Snoqualmie, N. Fork, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||III (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||40 fpm|
|NF SNOQUALMIE RIVER NEAR SNOQUALMIE FALLS, WA|
|usgs-12142000||600 - 1200 cfs||III||01h09m||374 cfs (too low)|
Note: As of 2012, you must buy a permit to access the put-in and take-out, even on foot. The walk-in permit is $75. The drive-in permit is $225, but you can not take anyone else in your vehicle unless they are a member of your immediate family (husband, wife, and children under 18).
This was a fun class III run that was once very popular when you could drive down to the take-out. The river has also hosted the North Fork Slalom Race and racer training clinics. Restrictions to access have made this a less popular run which is unfortunate because it is one of the best beginner-intermediate runs less than an hour from downtown Seattle. The run provides a bit more excitement and a longer trip than the Club Stretch or Powerhouse runs, but is slightly easier than the Middle-Middle. As such, it is the perfect stepping stone for those looking for a new challenge after successfully navigating the area beginner runs.
The character of the run is nearly continuous boulder garden rapids with a couple of short bedrock canyon sections. Be sure that you don't put in at the Wagner Bridge (where you park for the put-in) as a class V+ rapid awaits just downstream. Instead hike along the road on river left and put-in below the first rapid at an access of your choosing. You can scramble down to paddle the run- out below the big drop (photo) or continue to an easier put-in a short distance downriver.
The run maintains a consistent character for nearly the entire length with continuous class II/III separated by several class III rapids. Even at high flows, the river remains manageable for intermediate paddlers and doesn't contain any drops that stand out as signficantly more challenging than the others. Although there are a few sections of constrained bedrock, much of the river bed is characterized by more open gravel bar sections that aren't as fun at the lower range of flows.
The take-out is at the only bridge you'll come to and since this road also serves private inholders with cabins, you will likely see some traffic on the road. To bring your vehicle down however, you need a key and a pass so unless you're a small group and happen to see an empty pick-up driving past, you can plan on hiking out. Note that the challenging rapids of Ernie's Canyon start a short distance downstream of this bridge. At one time there was an alternate access downstream of this bridge that allowed you to paddle class III/IV Hancock Rapid but still take out before the start of Ernie's Canyon; unfortunately the private logging road to this site is not currently open to the public.
To reach the river, head north on Ballarat Ave. in the town of North Bend (one block east of the main intersection in town). Just follow Ballarat Ave. which will bend to the right and become SE 108th St. and bend to the left where it becomes 428th. St. In 2.0 miles from the turn onto Ballarat you will cross the Middle Fork, in 2.4 miles you will cross the North Fork, and after 3.9 miles you will reach a Y and the turn for North Fork Road that heads up the hill to the left. Continue up this road which becomes a dirt road and after 5.4 miles you will reach a 4-way intersection at the Spur 10 gate. The take-out is just over a mile down the hill to the right (you will likely need to hike up to this point after the completion of your run although it is sometimes possible to catch a ride with one of the private inholders). To reach the put-in, continue straight through 6.5 miles to the Wagner Bridge across the North Fork. Park near the bridge and hike down the logging road on river left a couple hundred yards, making sure to put in below the class V drop which is just downstream of the bridge and at the confluence with Big Creek which comes in from river left.
The current vehicle access policy complicates the logistics. At one time you could just borrow a key from the Weyerhaeuser mill but then you had to purchase an access permit and could only drive to the take-out when someone was at the gate. Local paddlers had hoped for an opportunity to negotiate improved access with the recent pending sale to Evergreen Forest Trust, but that deal fell through and now the land is owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group. You can call Hancock for the current access policy (360-825-1637).