Difficulty III-IV(V)
Length 9.3 Miles
Flow Range 500 - 9000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 35 minutes ago 132 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 07/08/2019 9:14 pm

River Description

At moderate flows the Chetco has stunningly beautiful crystal clear water. For the first two miles the river flows through easy class II rapids separated by deep pools.

Keep your eyes open for massive steelhead that return to this river to spawn. As the river turns to the south, the gradient starts to pick up and you will enjoy a great section of class III/IV whitewater with over a dozen high quality rapids separated by good recovery pools. The drops are all boulder gardens with several boulders that tower high overhead but most can be easily boat scouted.
The gradient tapers off as you approach the high steel bridge where FR 1376 crosses the river. This could be a potential access point as a trail heads to the downstream side of the bridge on river right. It's another mile of flatwater to the start of the Chetco Gorge.
After some class II, you will reach the first class III rapid in the gorge before you soon arrive at Candy Cane. This rapid is a congested boulder garden of massive rocks swirled with reds and lighter colors giving the rapid its name. You can pull out on river right to scout the rapid which requires a sequence of moves over a couple hundred yards to navigate through the boulder field. Portaging is a little challenging over the boulders and uneven ground but it should just take a few minutes on river right. As you proceed across the pool downstream of Candy Cane, you will soon be at the start of Conehead which you will recognize by the massive Conehead Rock that towers above at the end of the rapid. Scouting is easily done on the right or a portage (easier than the previous rapid) can be done on river right. The lead-in to the rapid is not hard but the crux move is at the Conehead where you need to navigate through a series of small boulders that obstruct the route around the right of the Conehead.
Above 4,000 cfs Candycane and Conehead become big water class V rapids (portageable).  At 7,000 cfs this run is a fun/large class III wave train with great surf aside from the two big ones.
Shortly after Conehead, the gorge ends and the river opens up as you paddle through more class II and open gravel bar rapids. The first possible take-out is at the old bridge crossing (recognized by old wooden bridge pilings sticking out of the river bed), but an easier take-out is reached by paddling another 15 minutes downstream to the South Fork confluence.
Below the take-out, the river is primarily utilized by fishermen and there are several additional access points (Redwood Bar, Little Redwood, Nook Bar, Miller Bar, and Redwood Nature) continuing on down to the Loeb State Park.
From Highway 101 mile 357.9 in Brookings turn east onto North Bank Road. This road becomes Forest Road 1376 (mile post 0 is where the double-lane highway ends just before you cross the river). At mile 7.9 on FR 1376 you will reach the 1376-111 spur just before crossing the bridge over the South Fork Chetco (this is 15.9 miles from Highway 101). This spur heads down a quarter mile to the confluence, a dispersed recreation site with abundant parking and easy access to the river which makes for a convenient take-out.
To reach the put-in, continue up river on FR 1376, cross the South Fork Chetco at mile 8.0 and turn left at the T junction to continue on FR 1376. At mile 8.5 you will pass a spur road that heads down to an old bridge crossing (the bridge is long gone) and another possible take-out (the one described in Soggy Sneakers) but the road is washed out and you would need to hike part way up. At mile 8.6, turn right to head up on FR 1917. At mile 3.1 on FR 1917 turn left onto the FR 1917-060 spur. Stay on the main spur and avoid all the roads that head off this one to the right or left and dead-end at logging landings. At mile 4.2 on FR 1917-060 you will come to the FR 1917-067 spur which heads 1.5 miles down to the river. A high clearance vehicle is recommended for this road or you can park at the top and carry your boats down (it's an easy hike down that takes about 45 minutes). Tollman Ranch, a private inholding is just across the river from the put-in.

Rapid Descriptions

Steel Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 5.1

The bridge crosses over a flatwater section of the river and it is about a mile downstream to the Chetco Gorge. Potential access is available on river right downstream of the bridge.

Candy Cane

Class - V Mile - 6

Congested boulder garden rapid.


Class - V Mile - 6.1

Tricky lead in rapid to navigate around the massive Conehead Rock that sits at the bottom of this drop.

