FUN FACT: Unique as one of the most intact river systems in Western Washington. Opportunities for an overnight trip.
SEASON: You can find boatable flows throughout the year but the river is particularly popular during the summer when glacier melt keeps the river running longer than other nearby runs. If you're looking for an endless supply of big wave trains check this run out after several days of hot weather just after peak flows on the Sauk have passed.
ACCESS: Follow Highway 530 about 15 minutes north out of Darrington and cross the Sauk River (mile 56.1). Continue on Highway 530 to mile 56.5 and take the turn-off for Suiattle River Road (FR 26). Continue on this road to mile 10.0 and turn on to FR 25 which dips down to the river. This is the Rat Trap Bridge (aka Boundary Bridge) which is the take-out for the run. The boat launch on river left washed away in the October 2003 flood but paddlers have found a route adjacent to the upstream river right side of the bridge. This side of the river is all private land so stay within the bridge right-of-way. To reach the put-in, return to FR 26 and continue upstream along river right. After you cross Downey Creek you will soon arrive at the Downey Creek trailhead at mile 20.2 (Northwest Forest Pass required). There is a steep slide (~100') down to the river that provides access to a good eddy just upstream of the Downey Creek confluence and this is the recommended put-in for rafters and kayakers who want to avoid the worst of the wood hazards. Continuing on upstream past Sulphur Creek Campground the road ends at the old horse camp (mile 22.0) that provides decent river access.
For the most recent road and river information check the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest web site (check forest road conditions for Darrington District), or call the Darrington Ranger District at (360) 436-1155 .
The Suiattle River is one of the region's most intact large river ecosystems. Designated by Congress as Wild and Scenic (one of only five such rivers in the state), the river currently supports some of the region's most successful salmon runs and retains structural elements that characterize large floodplain rivers. Among the most important elements supporting this river ecosystem are the intact floodplain forests that provide a constant supply of wood to the river. This wood provides an important structural element responsible for island formation, river migration, and the creation of back channels that support many species including salmon. This wood, however, can be a hazard to navigation and boaters need to be sure that they have the skills necessary to travel down the river safely. It's a great run for class III paddlers with a solid roll but not a place for those who are still shakey with their combat roll. Keep in mind that this river is incredibly dynamic. In some years there are fewer river hazards but there have been times in the past when the river was very difficult to navigate due to numerous portages. In all years you can expect log jams along the sides making conditions for a swimmer trying to reach shore especially hazardous. Before setting out on your trip, it's a good idea to get a report on recent conditions.
All that being said, the Suiattle is truly one of the finest river trips in Western Washington. It is one of the few places you can plan an overnight with more than 20 miles of whitewater when you combine this run with the lower section. It's also an amazing day trip with impressive mountain scenery, continuous whitewater, lots of catch-on-the-fly surf spots, and numerous additional little play spots. If you're looking for something different to paddle later in the summer this river is worth checking out. Glaciers on the northern and eastern slopes of Glacier Peak keep this river running late into summer when other nearby rivers are getting too low to run. These glaciers are also responsible for the milky turbidity seen in the water, as they grind rock to a fine powder that remains suspended in the river. Although the road is never far from the river, it is well hidden from view and access is only available in a couple of spots giving this run a very remote feel. This also makes it hard to check out the river as aside from the put-in and take-out there is only one other spot where you can see it from the road.
Although there may be opportunities for exploratory adventures further upstream, the last convenient put-in access point is the old horse camp at the road's end. The section from here down to Downey Creek is less frequently paddled because the channel is just small enough that large trees can create channel-spanning hazards. In many years you will have a few portages and several tight moves that need to be made around the hazards that you don't portage. Raft trips are generally not recommended although there is always the possibility that a window of opportunity will open up for a couple years following large channel-clearing floods. Those in kayaks will find some of the best continuous class III+ rapids of the run in this section although you have to be on constant alert for wood as eddies are very small and channel-blocking jams can come up on you rather quickly.
