With a gradient comparable to sections upstream and a dramatic basalt canyon, paddlers wondered what whitewater treasures were buried beneath the waters held back by Condit Dam. With that in mind and recognizing the opportunity to restore this great river to free-flowing magnificence, American Whitewater formally requested a dam removal study in 1992 and was a party to the 1999 negotiated settlement to remove Condit Dam and drain Northwestern Reservoir (photo). This reservoir buried the river for a century blocking fish migration and innundating a whitewater run. The dam was breached in October 2011 (photo) and opened to paddlers in November 2012.
From the put-in at Northwestern Park near the Buck Creek confluence, the river flows through the historic reservoir descending into a basalt canyon. Vertical basalt walls rise on river right as you enter the Lower Gorge with a great series of class III rapids. Constructed fish habitat in the first mile, and naturally deposited wood throughout require that paddlers keep the alert level high for strainers. The former Condit Dam site is easy to miss. Waterfalls cascade in over sheer basalt cliffs making this one of the most beautiful and dramactic sections along the entire river--a section that was hidden from view for over a century below the waters of Northwestern Reservoir. The dam was built in a bedrock notch with a nice pool downstream. It makes a great spot to stop and marvel at the scale of the restoration effort (historical photo prior to dam, photo of dam, photo as it looks today).
The reach downstream of the dam has been paddled prior to removal of the dam. In 1992 American Whitewater volunteers paddled for a study as part of relicensing with PacifiCorp and the National Park Service (study photo). This relicensing process eventually resulted in the removal of the dam, and the recovery of significant salmon habitat.
First timers should attempt this run at lower flows (around 2 feet) and work their way up. Summer groundwater flows tend to be steady and cold, making this another ideal run for the dry season in the Pacific Northwest. It is highly recommended to get current information about wood hazards from local regulars. Class IV skills are useful here, as mistake in class III could have significant consequences. Rapids in the gorge sections are difficult to scout due to steep walls.
Leaving Northwestern Park the river is open with a series of class II and then III rapids, some of which are long. Basalt cliffs rise along the right bank, showing bathtub rings from the former lake. When the river begins to gorge up, the whitewater stays class III with occasional pools. The dam site is at the second major constriction in the gorge, and is easy to miss. It is 3.3 miles from here to the Columbia. The gorge continues to deepen.
The first mile below the dam site is characterized by fun series of class III rapids with pools at lower flows. Proceed cautiously. A mile or so into the main gorge watch for right bend leading into a stout class III+, and below that a hard bend to the left. This rapid has some big holes at higher flows and can be somewhat sneaked on the left at most levels. Setting safety below it to prevent swims through Steelhead is reasonable. Looking downstream, the right bend leading into this rapid is in the distance (photo).
Stop on river left before the blind left bend, because just around it is Steelhead Falls which is significantly harder and more dangerous than the rest of this run. There are several eddies along the left bank before the bend, but no pool. There is one last eddy on the right at the outside of the bend, but from here one has no choice but to run the drop.
Steelhead Falls marks the entrance to the White Salmon Narrows (photo) and is a class IV/V rapid. It is often portaged, and sometimes run, both on the left. The river pours over a ledge creating a beefy hydraulic with a boil pushing to the right. At moderate flows (around 2') route options include a chute down the left side or a boof towards the center. In either case you want to be sure and avoid the hole. As flows increase the drop increases in power and intensity. A little above 3 feet or so on the stick gauge the scout/portage option closes off, and the hole takes on serious proportions.
The portage is a wading scramble along the left cliff, holding on to a rope bolted to the cliff with one hand while floating your boat alongside with the other. When you reach the point where you can see around the blind bend, there is a shelf you can pull your boat up on and finish the portage out of the water. It's the kind of scout/portage that class V creek boaters do on creeks throughout the region, but it can present a challenge for class III paddlers.
There is a nice bedrock bench downstream of the Steelhead Falls on river left that provides a great platform to set safety and take photos. A swim at Steelhead Falls will likely result in getting recirculated in the hydraulic and sucked over to the right wall. A good rope throw from the left shelf can reach a person here. If you are get shoved deep enough by the hole to get out, you are headed for the Narrows and its wood hazards.
Below Steelhead Falls the river flows through the narrowest part of the White Salmon Narrows (photo from very low water). In the past wood has collected here and this could be an issue in the future so be sure to get a recent report from locals, especially if there has been a major storm (photo). Below Steelhead the current is fast and eddies are few down to a blind right bend. Around the right bend the water slows and logs do sometimes lodged in the gorge walls.
