on under the highway 2 bridge to the confluence with the North Fork of the Skykomish.
The river winds through another couple rapids before turning back towards the road near the outlet of Anderson Creek. Here on river left one can find Anderson Hole for some fun surfing. Boulder Drop lurks just downstream (within site of Anderson Hole) and is easily recognized by the large mid-channel boulders.
Those just getting their feet wet with class III should portage Boulder Drop (the easiest portage route is on river left along the should of the road). Although it may look deceptively easy at lower water levels the series of moves required to negotiate the rapid is not trivial. This rapid is identified in the American Whitewater safety code as a IV+ standard at 5,000 cfs. Those who have solid class III experience and are ready to start class IV normally start running Boulder Drop at levels of around 2000 cfs or less after a careful scout from river right and with back-up from expeienced paddlers. There are two basic routes used to run Boulder Drop. Both start by entering the rapid on river right through one of a couple possible chutes and then eddying out at the first big eddy on river right. Paddlers are then faced with the Picket Fence, a series of boulders that are lined up across the width of the river. The major routes through the Picket Fence are Airplane Turn or Ned's Needle. The Airplane Turn requires a hard ferry to river left, while Ned's Needle requires a precise line up for the narrow slot. The reversal at the base of Ned's Needle can create problems if you don't clear the base of the drop with a good boof and at lower levels the Dragon's Back appears on the left side of the chute leading away from the Needle. At higher levels a third option becomes available in the form of a sneak route on river right. The final section of the rapid includes a series of large waves and holes run just left of the ominous House Rock. There is a good eddy line for squirt moves in the pool below Boulder Drop. The whole rapid can be viewed from the road between milemarker 34 and the Anderson Creek bridge.
After passing through a couple more rapids you come to Lunch Hole. The main current heads towards a rock wall along the left bank. Lunch Hole sits along the left bank and has been known to grab unsuspecting paddlers. It can be easily avoided on the right or for those wanting a more intimate look you can catch the small eddy on river left above it and ride the narrow tongue alongside it.
The next fun spot on the river is Last Wave at Split Rock. Kayakers line up in the large eddy behind a big boulder on river left to take turns surfing this beautiful wave. Some take out along the road near Split Rock while others continue on downstream around the corner to the railroad bridge takeout on river left. The Big Eddy run begins at the railroad bridge.
PUT-IN: For kayakers the best put-in is at the base of Sunset Falls on the South Fork of the Skykomish (elevation 500'). Access to the traditional put-in is 1 mile east of the Mt. Index Cafe off Highway 2 (mile 36.5). At this point there is a pullout on the south side of the highway and a road that leads down towards the river (marked with a "road closed" sign). Follow the road down to a parking area just before a bridge over a small creek. Hike your boat down the hill under the railroad tracks to the base of Sunset Falls. (NOTE: Access to this put-in has been closed by WDFW. Restoring access is a long-term priority of American Whitewater). Currently, the best alternative access point is on Forest Service land on river left above Powerline Rapid (1.9 river miles downstream from Sunset Falls). At Hwy 2 mile 35.1 (just west of bridge across the Skykomish) take FR 6020 0.4 miles to a parking area near a big powerline tower. A trail from the corner of the parking area leads down to the river at a point just upstream of Powerline Rapid. Don't attempt to use private land (clearly marked) near the base of Sunset Falls on river left. Additional access points include Forest Service land at the Hwy 2 bridge at mile 35.1 (river left), and on the North Fork at either the railroad bridge in the town of Index (river left) or Forest Service land (Llama Ledges) less than a mile south of Index (river right).
