Cowlitz, Clear Fork - Lava Creek to La Wis Wis Campground

Cowlitz, Clear Fork, Washington, US


Lava Creek to La Wis Wis Campground

Usual Difficulty V+ (for normal flows)
Length 5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 236 fpm

Clear Fork

Clear Fork
Photo of Matt Gaudette by Scott Collins taken 05/20/04 @ 3500 @ Packwood

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-14226500 700 - 4500 cfs V+ 01h07m 676 cfs (too low)

River Description

Gauge:  The gauge is downstream below some major confluences so it is not a perfect representation, just a ballpark to get you started.

The estimate is broken out into ELF flows, low flows, medium, and high runnable.  Below is a report of what you can expect at each of those levels aside from high runnable.

ELF Flows:   700-1200  Cascade Classics

Low Flows:  1200-2100 Oregon Kayaking

Medium Flows: 2100-3500  Into the Outside  &  Rafting (1.5 on fisherman's gauge)   

High runnable     3500-4500


There is also a fisherman gauge on river left just below the road bridge within La Wis Wis campground.  Paddlers can use this gauge as well with medium flows occurring between 1 and 1.5

Check out the photos tab for a couple shots of this physical gauge.


Description:  One of the most challenging, scenic and exciting runs in the Northwest. Dropping at 250 fpm for 5 miles, the Clear Fork feels like a long run. If you've never done the run, plan on a full day and a physically demanding experience. Wood is constantly shifting, so you should expect serveral portages and be prepared to do a lot of scouting. Egress from the gorge is extremely difficult, so you also need to bring plenty of rescue gear (ropes, biners, slings, first aid, and breakdowns).

If you are lucky enough to make it on the Clear Fork, it could be the best damn day of kayaking you've ever had. The Clear Fork has a little bit of everything- technical rapids, big drops and continuous whitewater. The river flows through a narrow canyon and the streambed is small, with the flow accounting for only about 10-15% of the Packwood gauge. Access is open year-round, and flows can occur either from snowmelt or rain events. Once there, paddlers must choose whether to putin above or below the first rapid, Entrance Exam. Entrance Exam is one of the most challenging rapids, and should be scouted for wood.

Entrance Exam

Entrance Exam consists of three falls back to back. The first drop is a 10ft ramp straight towards the river left wall. To run it successfully, "shine your ass to the wall". There is a short pool of slackwater to recover before going over the second drop. The second drop is another 10 footer with a big hole at the botton that you want to rund down the center. The third drop is also a 10 footer you can run on the left. After entrance exam, there is a waterfall and a few ledges.


After 3/4 mile of class IV+, you come to a horizon line where the river walls narrow in. Thie drop is called furious, which you can scout on the left. Furious consists of four drops in a mini-gorge, each of which is run on the right.


Crack Den

A ways downstream, you'll see some big boulders and another horizon line, which is Crack Den. Crack Den is a 12 foot vertical drop, which you run by riding your bow up on the left boulder.

Bitch Slap

Bitch slap is an 18 footer, which you can scout on the left. People have had good success deflecting off the right wall half-way down the drop. After running this drop, you'll know where it got its name.

1/4 Mile Portage

After Bitch Slap, you have about 3/4 mile of class III-IV. When things get steep again, get out on the right for a 1/4 mile portage around a hazardous boulder garden.

Flake Falls

There is a sweet boof off the right side of this 10 footer.

Take it Like a Man

Go left to right down this ramp into the right eddy.

Cortwright Canyon

After a couple more rapids, you'll see a large waterfall entering on the right. This is the top of Cortright Canyon. Scout this one, which is usually run on the right side, then to the left, eddying out, and finally back to the right.


This final drop is run down the left-channel, by squaring up and keeping your bow up.


To the Takeout: Take Highway 12 to the town of Packwood. From Packwood, continue 7 miles east to the turn-off for La Wis -Wis campround, just before the high-bridge over the Clear Fork at milepost 138. The campground may only be open during the summer months. On the river, the takeout is at the campground at the confluence of the Clear Fork and the Ohanepacosh. If the gate is closed, you can park right in front of it, and walk 3/4 mile up the road from the campground after the run. Alternatively, drive 2 miles west, and take FS 1270 to the bridge over the Cowlitz. This adds another 2 miles of flatwater to the run.

To the Putin: From the takeout, continue 5 miles east to the putin at milepost 143. Park at the big pull-off on the north side of the highway. The trail down to the river begins on the other side of the road just behind the milepost. Take the old roadbed for 50 ft and turn off to the right on a well-established trail. The hike to the river is about 1/4 mile. If you are putting in below Entrance Exam, follow the trail for 50 ft, then head more-or-less towards the river, gradually working to the right. The gulley down to the putin is hard to find, but it to the right of a large flat area. The last drop in Entrance Exam is visible from this putin (46° 40.156' N, 121° 31.071' W). If you are putting in above Entrance Exam, follow the trail for 300 ft, then follow the least sloping path directly to the river. The final section is very steep.

Description by Scott Collins, Bill Bowey, and Oliver Deshler. For more information, check out the Clear Fork of the Cowlitz page on Jason Rackley's.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2016-06-22 18:08:18


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.
April 22 2004 (5317 days ago)
Bryan UrakawaDetails
River report - April 18, 2004
GAUGES: There was talk of the gauges being off from last year but we determined (through video from
this trip and one in June 2003) that the gauge reads the same now as it did then. We had 2000cfs on
the Cowlitz@Packwood gauge both times and 870cfs on the Cispus@Randle last year with 1100cfs on
that gauge this year. The video showed the same water level (on the trip some thought it was
higher, some thought it was lower, the video showed basically the same levels both times with maybe
a few drops more this trip).
WOOD: There is basically the same wood as last year and we ran with 3 portages. One of them is
runnable, one is about 10 feet, the other is "The Bad Neighborhood" (which is cleaner
than before). The log jam shown in one of the photos here hasn't been there for awhile. Other than
that, most wood was in the same places that I remember them in last June. However, I did say
"most wood" - so nobody runs it blind and finds a piece that I didn't mention. This is
just to say that it's good to go!

Happy paddling!

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