Alternate Take-Out

Class - N/A Mile - 7.8

Alternate access at the old bridge site.


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Thomas O'Keefe
5 years ago

We ran this in early March towards the lower limit of flows (577cfs). It was still plenty of fun. We hiked down the FR 1917-067 spur to Tollman Ranch as we did not have a high clearance vehicle. It took about 45 minutes to walk down. The approximately dozen or so rapids that begin about 1/3 of the way into the run were all great read and run. After a stretch of flatwater and passing under the steel bridge we came to the gorge. There are basically two rapids in the gorge--Candy Cane and Conehead--and then it's over and you have the paddle out. We did not run either drop. Candy Cane was very congested with narrow chutes and water flowing under boulders. Conehead had several rocks sticking up along the right that would have been tricky to navigate at low flow. The spur road described as the take-out in Soggy Sneakers had a massive washout. It would have been possible to hike out (although I expect the road will further deteriorate) but we elected to just paddle another 15 minutes down to the South Fork confluence where you can drive right to the river and have easy access.

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10 years ago

I finally got on this run after many aborted attempts; it's a long way from anywhere and I live in So. Or.! Soggy sneakers has the discription of this run nailed. Starts mild,class 2. slowly builds to class 3 then a couple of 4's then back to class 3 then 2 in short order. 1/2 mile past the bridge comes the gorge; eddy-out right to scout/portage. Candy Cane the 1st rapid was a 5 at our flow of 2,400 cfs, beautiful rapid! Conehead the next (last) rapid in the gorge is a long class 5+ (at least in my book) that has to be seen to be believed. Awesome. Not the best run in the neighborhood. (for example the NF of the Smith wins on every criteria of what makes up a great run I can think of) but if your looking for an adventure and don't mind long shuttles on poorly signed dirt roads or portaging over giant boulders this run might be for you or... you could just hike into the gorge and see what all of us on the river that day thought was the highlight of the run.

Gage Descriptions

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Directions Description

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Date Flow Result Factor  
2014-02-22 n/a Fatality Other Read More



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Chetco and Molalla Rivers Designated State Scenic Waterways (OR)

Thomas O'Keefe

This week Governor Kate Brown designated Oregon’s first new State Scenic Waterways since 1988. Portions of the Chetco and Molalla Rivers highly valued by the whitewater boating community were chosen as rivers that meet the Scenic Waterways Act criteria for outstanding scenic, fish, wildlife, geological, botanical, cultural, and outdoor recreation opportunities.
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Chetco State Scenic Waterway Public Meeting and Comment Opportunity (OR)

Thomas O'Keefe

Last fall the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (ORPD) solicited input on the designation of a segment of the Chetco River that includes the Chetco Gorge as a State Scenic Waterway. American Whitewater is actively supporting this designation. We encourage the paddling community to attend the meeting and file comments.

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Take Action: OR Rivers Considered for Scenic Waterway Protection

Megan Hooker

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department wants to hear from you about whether three Oregon rivers should be protected as State Scenic Waterways. Sections of the Molalla, Chetco and Grand Ronde, all of which are well known and loved by Pacific Northwest paddlers, are up for consideration. The agency is seeking public feedback. Comments can be emailed or you can respond to a short survey by October 15th.

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Oregon Wilderness and Wild Scenic Bills Re-Introduced

Thomas O'Keefe

Earlier today, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) re-introduced a set of wilderness bill including the Oregon Treasures Act, legislation that would protect the Chetco River, Molalla River, Rogue River, and Horse Heaven and Cathedral Rock sections along the John Day River.


Jacob Cruser


Thomas O'Keefe


Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1213221 07/08/19 Jacob Cruser updated image position
1210545 11/28/18 Jacob Cruser
1204312 03/11/15 Thomas O'Keefe photo added
1204321 03/12/15 Thomas O'Keefe take-out mapped
1197391 03/14/10 Thomas O'Keefe map update
1197395 03/14/10 Thomas O'Keefe gauge update
1204310 03/11/15 Thomas O'Keefe description added
1204319 03/12/15 Thomas O'Keefe rapids mapped
1193547 07/11/02 n/a n/a