White Salmon, Washington, US
|Usual Difficulty||III+(V) (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||45 fpm|
|WHITE SALMON RIVER NEAR UNDERWOOD, WA|
|usgs-14123500||500 - 2000 cfs||III+(V)||01h32m||1350 cfs (running)|
Emerging from the slopes of Mt. Adams, the White Salmon is one of Washington's greatest whitewater resources. With a range of whitewater opportunities from a popular beginner training run to some of the most challenging whitewater in the country this river has something for everybody. Commercial rafting trips are popular and the river typically has good flows throughout the year. With it's consistent and dependable whitewater, the river has hosted many races and events over the years. The water is always cold so be sure to dress appropriately. While mid-day sun penetrates the canyon it is often much cooler down in the gorge particularly on hot summer days in August.
The section starting at BZ Corner is known as one of the best intermediate whitewater runs in the state. With near consistent action, beautiful scenery, and a big drop at the end that always attracts a crowd of spectators, this is a destination for folks from around the region. Those who have been a part of the whitewater scene for the past several years remember the privately owned put-in located in a residential area along the gorge. A cableway high across the river was used to lower rafts down into the gorge while kayakers and raft passengers paid their fee to hike the trail down to the river. With the future of the access in question the Trust for Public Land stepped in to help negotiate a deal and transfer ownership of the property to the Forest Service. The old billboard with the oversized map of the river is gone and a set of rails to slide rafts down along the trail has replaced the cableway (to the frustration of those trying to hike up against the grain of traffic after finishing the Green Truss run upstream), but the land is now in public ownership effectively securing the best possible access point for future generations of paddlers (photo ). The Forest Service is always looking for user feedback so let them know if you have constructive thoughts on how to improve the access.
The trail down into the gorge ends at the put-in above a relatively straight forward class IV drop with two holes. First comes Maytag and then the rapid finishes with a ledge drop into a good-sized hole known as Top Drop (photo). Skirt the edge or punch it through the middle depending on flows. If you prefer a bit of a warm-up before jumping on to one of the more challenging rapids of the run you can always put-in to the downstream end of the drop. Spectators can watch the action from the bedrock ledge at river level or from high above on the Glenwood Road Bridge.
Once you pass under the bridge the action starts right away with several of the best rapids and nearly continuous action for the next two miles. One hazard to be aware of near the start of the run is a cave on river right. Stay to the left away from the wall and you'll be fine. Class III rapids in this section include Grasshopper, Siwash, Corkscrew, and Waterspout. The drops are all relatively easy to boat scout and consist of fun wave trains and ledge drops through the narrow gorge. The hole in Waterspout sometimes gives people trouble if you aren't expecting it. Punch it down the center or sneak it along the left (photo). The river tapers off for a bit before you reach Stairsteps which is a series of fun ledges (photo). This is the last of the significant rapids before you reach Husum Falls.
A sign marks the approach of Husum Falls and points to a take-out on river right above the falls (for those who don't plan to continue downstream) or a portage trail on river left a bit closer to the edge. Intermediate paddlers should have no trouble exiting the river before the falls. You'll also recognize it by the highway bridge and an obvious horizon line. Once paddlers land in the eddy above the falls and start scouting a crowd will begin to form. A walkway on the bridge provides convenient access to several different vantage points and a platform to record the carnage. Spectators gather along the railing to cheer both the good and bad lines. The typical line is to run the drop center right just to the left of a large rock that protrudes above the surface at all but the highest flows (photo). Expect to get munched in the hole if you stray too far to the center. Other lines are possible depending on flows and your skills. Some call this drop a class V because it does require a challenging move to run it clean, but the approach is free of obstacles and the run-out offers plenty of opportunity for recovery. Carnage is not uncommon however especially if you end up in the powerful hole in the center. The drop provides easy access for multiple runs or park and huck.
Below Husum Falls the river continues for another hundred yards before passing under a second bridge. There is another good class II/III rapid below this bridge which at some flows provides a nice park and play spot (photo). You can take-out here on river left or continue downstream through another couple miles of class II rapids including a great surf spot known as Cave Wave. (Sept 9, 2014 edit: There is a riverwide log 1/4 mile downstream from Cave Wave. The takeout at Northwestern Park is a gigantic gravelled ramp on the right just after a bridge, and requires class II eddy-catching skills.) This lower section is a great beginner training run with the hardest rapids at the start. Called the "Lower" by many locals, it provides consistent action with several fun but forgiving rapids (photo). Since the dam was removed in 2011, there are class II-II+ rapids all the way to the takeout. The last rapid before the takeout
Additional information in: Bennett, J. and T. Bennett. 1997. A guide to the whitewater rivers of Washington, second edition. Swiftwater Publishing. Portland, OR.
*The notes below are outdated as of 9/9/14; please disregard except as historical notes. The takeouts above and immediately below Husum are fine, and a modern boat ramp has been constructed at Northwestern Lake Park, where the lake has been drained.
Condit dam was breached on October 26th, 2011! Northwestern Lake is no longer there, and taking out is difficult. The banks are steep and unstable.
Nov 22, 2011: "The river has cut its bed down approx 12 feet, and this cut
continues to move upstream. It has also revealed previously unknown hazards (such as old bridge
pilings poking up). The riverbank is steep and not conducive to raft takeout...PacificCorp will
temporarily close the takeout ramp until further notice."
Heather Herbeck writes: "Fast current and limited eddies" where you would want to take out. The best takeout may be above the first cabin. Here are some photos:
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
Maytag starts off the first long rapid at the put-in.
Top Drop finishes off the long rapid at the put-in.
Fun hole to the left hand side.
Big Waves with a clean line to the left side.
A fun surf spot but watch out for raft traffic traveling downstream.
A fun sequence of ledges.
The typical line is to stay on the tongue just to the left of the rock that sticks up on river right and keep some right angle (sweep on the left) as you head over to stay out of the hole in the middle. At higher flows this rapid rates class V, but at lower flows many consider it a class IV. At high flows you can also do the sneak on far river left that involves a couple creeking moves. You can take-out on river right or river left above the falls.
A fun playspot downstream of Husum Falls sometimes enjoyed for park and play.
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AW in Portland
March 23, 2007
White Salmon River (WA) BZ Access
June 25, 2002
White Salmon Riverfest and Symposium
May 27, 2009
Condit Dam Removal Takes Another Step Forward
November 16, 2010
Temporary Closure of White Salmon River Access (WA)
November 22, 2011
Management Plan guiding activities within the Wild and Scenic River corridor on the Lower White Salmon River.