Table of Contents

Paddling Opportunities in National Parks

Rivers are natural trails that flow through the landscape, reflecting the unique character of the geology and natural beauty of an area, and our National Parks feature some of our nation's most spectacular paddling opportunities. Floating down a river is likely the most ancient form of travel and exploration aside from walking and in many cases it is one of the most rewarding ways to enjoy our nation's National Parks. Many of the rivers in our nation's Parks flow through wilderness areas allowing for primitive and unconfined backcountry recreational opportunities, where individuals have freedom to explore, can practice self-sufficiency, and engage in a direct experience with the natural environment. Rivers and waterways in our National Parks offer a unique experience and opportunity for boaters to develop a strong connection with these places turning paddling enthusiasts into advocates for the resource.

Many of the Parks are known for their wilderness paddling opportunities. The Wilderness Act describes “wilderness” as an area that has “outstanding opportunities for … a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.” Paddling is a form of recreation that is a core part of the Act, and the founders of the Wilderness concept, including Olaus Murie, Bob Marshall and Aldo Leopold wrote specifically of the unique perspective and adventure that paddling in Wilderness areas offer. Exploring the wilderness areas in our National Parks by hand-powered craft affords visitors with a unique opportunity to experience park resources, enjoy the river and riparian landscape, and provides inspirational opportunities to experience wild rivers. American Whitewater works to protect the quality of this experience in National Parks across the country. The core element of paddling is experiencing a place through interaction with moving water, going with the natural flow and experiencing the landscape from the river’s perspective.

The list below is an inventory of the 58 National Parks with a narrative description of known paddling opportunities. Those with whitewater resources are indicated by the whitewater paddler icon. Below this list is an inventory of additional resources administered by the National Park Service where whitewater paddling occurs.

Acadia National Park (ACAD)

Established 1919

Acadia National Park offers dense forests, isolated ponds, and a spectacular rocky Atlantic coastline.

Paddling Opportunities: Flastwater paddling is available on several ponds and lakes and paddling the scenic coastline is popular with sea kayakers.

American Samoa (NPSA)

Established 1988

This Park is on three Samoan islands and protects coral reefs, rainforests, volcanic mountains, and white beaches.

Paddling Opportunities: Sea kayaking opportunities are available in the ocean.

Arches National Park (ARCH)

Established 1971 (National Monument 1929)

Paddling Opportunities: None

Badlands National Park (BADL)

Established 1978

Pinnacles, steep canyons, and prairie habitat.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Big Bend National Park (BIBE)

Established 1944

Paddling Opportunities: With 118 miles of the Rio Grande River bordering the National Park, opportunities exist for a diversity of backcountry paddling experiences for whitewater paddlers from half-day trips to extended multi-day journeys. Whitewater is generally class II and enjoyed by rafters, canoeists, and kayakers. Santa Elena Canyon is the most popular overnight or three day trip with convenient access and tall cliffs up to 1500 feet. Additional opportunities are available through Mariscal Canyon, San Vicente & Hot Springs Canyon, and Boquillas Canyon. Downstream of the National Park the river corridor continues to be administered by the National Park Service as a Wild and Scenic River. The Lower Canyons are in this reach.

Biscayne Bay National Park (BISC)

Established 1980 (National Monument 1968)

Paddling Opportunities: The best way to explore this Park is by boat and extensive flatwater paddling opportunities are available. Canoeing and kayaking are great ways to explore the park's mangrove-fringed shorelines and shallow bay waters. More experienced kayakers may enjoy crossing Biscayne Bay's 7-mile expanse to camp at Elliott Key or Boca Chita Key.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (BLCA)

Established 1999 (National Monument 1933)

General Management Plan 1997

Big enough to be overwhelming, still intimate enough to feel the pulse of time, Black Canyon of the Gunnison exposes you to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. With two million years to work, the Gunnison River, along with the forces of weathering, has sculpted this vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky.