About 1/2 mile below the Narrows you will reach the powerhouse (photo). There is more whitewater downstream, starting out as class II (photo) and finishing with a bang with a series of three long III-III+ drops. The last of these is great fun (photo). The river quickly goes flat and you can either hike up the fishermen's trail to Highway 141 (the last one before the bridge is easiest), or continue another 1/2 mile downstream to the Columbia.
Looking back upstream towards the site of the former Condit Dam.
Steelhead Falls marks the entrance to the White Salmon Narrows.
The powerhouse that has since been shut down and no longer diverts flow from the river.
Final Rapid on the White Salmon is one of the best class III rapids on the whole river.
This access comes at the end of the whitewater. You can hike up the trail here or paddle the flatwater down to the Columbia River and take-out at the confluence.
As of August 2014 the only riverwide wood on this section was a new piece in the class I-II section immediately below Northwestern Park. The log jam below Steelhead has cleared, but could reform after any high water. The wood in the narrows after the right bend below Steelhead is still present, but can be avoided.
2 years ago
by Carla Miner
6 years ago
by Thomas O'Keefe
by Gardner Johnston
Fact sheet on dam removals scheduled for the Pacific Northwest.
Comments on License Application for the Condit Project on the White Salmon River.
Report on whitewater recreation downstream of Condit Dam completed as part of studies for the relicensing of the hydropower project.
Something a little above 3' at Husum or 1500 cfs at Underwood is around the maximum for the portage at Steelhead Falls. Ideal flows to run it are in the range of 1.7-2.4' on the Husum gauge.
Permits are not required for this reach.
Takeout: Follow Hwy. 14 along the Columbia River and at mile 63.6 there is a bridge across the White Salmon at the confluence with the Columbia providing river access. The public can't use the tribal site on river right but you can scramble up the bank on river left at the Alt Hwy. 141 junction (photo) to a medium pullout. There is more parking across the highway. Alternatively you can head up the river 1.1 mile from Hwy. 14 to a large pullout (photo) that provides access via a fishermen's trail that leads down to the river. From the river you can recognize this site by the cable that extends across the river overhead just downstream of the last significant rapid.
To reach the dam site, take Alt Hwy. 141 north from Hwy. 14 (just to the east side of the bridge). Continue 2.2 miles to the junction with Hwy. 141. Just past this junction you will see the turn for Powerhouse Road. Follow this road down to the dam where it will make a 90 degree turn to the left to continue downstream. If you look over the edge at this point you will be able to see down into the gorge where Condit Dam once stood.
To reach the put-in, head 2.0 miles north of the junction between Alt Hwy. 141 and Hwy. 141 and turn onto Northwestern Lake Rd. (Hwy. 141 mile 6.7). Follow it 0.4 miles down to a bridge. There is a park with a launch ramp, picnic tables, and a changing area on the downstream river right side of the bridge.
To make the run longer or to accomodate a variety of paddling skill levels, you can launch above or below Husum falls (see info for river section upstream). This adds 3 miles of mostly class II whitewater and one great surfing wave.
White Salmon Narrows
Condit Dam Remains
Condit Dam Site
Floating Through Former Reservoir
Restored White Salmon
Northwestern Park River Access
Condit Dam site
Condit Dam removal
Thomas O'Keefe at Condit Breach
White Salmon Coffer Dam
Jay Letto with Salmon
Pool at the base of Condit Dam
Northwestern Reservoir drains
White Salmon mouth
Rafting below Condit
White Salmon below Condit
Looking back up though the Narrows
Log Jam in the Narrows
Dropping into the Narrows
Narrows Entrance, Steelhead Falls
Narrows of the White Salmon
White Salmon bl Condit
Condit Dam, newly constructed
canyon below powerhouse
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Brought to you through the efforts of Wet Planet Whitewater and the Headwaters Institute, the White Salmon River RiverFest and Symposium will take place this weekend (Saturday May, 30th). American Whitewater will be presenting an update on Condit Dam removal and river restoration efforts in the region as part of the morning symposium. River races and a great party will take place in the afternoon and evening.
There is incredible potential for the White Salmon River to once again be home to abundant wild salmon and steelhead populations and a new whitewater run. But before this vision can be realized, the 95-year old, 125-foot Condit dam, which blocks fish passage and innundates a section of river awaiting a future first descent, must be removed. The Washington State Department of Ecology is currently accepting comment on one of the last permits the dam owner needs to make removal a reality.
