Canyon Creek (Lewis River trib.) - 2 - Fly Creek to Merwin Reservoir

Canyon Creek (Lewis River trib.), Washington, US


2 - Fly Creek to Merwin Reservoir

Usual Difficulty IV+ (varies with level)
Length 3.2 Miles
Avg. Gradient 120 fpm

Chucky will go deep.

Chucky will go deep.
Photo of Chuck Taylor by Michael Long taken 04/01/05

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-14219000 500 - 1500 cfs IV+ 00h34m 294 cfs (too low)

River Description

Events: Annual Canyon Creek Extreme Race

Logistics: The take-out is at the base of the Merwin Reservoir bridge at mile 28.8 on Hwy. 503. Ample parking is available on the southeast side of the bridge (PacifiCorp has plans to make minor improvements to this site over the next couple years which will likely include a set of stairs and some improved drainage for the parking lot). There are a couple ways to get there depending on the direction you're coming from, but it's 25 miles east of I-5. To reach the put-in head south from the bridge to Hwy. 503 mile 24.8 and turn east on to NE Healy Rd. (becomes FR 54) and drive 3.9 miles to the bridge across Canyon Creek. Put-in on upstream river left where a jeep trail leads down to the river at the confluence with Fly Creek.

Description: Just a short distance north of Portland, Canyon Creek is a popular run for the after work crowd once daylight savings time hits. Dedicated paddlers also paddle this run before work in the winter for their morning adrenaline fix, or do multiple laps if they have more time. While it takes a little longer your first time down, you can bomb down the run in an hour once you know the lines.  This river is a unique and valued whitewater resource for local paddlers and a destination for paddlers from around the world who make Portland a stop on their whitewater road trips. Consistent flows throughout all but the dry summer months, accessibility to the Portland paddling community, and great rapids make this a unique whitewater resource with significantly more available user days than many comparable runs in the region. The race course from Thrasher down to the Hammering Spot is widely regarded as one of the best sections in the country for a creeking race.

At moderate flows (500-900cfs) most of the drops on this run are IV+.  This is a great training run for those getting ready to make the jump to class V. The majority of the rapids are easy to portage or scout and at moderate flows there are good recovery sections to pick up the pieces after any carnage. Once on the river you're committed to the run as the bedrock canyon walls offer few opportunities to exit the river.

Paddlers check the flow online or by gauging the river level relative to the bridge piling on river left (measured in inches above "the unit") and then head off downstream. The first mile or so offers an easy warm-up through class II/III rapids. You can see a bit of this section from the road on the shuttle drive. The action starts as the canyon walls close in and you approach the first horizon line known as Swizzle Sticks for the big logs that were wedged vertically but have since moved on. This tight gorge forms a great class IV rapid before you approach the logging road bridge overhead. The best rapids on the run start below this bridge. The first is Terminator, a meaty hole that lives up to its name. You can avoid it by staying to the left. The next significant rapid is a double drop sequence consisting of Prelude to Thrasher and Thrasher. Both are fun ledge drops with a stiff hydraulic at the base so choose your line carefully.

A fun boulder garden section brings you to the edge of Kahuna, a 17' waterfall that plunges into a nice pool. It's a big drop but the approach is easy and there's a nice auto-boof on the right side. Just stay away from the walls below the drop. After still more quality whitewater you'll find yourself at another double drop sequence where two 10' ledges come in quick succession. These drops are Champagne and the Hammering Spot. Champagne has a beautiful center boof and on Hammering Spot you will want to head for the right side boof or risk getting hammered in the hole on the left side. After these two drops it's a short distance downstream to the final ledge on the run known as Toby's. There are a couple different routes on this one but be careful as there is an extreme pin hazard. If you make a good center to left boof you clear the subsurface rocks. If you have any question in your abilities to pull off the move and keep your bow up, particularly at lower flows, then take a more conservative route.  You can portage along river right, or sneak by driving over the correct dry rock on river left. There is also a "helicopter" line on the right that requires an S move that can be a little tricky. The hazard factor on this drop is worse that it may first appear and there has been a fatality here when a boater bow pinned (accident report) as well as a knee dislocation of a boater who was trying to do the left sneak.

Once you clear the last drop the fun is over and you have a paddle out on the reservoir. It's not too bad but one wonders what whitewater treasures may lie beneath this reservoir on what was once the Lewis River. It's just over a mile to a bridge across the reservoir which provides a take-out along the left side.

