Difficulty IV
Length 12.5 Miles
Gauge Skykomish N. Fork at Index
Flow Range 2250 - 4500 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 290.7 [CFS]
Next Release
Reach Info Last Updated 05/24/2020 3:56 am

River Description

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.

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 Drumb-beater. The last pitch of Drumb-beater is fairly straightforward, but don't make the mistake of putting in too high. Depending on a flow, a terminal hydraulic near the middle of the rapid has been the start of a very bad day for paddlers. Be sure you have safety set. Most just put in at the beautiful pool at the base of the rapid.

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. You will know you are getting near when you pass under a one-lane private bridge and several cabins. The rapid begins shortly after the confluence of 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. A great surfing wave awaits 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. Three rapids with some big, but mostly friendly, holes called the Minefield are the highlight of this section. With the road washed out, most will utilize the take-out at the end of the road. Traditionally, boaters often continued down to the Trout Creek confluence.

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.


Current Access: The Index-Galena Road is washed out along the river from mile 6.4 to 6.9 (current status). This means you can't drive up the river from Index. You have to instead drive up the Beckler River and go up and over Jack's Pass; this means you can't access the run when Jack's Pass is snowed in (Skyko posts regular reports). To access the river, drive up Highway 2 past Skykomish and at Highway 2 mile 49.6 turn off the highway headed north up the Beckler River. From the highway head 7 miles up the road before you cross the Rapid River and the paved road transitions to dirt.  In 12.5 miles from the Highway you will be at Jack's Pass (elevation 2600'). Head straight through the 5-way junction and proceed down the hill through a series of switchbacks towards Troublesome Creek and San Juan Campgrounds. In 2 miles you will cross the North Fork Skykomish. Continue heading downstream along river right another 3.4 miles (18 miles total from Highway 2) to the put-in. This put-in is located at mile 11.6 on the Index-Galena Road and is 0.4 mile upstream of the bridge over Troublesome Creek (if you pass the campground you have gone too far). The take-out is reached by heading downstream until you reach the end of the road at Index-Galena Road mile 6.9.

Traditional Access (not currently an option but will be after the road is rebuilt; now scheduled for 2021): 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 10.7 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, 0.4 miles past the Troublesome Creek Bridge to mile 11.6 and the put-in to the upper canyon section at Drumb-beater (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.

for additional information see:

Rapid Descriptions


Class - 5.0 Mile - 0
Most put in at the base of Drumb-beater but those looking for a little more action can run the final pitch. Beware of the hydraulics upstream of this final pitch.

Let's Make a Deal

Class - IV+ Mile - 0.65
Like the name implies, Let's Make a Deal provides a choice among a few different slots among the boulders near the exit of the canyon. It is hard to see all the options from upstream. Experienced boaters usually boat scout but some will make the challenging scout from the canyon rim before putting on. Typically at least one of the slots has a piece of wood and it's not always obvious from upstream.

Rooster Tail

Class - IV+ Mile - 0.85
Rooster Tail has a fun boof flake. It's an easy scout from the right and a standard stop on the shuttle. Those who don't want to boat the canyon often put in at the base of Rooster Tail.

El Nino

Class - IV Mile - 2.55
El Nino is the fun rapid just past the cluster of cabins and the confluence of Silver Creek. A successful run usually involves heading down the left side through some holes and between the boulders. It's an easy scout from the road on the shuttle.


Class - III+ Mile - 4.5
Big holes in a series of rapids known as the Minefield keep paddlers on their toes. Experienced paddlers should be able to boat scout and find their way through.

Access Point

Class - N/A Mile - 5

The public access at road mile 6.9 is the upstream end of the washout.

Trout Creek

Class - N/A Mile - 5.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Private land providing access at Trout Creek is owned by Outdoor Adventure Center and may be used with permission.

Index Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 11.06
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
The bridge across the river in the town of Index can be used for access or continue to the downstream side of the bridge and stop in at Outdoor Adventure Center for food and drinks.

LLama Ledges

Class - III Mile - 11.56
Llama Ledges is just downstream of Index and a fun class III rapid with several different route options. In years past it was the site of a slalom course.

South Fork confluence

Class - N/A Mile - 12.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
The North Fork joins the South Fork to become the main Skykomish.


default user thumbnail
Bob M
1 year ago

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.

default user thumbnail
12 years ago

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!!!!!!!!!!

default user thumbnail
Michael Horner
13 years ago

The road is closed at Trout Creek.

default user thumbnail
Michael Horner
13 years ago

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 flows....

default user thumbnail
Thomas O'Keefe
16 years ago

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.

Gage Descriptions

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.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2003-05-30 n/a Fatality Cold Water Read More




article main photo

Plan for Index-Galena Road Repairs on North Fork Sky Open for Comment (WA)

Thomas O'Keefe

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.

article main photo

North Fork Skykomish Road Repairs Continue to be Delayed (WA)

Thomas O'Keefe

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. 

article main photo

Skykomish River Access Updates

Thomas O'Keefe

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.

article main photo

North Fork Skykomish Road Repair Public Comment Period Open (WA)

Thomas O'Keefe

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.

article main photo

Wild Sky Signed Into Law

Thomas O'Keefe

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.

article main photo

New Wilderness Proposed for Skykomish River (WA)

Thomas O'Keefe

In May 2002 Senator Murray and Representative Larsen introduced legislation known as the Wild Sky Wilderness Act to designate wilderness areas in the North Fork Skykomish and Beckler River watersheds. American Whitewater supports proposed legislation which will provide continued access while protecting the ecological integrity of whitewater runs on the North Fork Skykomish, Beckler, Rapid, and Silver Creek.

Thomas O'Keefe


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1215026 05/24/20 Thomas O'Keefe updated description
1212938 06/17/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1215027 05/24/20 Thomas O'Keefe updated name
1201454 07/06/12 Thomas O'Keefe copy edits
1205207 08/05/15 Thomas O'Keefe take-out updated
1192006 07/09/04 Thomas O'Keefe n/a