Paddling Opportunities: Spectacular class V backcountry kayaking through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of Colorado’s signature expert kayak runs. The trip is typically done as an overnight. The General Management Plan specifically recognizes whitewater paddling and describes the River Resource Opportunity Area noting that some “are challenged by the river's extremes choosing the kayak as the vehicle to propel themselves through and along its wild turbulence.” The Plan further notes that “wilderness solitude is part of this experience” and specifically identifies kayaking as an activity appropriate for the “primitive” area where “challenge and adventure for visitors are high” and one is isolated from the sights and sounds of man and feels a closeness to nature; experiences solitude, tranquility, and quiet; and is required to use outdoor survival and wilderness skills.

Bryce Canyon National Park (BRCA)

Established 1928

Exotic sandstone and limestone rock formations.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Canyonlands National Park (CANY)

Established 1964

Paddling Opportunities: Backcountry flatwater paddling opportunities to the confluence of the Colorado and Green River (Stillwater Canyon). Downstream of the confluence the Colorado River charges through Cataract Canyon with some of the signature bigwater rapids of the West.

Capitol Reef National Park (CARE)

Established 1971

Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles.

Paddling Opportunities: Technical expert paddling through a tight canyon on the Upper Fremont River with a run on the Lower Fremont River that is a step down in difficulty. Sufficient flows are available during a narrow window in the spring.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park (CAVE)

Established 1930

Beneath this rugged land are more than 117 known caves - all formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Channel Islands National Park (CHIS)

Established 1980

General Management Plan 1985

Paddling Opportunities: Sea kayaking along the island shoreline.

Congaree National Park (CONG)

Established 2003 (National Monument 1976)

The largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.

Paddling Opportunities: Flatwater paddling is recognized as the best way to experience this Park. Opportunities exist along Cedar Creek and the Congaree River including options for a backcountry overnight trip.

Crater Lake National Park (CRLA)

Established 1902

Paddling Opportunities: None. Private boats and rafts are not allowed on the lake. Only the interpretive power boat and research vessels are permitted. From the Cleetwood Cove Trail you can access the lake for swimming and SCUBA diving.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CUVA)

Established 2000

The winding Cuyahoga River gives way to deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands in close proximity to the urban areas of Akron and Cleveland.

Paddling Opportunities: Two tributaries, Tinker’s Creek and Chippewa Creek, provide expert creeking opportunities and the Cuyahoga River (Reach E, Reach F) offers flatwater paddling. Cuyahoga Valley National Park does not encourage or facilitate public use of the river within the Park, due to the threat posed to human health by sewage and pathogen contamination. While the Park discourages any canoeing, kayaking, swimming, or wading in the river, it is not prohibited and is in fact actively pursued.

Death Valley National Park (DEVA)

Established 1994 (National Monument 1933)

Below sea level and with steady drought and record summer heat

Paddling Opportunities: None

Denali National Park (DENA)

Established 1917

General Management Plan 1986 (A Consolidated General Management Plan released in 2008 includes the 1997 Entrance Area and Road Corridor Development Concept Plan, 1997 South Side Denali Development Concept Plan, and 2006 Backcountry Management Plan that is described by the Park as essentially resulting in a new Plan.)

Denali is six million acres of wild land, bisected by one ribbon of road. Travelers along it see the relatively low-elevation taiga forest give way to high alpine tundra and snowy mountains, culminating in North America's tallest peak, 20,320' Mount McKinley.

Paddling Opportunities: The Nenana River (Section 1, Section 2, Section 3, Section 4 - The Canyon) provides popular whitewater sections along the eastern boundary of the Park including sections that are commercially run. Known backcountry runs within the Park include Teklanika, Sanctuary, Savage, and Riley. Packrafting opportunities are available within the Park and the Park website notes that “Denali's backcountry offers many possibilities for combining a day or overnight hike with packrafting.”

Dry Tortugas National Park (DRTO)

Established 1992 (National Monument 1935)

Almost 70 miles west of Key West lies the remote Dry Tortugas National Park. The 100-square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands.

Paddling Opportunities: Flatwater paddling opportunities exist throughout the Park. A kayak can be a great way to explore the beauty of the Dry Tortugas. As you paddle you can look down through clear water at the diverse marine life that makes the seagrass beds and coral reefs their home. Quietly paddling and taking in the wonder of these islands where terns and frigatebirds nest offers an amazing experience. A boating permit is required for all vessels in the park, including kayaks.

