SEASON: November to June dependent on water withdrawal for Port Townsend (diversion dam at Tunnel Creek). Best after heavy rain or a good snowmelt. Use caution with higher flows.
FUN FACT: Short but challenging IV+ boulder gardens with a couple of class V drops.
LOGISTICS: The take-out for the run is the pullout at Highway 101 mile 296.9 just upstream from the bridge across the Big Quilcene. Scramble up the bank on river right to the road across from the fish hatchery. To reach the put-in head south on Highway 101 to Rainbow Campground at mile 299.7. During the winter the campground is gated, but its a short hike to the Rainbow Canyon which is a 1/2 mile switchback trail that takes you down to the river.
The run starts out with a couple class III rapids before quickly plunging into a challenging class IV+ section with a couple of drops that are class V. The whitewater is continuous for close to a mile and consists of complex boulder-congested rapids contained within bedrock canyons. At moderate flows scouting and portaging is generally not too difficult. Once you leave the last set of challenging drops the river begins to taper off with some class III rapids and finally class II. As you pass under a foot bridge you will see a staff gauge on river left. The river calms down considerably after this point and it's a relatively short paddle through braided channels, past homes, and over a small diversion dam to the take-out. Those looking for more of a challenge can start out with the 2 miles of additional, and more challenging, whitewater on the Upper Big Quilcene.
A comprehensive guide to 75 river runs on Washington's beautiful Olympic Peninsula.
Check the DOE realtime gauge. Look for flows of about 300-650 cfs (you can do it a little higher if you know the reach well). There is a USGS gauge on this river (stn. 12052210, 1994-, 49.4 sq. mi.) now available on-line.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Big Quilcene rapids
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The extensive road network in Olympic National Forest has deteriorated over the last few years with the reduction in logging intensity and corresponding lack of routine maintenance. The road failures have resulted in destruction of aquatic habitat and reduced access. Repair work and decommissioning has begun with the introduction of a new road management plan in fall 2002.
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