Earlier today the Washington Department of Ecology issued the water quality permit under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Issuance of the permit is a major milestone and is the final step before issuance of a dam removal order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is expected later this year.
We have witnessed some positive developments regarding the plan to remove Condit Dam and restore the White Salmon River (WA) over the last few weeks, and there are several details that we thought would be of interest to the whitewater boating community. Removal of the dam is now scheduled for October 2011.
The Washington Department of Ecology has just released an environmental review to address how sediment will be managed during the proposed removal of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in October 2010. Comments on the review document will be accepted until July 20, 2009.
The prospect of removing Condit Dam on the White Salmon River moved closer to reality today in a significant ruling from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioning formally ordering the removal of the dam. With today's ruling by federal regulators and approval earlier this fall by Washington State, the dam is now scheduled for removal in October of 2011.
Earlier today the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released a decision that supports and orders the removal of Condit Dam, located on Washington's White Salmon River in October of this year. The decision was in response to an appeal filed by American Whitewater and our partners, and clears the path forward for one of the most exciting river restoration initiatives in the United States!
Earlier today PacifiCorp made a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory (FERC) accepting the terms and conditions propsed to govern the surrender of PacifiCorp's license for the Condit Hydroelectric Project including removal of the dam. The reservoir will be drained in October 2011.
Ottawa-based videographer Mike McKay recently set out to film some of the great whitewater of the Columbia Gorge and document the building anticipation for removal of Condit Dam.
A new video released today is building excitement for the restoration of a free-flowing White Salmon River. The video by filmmaker Andy Maser features local voices sharing their perspectives on the upcoming removal of Condit Dam. On October 26 a hole will be blasted in the base of the dam, and Northwestern Reservoir will drain in a matter of hours. The explosion will mark the beginning of a regionally and nationally significant river restoration effort.
After nearly a century, Washington's White Salmon River in south central Washington is flowing freely again! Earlier today, a hole was blasted in the base of Condit Dam, and its reservoir - Northwestern Lake - began to pour through it. The reservoir is expected to be fully drained by sundown.As a party to the 1999 settlement agreement for removal, American Whitewater has played a leadership role in representing the interests of the whitewater recreation community in the effort to remove Condit Dam.
Following the breach of Condit Dam that quickly drained Northwestern Lake, the White Salmon River remains an unsafe place to be both above and below the dam. PacifiCorp, local law enforcement and experienced river experts are unanimous in urging the curious to stay away.
PacifiCorp has announced that they have closed the river access at Northwestern Lake Park (the take-out for the Lower White Salmon run) due to the dynamic river conditions associated with Condit Dam removal and ongoing downcutting of sediment in the vicinity of the take-out. The access will be reopened as soon as conditions stabilize.
Today we wrap up our Year of the River film series with a short film that tells the story of historic dam removal successes on Washington's Elwha and White Salmon rivers. The film features advocates who were instrumental in taking down the dams, and people connected to the rivers who will benefit from dam removal.
Removal of Condit Dam is nearing completion and we are getting ready to celebrate the moment on Saturday September 29th. Contractors still have equipment in and along the river that will be removed over the next couple weeks and a log jam resulting from the dam breach still needs to be addressed. It's important for paddlers to wait until this work is done and everyone considering this reach needs to understand the hazards associated with the class IV/V entrance drop into the Narrows.
More than two decades after we first investigated the recreational potential of a restored White Salmon River, and a year after a blast of dynamite punched a hole in the base of Condit Dam, the river is now navigable from the headwaters all the way down to the Columbia River! The White Salmon Narrows is a technically challenging new stretch of whitewater that is officially open to paddlers with the skill set to enjoy it safely. Paddlers running this section of river should be solid Class IV boaters who are comfortable running unfamiliar sections of river.
The Mid Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group has begun work on a Lower White Salmon River Fish Habitat Conservation Strategy and as part of this effort they are hosting an online meeting through this Sunday July 20th (you can join any time). We encourage the whitewater paddling community to contribute to the discussion.
The Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group is developing a Fish Habitat Conservation Approach focused on the long-term management of salmon and steelhead habitat along the lower six miles of the White Salmon River. The Enhancement Group has worked closely with American Whitewater, Yakama Nation, and resource agencies to develop a collective vision for the White Salmon River that realizes the full benefits of Condit Dam removal for fish and the community. It is important for the boating community to be a part of this discussion, and we encourage local boaters to participate in a community meeting in Husum on Saturday, November 15th.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!