Wenatchee - 2. Tumwater Campground to Leavenworth (Tumwater Canyon)

Wenatchee, Washington, US


2. Tumwater Campground to Leavenworth (Tumwater Canyon)

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 7.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 64 fpm
Max Gradient 100 fpm

Tumwater Canyon

Tumwater Canyon
Photo of Marco Colella by

Eric Link, Twitch, www.twitchtv.com

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-12459000 800 - 8000 cfs V 00h51m 1260 cfs (running)

River Description

FUN FACT: Roadside Class V. Look good for the tourists who line up along the guardrails to watch the action.

SEASON: The run is too high for most at the peak of snowmelt, but catch it either early in the spring season or late in the spring season for good flows. Slightly lower flows persist through the summer when this becomes one of the few runs you can enjoy in a shorty.

EVENTS: Wenatchee River Festival

LOGISTICS: This is an easy one with the run right along Highway 2 less than a mile outside of the town of Leavenworth. Put-in at mile 92.4 on Highway 2. The Swiftwater picnic area here provides good access to the river. Several pullouts provide alternative access points. You can take-out either above Last Exit at Highway 2 mile 98.5 or continue downstream to the Icicle Creek Road bridge. To reach this bridge, turn on to Icicle Creek Road at Highway 2 mile 99.1 (the west end of Leavenworth). It's about a mile up this road to the bridge. The take-out is on the downstream river left side of the bridge.


Tumwater Canyon is a unique resource for Washington paddlers providing big water class V in early summer and fun class IV late in the summer after other nearby runs are too low. Many paddlers get their first glimpse of this run during the peak of spring snow melt on trips over to the Wenatchee. At these flows the river is a chaotic maze of exploding holes and although it is sometimes run at these levels, many wait for later in the summer once other options are starting to dry up. It's a great place to be in the middle of the summer and you'll be sharing the river with sunbathers and folks swimming in the big pools between the rapids. This river runs right along Highway 2 so it's easy to scout all the big drops from the highway. Don't forget that they are much bigger down at water level than they look from the road. If you find yourself in over your head it's always easy to hike out to the road.

From the Swiftwater Picnic Area the river starts out with some good class III warm up rapids. The action slowly builds with intermittent sections of flatwater and easy rapids as you reach The Wall which can be viewed from the road at mile 94. There are a few different lines through this drop and for the most part you just follow the main flow and treat it as read and run. It's a technical class IV+ boulder garden at lower flows and class V at higher flows. The class III run out continues down to the small reservoir formed by the old hydroelectric dam. You can see it from the road at mile 95.1. This dam was built to provide hydropower required to run the electric engines the railroad used through the tunnel at Steven's Pass. The generators have since been removed although the dam itself remains. There are a couple cabins on this reservoir and it's about a 5 minute flatwater paddle to the portage route on river left around the dam.

Put-in at the base of the dam on river left and the action starts right away with fun continuous boulder garden rapids. You'll come up to an island with routes around the right or left. Just be aware of the hole if you take the left route. After that there is a short section of boogie water as you come up next significant rapid which is Chaos Cascade. This is a great rapid and one of the longest pieces of whitewater on the run. It's class V at higher flows and class IV at lower flows. You can scout it from the road at mile 97, or you can pull out on river right to get a good look at the entrance move. The rapid continues down to the bridge where the pipeline from the diversion dam crosses the river to the old generator site.

The next big drop comes up after a short recovery section. This is Perfection of Whitewater (POW), a class V at moderate to high flows which can be viewed at mile 97.9. Although the rapids up to this point can be boat scouted fairly easily at moderate flows, it's not a bad idea to get out and have a look at this one from river left. The crux move requires avoiding a hole right at the start and then you've got a couple options to negotiate the rest of the rapid. At higher flows there is a sneak along the left but it gets pretty boney once flows start to drop later in the summer.

After POW the pace tapers off a bit and you pass through a short section where the river spreads out over a gravel bar. The next big horizon line is Last Exit. This V+ drop can be viewed from mile 98.5 on Highway 2. The most dramatic view is from the highway as you are headed west up the canyon. It's the first big gnarly rapid you see as you leave the town of Leavenworth. Many folks portage this drop but it is regularly run. Just be sure to scout it carefully and pick your line. The portage is along river left. Hike up to the highway and then back down to the base of the rapid. Some take-out here but the rapids continue on downstream to the Icicle Creek Road bridge. Cabins start to appear on river left and the river bends to the right leaving Highway 2 but there is just under a mile or so of fun class III/IV with a couple decent play features. This section from Last Exit to the bridge is a fun little stretch that can be paddled on its own if you're looking for something really short to test out a boat or just get a little play in during the evening.

for additional information see

  • Bennett, J. and T. Bennett. 1997. A guide to the whitewater rivers of Washington, second edition. Swiftwater Publishing. Portland, OR.

StreamTeam Status: Verified
Last Updated: 2004-10-09 20:19:19


Rapid Descriptions

icon of message No rapids entered. If you know names, and locations of the rapids please contact and advise the StreamTeam member for this run.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
August 16 2012 (2280 days ago)
Matt MuirDetails
Nice video of running POW at 9K cfs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XIiWOKK-Pg&feature=share .
Pretty beefy, pretty tight line.

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Associated Projects

  • Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (WA)
    The Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests are home to some great whitewater runs and AW has in interest in protecting the resource values of these rivers.