ACCESS: The put-in is at the Big Eddy public access at Highway 2 mile 30.4, just east of the
Highway 2 bridge across the river. This site has ample parking and a convenient boat ramp. It is co-
managed by a couple of different agencies and there has been some question over the parking
regulations given different fee systems the participating agencies have instituted.
DESCRIPTION: Starting from the Big Eddy access this is a beautiful section of river with minimal
development. The river undergoes a distinct transition at Big Eddy and from this point on and
cointinuing downstream the river takes on the characteristics of a large floodplain river. There are
forested islands, gravel bars, and lots of salmon spawning habitat. Much of the riparian forest along
this section has been protected through the efforts of Snohomish County, the Cascade Land
Conservancy, and others.
Although there are few distinct rapids the current is swift and there are a couple of sections with
waves and strong eddy lines. The river is popular with drift boat fishermen and experienced canoeists
(this isn't a place to learn on your own).
Although you can paddle to Monroe or even continue on down the Snohomish all the way out to
Puget Sound (be sure to check the tides), there is an option for a shorter trip down to the Sultan River
confluence where a nice day-use park provides convenient river access.
Rafted a modified version of this route on April 20th 2015, starting 2.5 miles upstream of Big Eddy (see the Railway Bridge to Big Eddy trip, https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/3409/), and taking out at the Sultan River confluence (halfway along this route). Flow was 2950. We did the trip by packraft. Once we were in the water (e.g., not counting the setup time), the trip took 3.5 hours for the ~10 miles, with us paddling most of the time (we needed to make it to Sultan in time to get one of our party to the airport).
Our shuttle/takeout car we had left in Sultan, next to the confluence (there is a park there where you can park if you have a Discover Pass -- though I did not see a place to purchase one). For the put-in, we parked at the highway pullout next to the railway bridge. This was a Monday, so we were the only car there. This was a sunny day, so the walk down to the river was not muddy at all, contrary to the description of the RailwayBridge put-in. While it might be more difficult with a kayak, the packrafts are super portable, so the walk down to the river was no problem.
The first 2.5 miles (the section before the official start of this one) was good fun, lots of class II rapids that soaked us when splashing us, but did not seem to be much risk for overturning the packrafts (not sure about a kayak -- packrafts are generally much more stable). While we didn't necessarily *want* to swim, there were no fallen trees or log jams anywhere, so even if we had overturned, it didn't look too dangerous. This section took about 45 minutes to complete.
From Big Eddy, the river mellowed (to the point that we even ate lunch on the water, letting the current take us and only needing to take to our paddles a couple of times). There was still some current (enough that if we didn't paddle, we still would have made it to Sultan eventually), but we needed to make it by a particular time, so we paddled almost all of the time. This would be a great section to take someone completely inexperienced on -- effectively no rapids, but a reasonable current to travel you down the river, and fantastic views. The views of the mountains were excellent, and the river flows through a remote section that only comes towards the road and civilization near Gold Bar and Sultan.
Great time on the river.
At big eddy the parking fee is $5 per day (there is a pay station), but you
are exempt from the fee if you have a yellow Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) vehicle use permit.
10 months ago
by Matt Turner
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