Toutle, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||III+(IV) (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||32 fpm|
|TOUTLE RIVER AT TOWER ROAD NEAR SILVER LAKE, WA|
|usgs-14242580||1500 - 4000 cfs||III+(IV)||00h56m||477 cfs (too low)|
SEASON: This run is generally good throughout the winter rainy season.
FUN FACT: Check out the recovery of a river innundated by Mt. St. Helens mud flows.
LOGISTICS: From I-5 take exit 49 and head east on Highway 504 toward Mt. St. Helens. To reach the
take-out, stay on Highway 504 for 2.0 miles and turn north on Tower Road. Stay left at the Y and
in 2.7 miles you will reach the Tower Road Bridge. There is parking and a WDFW river access with
ramp on the upstream river left side of the bridge. To reach the put-in head back out to Highway
504 and continue east through the town of Toutle. At Highway 504 mile 11.0 you'll cross the
Toutle River. There is limited roadside parking on the upstream left right side of the bridge. A
trail heads down to the river on the river left downstream side of the bridge. You can also use
Tower Road as a slightly shorter alternate shuttle route along the north side of the river. It
joins Highway 504 at mile 13.6 so turn right to head back towards the put-in bridge. Another
access option is where Basie Road dead ends at the river. This puts you in downstream of the
middle braided section, a good option when flows are low. To reach this access head upstream on
Tower Road and 3.2 miles from the take-out bridge you will see the right turn for Basie Road.
Follow this road to where it dead ends at the river.
DESCRIPTION: The Toutle is a fascinating river made famous during the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helen's. Pyroclastic flows, together with hot ash melted the snow and ice on the flanks of the mountain and created massive mudflows. The slurry of sediment and trees, along with logging trucks, bridges and household debris traveled at speeds of up to 50 mph along the course of the Toutle River. Aerial photos from the time show the impressive devastation. What's more amazing however is the recovery that has occurred. Although evidence of the eruption remains more than two decades later, the signs are subtle. The most striking feature of the river is the cloudy brown water. Volcanic ash with a sandy consistency is carried down the river and deposited along its banks (photo). This can make reading the river a challenge as rocks just a few inches below the surface are not visible.
The action starts right away with some fun class III rapids that tend to build in intensity through the first mile. The drops are characterized by constrained sections with basalt bedrock walls and large boulders. After the first couple warm up rapids, the first drop with big boulders is Stairsteps (photo) and the next big drop is Tempest in a Teapot both of which rate III+. Most of the drops can be easily boat scouted and there are several fun play spots (photo). While most of the debris is now unidentifiable, you will boat past twisted hunks of metal and timbers from bridges that were carried along by the mud flow.
After a few more fun rapids the action tapers off as you enter a more open alluvial section. Here
you'll see sediment and ash deposits on the riparian terraces that are a couple feet thick. Old
buried tree stumps are evident in cross sections exposed by the erosive action of the river while
young stands of alder have become established on the sediments left by the mud flows. There are a
few homes and easy class II rapids through shifting gravel bars that characterize this section.
If flows are low or you are looking for a shorter run (4.2 miles to take-out) you can use the
alternate access at the end of Basie Road which provides access at the end of this section.
The bedrock walls begin to close in as you approach the most challenging drop on the run. There is a fun section in a short canyon with an easy lead-in rapid before the river approaches an obvious horizon line within Hollywood Gorge. Scouting or portaging along the bedrock ledge on river right is straight forward. The best line through this class IV drop is to start left and then move hard to the right to avoid a hole near the bottom of the drop that extends from the center to the river left wall (photo 1, photo 2).
There is a good recovery section as you emerge from Hollywood Gorge (photo) and then a couple more fun class III drops similar in character to those at the start of the run. You'll pass a few more homes and the river spreads out a final section of gravel bar rapids. As the take-out bridge comes into view there is one final surf wave on river left up against a bedrock wall.
Overall this is a great run with interesting geology. Some may find the middle class II section a little long especially at the lower limit of flows. Those who don't want to run Hollywood Gorge will find a relatively easy portage across bedrock putting this run well within the reach of solid class III paddlers.
lat/long approximated by Tiger map server
for additional information see
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|-16.9||Put-in at Highway 504|
|-15.4||Tempest in a Teapot||III+|
|-6.6||Take-out at Tower Road|