Once you reach Downey Creek (the preferred access for rafts and those who want to avoid the worst of the wood), the channel gets just a little bit bigger making it more difficult, but not impossible, for channel-spanning hazards to form. From this access the river tears off downstream serving up more class III+ whitewater that is quite continuous for the next couple miles. This section is pure fun at higher flows with numerous surf waves and lots of fun play spots. The river is somewhat unique in that there are few bedrock sections or boulder gardens. This is a high gradient alluvial river with few distinct drops but never-ending rapids providing constant fun.
After passing Circle Creek and Buck Creek the action begins to taper off a bit. Although still continuous, the rapids can more accurately be described as II+ with several short III- sections thrown in. It's still plenty of fun however as you never really hit any flatwater and fun surf spots still keep coming along including several that have better eddy service than those upstream. It's in this section that you'll hit Barrel Roll, one of the last memorable rapids on the run where you start out through a boulder garden and then end up against a pillow on the bedrock extending out from river right. This is a great little spot for stern squirts along a dynamic and powerful eddy line. If the weather is good you will also enjoy impressive views of Glacier Peak and its glacier-covered summit off in the distance.
This section ends as you start to see a couple of cabins located on the few privately-owned parcels around the take-out bridge. Most of those on a day trip take out here although one can continue on downstream to run the lower Suiattle. Below here you pass out of Forest Service land and into tribal and private timber forest that has been more recently logged.
lat/long approximated by Tiger map server
for additional information see
This run is currently not accessible (July 2007). About 2 miles above Rat Trap Bridge, the road is washed out and there is no alternative access.
As for the levels, the guides are often confusing, using percentages of flows differently. What I do is to take the flow on the Sauk at Sauk and subtract twice the flow of the Upper Sauk. That's approximately the flow on the Suiattle.
The river gauge here seems to be way of, in the Guide to Whitewater Rivers of Washington the minimum suggested level is 1500 cfs where the post says 3000 and in the pictures there are peolpe paddling at 2000 cfs.
This condition report from Devin Smith following the major floods of October 2003:
The flood aftermath on the the Suiattle was incredible to see... clearly the Suiattle (along with the Whitechuck) was a major driver of the recent flood downstream. At the Downey campground the river avulsed 300-400' towards the left bank side, (away from Downey Creek) and there were numerous other locations where the river avulsed and occupied new channels, and where large amounts of bank were eroded. The floodwaters easily reached ten feet or more above the channel and deposited silt and huge accumulations of old growth logs on benches out in the forest. The river channel widened substantially, taking out large tracts of forest and leaving huge bars of cobble/boulders and silt/sand. There were a tremendous amount of new logs and full spanning log jams in the main channel-- we walked our kayaks more than paddling them, portaging I think 10 jams in five miles and did not even make it as far as Buck Creek. As a whitewater resource on the Forest, I don't think anyone but hydrologists and masochists will want to paddle the Suiattle for some time! Rafting would be near impossible.
Excerpts from the River Management Plan Covering Recreation
Letter to Mount Baker - National Forest regarding impacts of October 2003 floods.
A review of strengths, weakeness, opportunities, and threats to enhancing river access.
There is a new gage on the Suiattle River. Since this river is a tributary to the Sauk you can also get an idea of what the flows are by checking the Sauk at Sauk gauge downstream of the confluence. Although the Suiattle represents approximately 40% of the flows on this gauge, the relationship changes over the course of the water year. Because the Suiattle is fed by glacier melt in late summer it will contribute a greater percentage of the flow to the Sauk during the summer months and somewhat less through the winter and early spring. You can estimate this relative contribution by also checking the Sauk above Whitechuck gauge which is upstream of the confluence with the Suiattle.
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.
Suiattle on July 2,2006
Forest Service Raft
Forest Service raft
Portaging Log Hazards
Log Jam on the Suiattle
Forest Service rafts
Rapid at the put-in
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.
American Whitewater joins a coalition in unveiling a new "Destination Darrington" map as Highway 530 opens to all traffic this weekend restoring access to recreational opportunities along the Sauk and Suiattle Rivers.The colorful brochure map spotlights recreational opportunities around Darrington and local businesses.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!