Puyallup - 1 - Niesson Creek to Electron

Puyallup, Washington, US


1 - Niesson Creek to Electron (Puyallup Gorge)

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 9 Miles
Avg. Gradient 120 fpm

Looking Up Into Puyallup Gorge

Looking Up Into Puyallup Gorge
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 10/06/15 @ 164 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-12092000 300 - 1000 cfs V 00h27m 212 cfs (too low)

River Description

Descending the west flank of Mount Rainier, after meandering for miles, the Puyallup River flows through a narrow and dramatic canyon. After reading comparisons to the incomparable Carbon Gorge, I had to go see it. You shouldn’t have to decide on such things, but I think the Carbon is more awesome. But not by much. Both have a unique combination of rapids and geology that make them truly special. The whitewater on the Puyallup is good, with ten or more challenging rapids in an extremely committing setting. What prevents this run from being a Seattle-area ultra-classic is one issue: access. The timber company that owns the area has completely restricted a large swath of the upper Puyallup watershed. If you want to drive in via the road right along the river, you must purchase a $360/year pass. If you are caught on the property hiking or sitting in the car of someone with a pass, you could be given a $500 fine. Word has it the area is regularly patrolled.
Fortunately, there are ways to paddle this stretch. With an early start it can reasonably be done in a day via the Mowich River, accessed near the west entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. Beginning the hike at 9 got us to the takeout at 3. In 2006 another group put onto the larger South Fork Puyallup using West Side Road; that involves a long hike and paddle-in. Getting down to the Mowich is not bad, but the first part of the river is awful. The wide glacial valley accumulates logs and disperses the river. With the gauge reading 850 at Electron, it took a couple hours to get to the lower section of the Mowich, which thankfully is relatively unobstructed class III. Hiking into the lower portion of the Mowich from 165 would be extremely difficult due to the towering cliffs on river right. Almost immediately after the Mowich meets the Puyallup you come to the diversion dam, final destination of the “World’s Crookedest Railway”. You can visually check that the diversion is occurring, although try to find this out ahead of time (Electron Powerhouse), because an extra 400 CFS in the gorge could spell disaster. 
The rapids, with one exception, are manageable. After five or so big rapids there is a river-wide hole at a point where the canyon narrows to ten feet. It lurks right behind a right bend that has a gravel bar on river-left at the top of the entry rapid. Maybe you could scout the hole if you climbed up the wall a bit, where there’s some evidence of a past landslide. With 450-500 cfs in the gorge, I got stuck after running the hole on the right and landing in the river-right eddy. It took a few tries to paddle out. Not as bad as Rick’s Slide on the Carbon, but similar enough to be a little eerie. This hole should be run center going straight across the boil. I consider this the crux of the run, and it would likely get even more dangerous with higher water. 
Directions to Takeout:
Head south on Orville road from Highway 162. After 6.7 miles there is a turnout on the left, with large boulders blocking a road that goes through the forest to the river. It is a little more than a half-mile north of Electron road. At Electron road there is another road leading to a bridge directly upstream of the takeout. If you crossed this bridge and headed upriver, it would lead you to an easy put-in above the gorge. Absolutely no trespassing allowed here.
Directions to Putin Via Mowich River
Drive North on Orville Rd. Take a right on 162 (E), right on 165 (S). Putin is down the 2nd to last road on the right before you get to a “Mount Rainier” sign. Hike down the right fork and then follow the switchbacks until the road is gone. Follow the lightly used trail down to an old road. Stay on the road until it hits a floatable section of the river.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-10-06 23:37:50

Rapid Descriptions

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Associated Projects

  • Puyallup Watershed (WA)
    Major rivers of the Puyallup watershed include the Carbon, Puyallup, and White which drain the western and northern slopes of Mt. Rainier which we are working to preserve and protect.