SEASON: November rains and spring snowmelt
FUN FACT: One of the most diverse afternoon river trips starting with a short technical canyon and ending with a broader river with some power.
ACCESS: From Highway 2 mile 35.6 turn north up the North Fork Road (becomes FR 63) at the Mt. Index Cafe. For a longer run, one potential access point for a take-out is at the Index Bridge 1 mile up the road (upstream river right). There is another public parcel at mile 2.4 that is owned by State Parks and may one day be developed into a day use site (at levels above 4000 cfs at Goldbar this is a decent put-in for a run continuing on down to the Railroad Bridge on the main Sky). To reach the more commonly used takeout (privately owned by Outdoor Adventure Center and available for use with permission) continue to mile 6.1 and a takeout at the Trout Creek Bridge (elevation 840'). An alternative take-out on Forest Service land is available at a pull-out upstream at mile 6.9. You'll pass a turn-off for Forest Road 6330 at mile 9.1 that crosses the river. If you want to scout El Nino, it is a couple hundred yards upstream of this turn-off. Continue on FR 63. You'll find a lower put-in near mile 10.9 where the river closely parallels the road (if you're putting in here you'll probably want to launch downstream of Rooster Tail). Continue on FR 63, 0.5 miles past the Troublesome Creek Bridge to mile 11.7 and the put-in to the upper canyon section at Drumbeater (elevation 1335'). You'll be able to see the canyon through the trees past this bridge and there is a short trail once you get to a point where the river starts to become less visible. There is shoulder space for a couple cars. Check road conditions with Mt. Baker - Snoqulamie National Forest; follow link to the forest road conditions report under the recreation link. Note that in the December 2006 storm the road washed out in several places and for the foreseeable future the only access up around the Beckler.
DESCRIPTION: The North Fork offers a diverse range of paddling experiences over a relatively short reach of river. The run starts with a IV+ canyon. The typical put-in is at the pool below Drumbeater. The last pitch of Drumbeater is fairly straightforward, but don't make the mistake of putting in too high. A terminal hydraulic near the middle of the rapid has been the start of a very bad day for paddlers fool hardy enough to attempt it.
The crux rapid, Let's Make a Deal, comes near the end of the canyon. Paddlers have a choice of several slots between a series of boulders lined up across the channel. It is common to see wood blocking at least one of the slots so it's wise to scout or get a wood report. The far left slot is often the easiest to boat scout. After Let's Make a Deal the river opens up and you pass through a boulder garden with the road to your right.
As you parallel the road, the next horizon line marks Rooster Tail. Rooster Tail changed substantially during the 2006 floods and is an entirely different rapid. Pull out along the road (where the bank has been armored with rocks to protect the road) and continue along the trail through the woods to scout or portage the rapid. Paddlers that make it over the first pitch come through shining, but those who have trouble at the top compound their troubles as they continue through the rapid.
After Rooster Tail the river calms down a notch to class IV and the rest of the run can be boat scouted. The main hazards are occasional trees and a few rapids that contain some significant holes.
The next major rapid is El Nino which starts shortly after the confluence with Silver Creek which enters from river right. El Nino can be easily scouted from the road and the typical route hugs river left along the road. There is a great surfing wave at the bottom of El Nino on river right.
After El Nino, the river picks up a notch in power although the rapids don't get any more difficult. There are three rapids with some big but mostly friendly holes called the Minefield. Potential takeouts begin to appear on river left and most use the access at Trout Creek.
Boaters who want to make a longer day or those who want to put-in here for a less challenging class III run can continue from Trout Creek down to Index or even on to the South Fork confluence for another six miles of whitewater (use caution and check in with locals for current beta as there have been log jams in this section requiring a portage). On this stretch, the Index Bridge is one potential access point that is also a put-in for those running the main stem of the Skykomish. Below the bridge, the river continues for another mile and a half with more good class II and III rapids, including Llama Ledges, before joining with the South Fork Skykomish.
for additional information see:
Public access at road mile 6.9.