For more information check out the Canyon Creek page on Oregon Kayaking.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2014-11-08 06:50:28

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-1.9Swizzle SticksIV+Photo
-0.9Big Falls/KahunaIV+Waterfall Photo
-0.4Hammering SpotIV+Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Swizzle Sticks (Class IV+, Mile -1.9)

Entrance to the canyon

Entrance to the canyon
Photo of Phil & Biggs by Joey Baranski taken 04/11/03 @ Even with the unit

This is the first significant drop of the run. You can scout from the right or just glance over your shoulder from the eddy on the left above the drop. Lines to the left and right are possible.

Terminator (Class IV+, Mile -1.7)

Just as you pass under the bridge you will be at Terminator. Drive around to the left to avoid the hole on the inside corner on the right.

Prelude (Class IV, Mile -1.4)

Prelude to Thrasher or simply Prelude can be run to the right side.

Thrasher (Class IV+, Mile -1.3)


Photo by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 04/12/08

It's an easy scout or portage on the left. There are a couple different lines depending on the flow and your skills. A fun boulder garden section follows after Thrasher. Just stick to the left as you hit the last little ledge in the Boulder Garden. Keep your eyes open for the next horizon line at Kahuna.

Big Falls/Kahuna (Class IV+, Mile -0.9)


Photo of Rod by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 04/12/08

Champagne (Class IV, Mile -0.5)

Nate "Garrzilla" Garr

Nate "Garrzilla" Garr
Photo of Nate Garr enters the drop zone. by Michael Long taken 04/01/05

One of the nicest boofs you can find. Hit the nice flake in the center and then get lined up for the right side of Hammering Spot which follows just below. You can also catch a good eddy on the left between these two drops.

Hammering Spot (Class IV+, Mile -0.4)

Casey Champ- Hammering Spot

Casey Champ- Hammering Spot
Photo of Casey Champ by TBD @ TBD

Just hit the nice boof flake on the right and you avoid the hole. If you end up to the left prepare to get hammered.

Toby's (Class 5.0, Mile -0.4)

Toby's right line

Toby's right line
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe В© taken 04/12/08

This drop can be safely run but it's important to know the hazards. Toby Scarpella drowned running this rapid when he was pinned. There is a left side boof that is an option but make sure you scout the landing zone and don't hit the rocks. Across the center there are dangerous pin hazards. A final option is an S turn move on the right side. If there is any doubt on the line you can always take the conservative route and portage.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
October 10 2014 (1558 days ago)
T4eresa (153294)
Stairs will be constructed at the takeout this fall, resulting in a temporary closure. The river is
slated to be "open" again some time in mid-November 2014.
January 10 2009 (3657 days ago)
Thomas O'KeefeDetails
A massive landslide has deposited a major log jam at Terminator. For a photo see:
November 18 2006 (4441 days ago)
Brian VogtDetails
Ran Canyon Creek 11/182006 post-flood with 1130 falling to 1030 on the EF Lewis gauge. Swizzle
sticks is clean of wood, seems trickier than with the old vertical log in the right. Terminator
seems to have shifted on the right side of the ledge, line is even farther left and narrower.
Thrasher has also changed with a new rock in the left entrance. The run is otherwise clean and I
didn't notice any other major changes.
March 25 2006 (4679 days ago)
Brian WalshDetails
March 17, new wood in canyon entrance river right. forces difficult left to right move. exit below
entrance exam has old growth channel-wide log. stay right to avoid possible entrapment between log
and left wall. level was 900 EFL. lower level would make left line around river-wide log very
dangerous at lower flows. stay hard right and paddle over log or hug the right shore and carry
over. very large root wad with hard left current feeding into it at the top of the wood.


Associated Projects

  • Canyon Creek (WA)
    This spectacular creek has been threatened by a proposal for hydropower development.
  • Volcano Country (OR/WA)
    The rivers of Volcano Country within and surrounding the Gifford Pinchot National Forest represent some of the nation's most spectacular whitewater resources.


Calendar Control Date:
Calendar by Date by Title

April 2016

Northwest Creeking Competition
09:00 am -5:00 pm pst

Northwest Creeking Competition
09:00 am -5:00 pm pst


Northwest Creeking Competition Yacolt,WA runs 04/21/12 - 04/10/16
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