TAKEOUT: The railroad bridge over the Skykomish at Highway 2 mile 32.5 (elevation 295'). There is a parking area on the north side of Highway 2 with enough space for a half dozen cars (more if you get creative). There have been occasional problems with break-ins to shuttle vehicles. Some pull off the road a few hundred yards upstream where the road is closer to the river at Split Rock (Highway 2 mile 32.9). This access is private land but Outdoor Adventure Center provides insurance to cover use of the site as a boating access but you need to fill out a liability waiver with Outdoor Adventure Center in Index. Others, including rafters, takeout at the fishing access downstream (Highway 2 mile 30.4).
Boulder Drop is the main rapid on the Skykomish. For many boaters in the region, it is the first class IV rapid they run. There are several different lines depending on flow and skill. Standard lines include Ned's Needle or Airplane turn. The best scouting location is from river right. It can also be portaged on the left (hike up to the road and walk along the shoulder).
Take the narrow line on the left or go wide to the right.
A fun park and play spot on the Sky.
PLEASE NOTE: the gauge is reportedly off! A very experienced oarsman who knows the Sky intimately reported that 6500ish felt like 9000ish. The difference will be exponential with higher flows....
There is a downed tree on river right in the middle of the first rapid after the confluence. It's easy to see the tree, but it blocks most, if not all the eddies on river right through the rapid.
2 years ago
by Matt Haverly
5 years ago
by Howard S. Young
Washington State Parks Scenic Rivers Program study of access needs and concerns along the Skykomish River corridor, a designated State Scenic River.
Comments to WDFW
USGS gauge at Goldbar. Best when the gauge is between 2,000 and 5,000 cfs. Below 2,000 cfs is a good level for intermediates ready for their first class III run. At levels between 5,000 and 10,000 cfs this run is for experienced paddlers and above 10,000 cfs you had better be regular.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Sunset Falls Access
Boulder Drop Features
Cable Drop Access
Patch goes west
Find the Duckie!
How-To Run Boulder Drop at ~1400 cfs
Mt. Index, Risa
Cherish at Skyfest Rodeo
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American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
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Late last month Snohomish PUD submitted a preliminary permit application to investigate the feasibility of a hydropower project at Sunset Falls on the Skykomish River. This is not the first hydropower project that has been proposed at Sunset Falls, however the river is part of the Washington State Scenic River system (RCW 79A.55.070), is within a Northwest Power and Conservation Council Protected Area from hydropower development, and has been recommended for designation as a Wild and Scenic River for its Scenic, Recreation, Fish, and Wildlife values.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has initiated a 60 day comment period for the proposed Sunset Falls Hydro Project. This is the first step in the process where Snohomish PUD is seeking a preliminary permit to begin a formal study of the site. American Whitewater has several concerns with this project given the community value of this river and its signature waterfall.
Earlier today American Whitewater was joined by Alpine Lakes Protection Society, American Rivers, North Cascades Conservation Council, Sierra Club – Washington State Chapter, The Mountaineers, and Washington Wild in formally opposing the proposed hydropower project on the South Fork of the Skykomish River at Sunset Falls.
Planning is underway for two access issues on the Skykomish River: environmental review is in progress for restoration of the Index-Galena Road along the North Fork of the Skykomish River and a public comment period is open for a formalized access point at Cable Drop on the South Fork Skykomish.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has scheduled a set of public meetings and a site visit on June 12th and 13th that are open to the public for those who wish to comment on the proposed hydropower development at Sunset Falls. Written comments on the proposal are being accepted through July 19th.
A new economic study of the controversial Sunset Falls Dam on Washington’s South Fork of the Skykomish River, reveals the power generated at the proposed site would cost 2.3 times more than the Snohomish County Public Utility District (SnoPUD) estimates.
Today, numerous partners joined American Whitewater in filing comments in opposition to Snohomish PUD No. 1's proposed hydroelectric project on the South Fork Skykomish river at Sunset Falls in Washington. Our comments highlight the significant impacts the project would have to fish and wildlife habitat, water quality and quantity, recreation and scenic values, and call out the questionable economics of the project.
Fear overtook my whole body. Every muscle stiffened to the point of being unable to move...
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