Private land providing access at Trout Creek is owned by Outdoor Adventure Center and may be used with permission.
Ran this last Saturday (5/11/2019). AW Virtual gauge 2300cfs, Main Sky (goldbar): 7700cfs. Half put in a drumbeater and walked rooster tale, other half put it below rooster tale and paddled to the road wash out. Consensus among the 10 of us was this was a great medium flow for kayakers. We were rather shocked given most of the beta online would suggest this was below recommended. Not bony by any means. Any rocks poking out of the water were easily avoided, and it wasn't high enough to call it "pushy". Perhaps the higher level suggestions were based on rain fed levels. This day was 100% snow (no rain in over a week, an odd may). Those of us that passed on the canyon would have like to see it a little lower for our first time, Not much in the way of large eddies to regroup. Other than a log in rattlesnake, there was no major wood in play that couldn't be seen from your boat and easily avoided. Even the short section from Rattlesnake to the road wash out (~4miles), had plenty of action and was well worth the drive through jack pass.
Paddled the NF on 5.31.08 from the first gate downstream of Jack's Pass (follow Beckler River Rd) to Big Bend (Main Sky) Gate was locked, portaged Bear Gorge/Falls!!!!! and Drumbeater. Big wood in Let's Make a Deal, hard to see during read and run, Scout early, Line on far right. Rooster on left and some other changes downstream. A few more pieces of wood down to Index but actually in pretty good shape compared to past years. Not a bad paddle to Index. Always worth the effort!!! Viva La NF!!!!!!!!!!
The road is closed at Trout Creek.
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....
As of 11NOV the North Fork was good to go and relatively free of hazards from Drumbeater down to Trout Creek. Slots through Let's Make a Deal were clean of wood. Rapids downstream of El Nino have changed and there are a couple new surprise holes.
4 years ago
by Carla Miner
12 years ago
by Thomas O'Keefe
Comments on the Environmental Assessment for the proposed Skykomish Geothermal Consent to Lease project
Scoping Comments on the proposed Skykomish Geothermal Consent to Lease project
Scoping comments of American Whitewater on repair the North Fork road from mile 6.4 to 6.9.
Historically there was a USGS gauge at Index (stn. 12134000, 1910-1948, 146 sq. mi.). The virtual gauge for this run provides approximate flow based on the relative area of the basin and the Skykomish at Goldbar gauge downstream (the river is optimal around 10,000 cfs on this gauge). The relationship used for the virtual gauge is of course dependent on snow level. When the freezing level is low the river will be flowing a bit lower than the value given and during peak snowmelt the river may be flowing higher. The Goldbar gauge is also available through the NOAA hotline 206-526-8530.
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.
Access at mile 6.9
Tao, SkyFest Rodeo 2002
SkyFest Shipley C2
Skyfest Rodeo, Chris Joosse
Skyfest Rodeo, Tom McKee
Let's Make a Deal
North Fork Skykomish
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.
Snohomish County Public Works has published the long-awaited Environmental Assessment for repairs on the Index-Galena Road that historically provided access to the North Fork Skykomish River for whitewater boaters. Public input will be considered in agency decision making on whether repair of this important access road will move forward. The deadline for comments is October 31, 2016.
As another spring boating season approaches many of our members have inquired about the current status of the Index-Galena road that provides access to the North Fork Skykomish River. We need paddlers to weigh in with the Federal Highway Administration and Washington State Department of Transportation to get this project back on track.
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.
In the fall of 2006 a major flood event severely damaged the road that provides access to the North Fork of the Skykomish River. Most of the damage was between the put-in at Drumbeater (just above Troublesome Creek) and the take-out at Trout Creek. Snohomish County has initiated an Environmental Assessment and is currently taking scoping comments to identified issues to consider in their project analysis. Paddlers are encouraged to weigh in. The deadline for comments is February 29th.
Last week President Bush signed a bill making Wild Sky the first new wilderness area in Washington State in more than a quarter century. The new wilderness includes the headwaters of several whitewater runs including the North Fork Skykomish, Silver Creek, Rapid, and Beckler.
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