Suiattle, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||III+ (for normal flows)|
|SUIATTLE RIVER ABOVE ALL CREEK NR DARRINGTON, WA|
|usgs-12188380||1400 - 3000 cfs||III+||137d03h04m||394 cfs (too low)|
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
Letter to Mount Baker - National Forest regarding impacts of October 2003 floods.
Excerpts from the River Management Plan Covering Recreation
A review of strengths, weakeness, opportunities, and threats to enhancing river access.