Skykomish - 1 - Index (Sunset Falls) to Railroad Bridge

Skykomish, Washington, US


1 - Index (Sunset Falls) to Railroad Bridge

Usual Difficulty III+(IV) (for normal flows)
Length 4.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 45 fpm

Sunset Put-in

Sunset Put-in
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe В©

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-12134500 700 - 20000 cfs III+(IV) 00h22m 8920 cfs (running)

River Description

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).

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-01-03 16:37:13


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Sunset FallsPutin Waterfall Photo
1.3Cable Drop (aka Powerline)III+Photo
3.1Boulder DropIVPhoto
3.7Lunch HoleIII+Photo
4.1Split RockIIIPlayspot Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Sunset Falls

Sunset Put-in

Sunset Put-in
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe В©

The traditional put-in for the Skykomish was the base of Sunset Falls on river right at the state-owned fish trap and haul facility. Despite the fact that this facility belongs to the public and is one of the most dramatic and scenic river access points in the nation, fish managers have closed the site to access.

Cable Drop (aka Powerline) (Class III+, Mile 1.3)

Powerline Rapid

Powerline Rapid
Photo of Claudio Piani by Thomas O'Keefe В©

A few different lines are possible through this great drop which also serves up some fun play spots.

Boulder Drop (Class IV, Mile 3.1)

Boulder Drop Features

Boulder Drop Features
Photo by Megan P Kelly taken 12/30/16

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). 

Lunch Hole (Class III+, Mile 3.7)

Lunch Hole

Lunch Hole
Photo of Everett Doten by Thomas O'Keefe В©

Take the narrow line on the left or go wide to the right.

Split Rock (Class III, Mile 4.1)

Split Rock

Split Rock
Photo of Jennie Goldberg by Thomas O'Keefe taken 11/22/14 @ 3850 cfs

A fun park and play spot on the Sky.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
December 26 2016 (723 days ago)
Matt_Haverly (157981)
Wood alert: SKYKOMISH - NORTH FORK - a ways up from the confluence - where the wood typically piles
up on the right bank and the river bends left - there is a huge new tree that covers almost the
entire river when the flow is 1670cfs. This wasn't there just a couple weeks ago. It was manditory
portage (portage the left side) and was a VERY nasty strainer. It is easy to see it but flows can
tend to push you towards it. I would not take any newer boaters on the North Fork at all until this
is gone - the strainer looks VERY vicious.
August 24 2013 (1943 days ago)
younghs (155860)
There is a new strainer in Aquagasm rapid. It is a fallen maple tree about 2/3 the way through
Aquagasm. It extends from the right bank about halfway across the river. The left side of the river
is open.
May 10 2010 (3145 days ago)
Lisa FarinDetails
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.
November 10 2006 (4421 days ago)
Michael HornerDetails
11/11/2006 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

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SkyFest Index,WA runs 07/04/13 - 05/08/16
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