Everglades National Park (EVER)

Established 1947

Master Plan 1979 (currently being updated)

A million and a half acres of shallow wetland seasonally covered by a sheet of slow moving water, making it the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States

Paddling Opportunities: Everglades National Park offers many flatwater paddling opportunities to explore the natural beauty of this park through freshwater marsh, mangrove forests, and the open waters of Florida Bay. Trips can last from a few hours to multi-day wilderness adventures.

Gates of the Arctic National Park (GAAR)

Established 1980

General Management Plan 1986 (amendment process underway)

Paddling Opportunities: Several rivers provide backcountry paddling experiences with some whitewater including the Noatak, Nigu, Killik, and Alatna. The Noatak is the longest Wild and Scenic River and largest protected watershed in the country; flowing through a remote wilderness, the river emerges from the Brooks Range in Gates of the Arctic National Park before flowing west through glacier-carved valleys and out onto the open tundra of the Noatak National Preserve.

Glacier National Park (GLAC)

Established 1910

General Management Plan 1999

Glacier preserves over 1,000,000 acres of forests, alpine meadows, and lakes. Its diverse habitats are home to over 70 species of mammals and over 260 species of birds. The spectacular glaciated landscape is one of the largest intact ecosystems in the lower 48 states.

Paddling Opportunities: The Wild and ScenicNorth Fork Flathead and Middle Fork Flathead (Section 2, Section 3, Section 4) border the Park and provide outstanding whitewater opportunities including commercially run sections. McDonald Creek an easily-accessed creek run in Glacier National Park that has a seasonal closure to protect harlequin duck nesting habitat. The run is characterized by a handful of challenging Class V bedrock drops separated by Class I/II sections offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. There are numerous other backcountry whitewater runs in the Park. Hand-propelled boats are explicitly permitted in the Park.

Glacier Bay National Park (GLBA)

Established 1980 (National Monument 1925)

General Management Plan 1984

A southeast Alaska wilderness covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines, and deep sheltered fjords,

Paddlling Opportunities: The Alsek River and its major tributary, the Tatshenshini River, are classic multiday Alaska River trips. Turnback Canyon on the Alsek is known as a challenging stretch of whitewater. Sea kayaking is a popular way to experience the wilderness of Glacier Bay.

The General Management Plan notes that “water corridors are the primary means of access to the park's major scenic, biologic, and geologic features” (1984 General Management Plan, page 37). Regarding Alsek River management the Plan further states as follows:

Under ANILCA (sec. 202(1)), the National Park Service is authorized to protect a segment of the Aisek River and to ensure a quality witderness experience. The legislative reports for ANILCA further state that the National Park Service must take steps to ensure that overuse of the river does not occur and that a quality wilderness experience is protected. (1984 General Management Plan, page 71)

Grand Canyon National Park (GRCA)

Established 1919

General Management Plan 1995
Colorado River Management Plan 2006

Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.

Paddling Opportunities: The Colorado River through Grand Canyon is one of the most sought after and unique multiday whitewater paddling trips in the world. Havasu Creek and Tapeats Creek are two tributaries within the canyon that have whitewater.

American Whitewater Grand Canyon Project Page

Grand Teton National Park (GRTE)

Established 1929

The Teton Range protected by the Park is characterized by extraordinary wildlife, pristine lakes, and alpine terrain.

Paddling Opportunities: Sections of the Snake River both upstream and downstream of Jackson Lake. Additional whitewater runs, closed to boating, include Pacific, Buffalo Fork, Gros Ventre, and Ditch Creek.

American Whitewater Yellowstone and Grand Teton Project Page

Great Basin National Park (GRBA)

Established 1986

In the shadow of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, 5,000 year old bristlecone pine trees grow on rocky glacial moraines.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Great Sand Dunes National Park (GRSA)

Established 2004 (National Monument 1932)

The tallest dunes in North America are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes, and tundra.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Established 1934

General Management Plan 1982

The nation’s most visited National Park along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.

Paddling Opportunities: With over two dozen whitewater runs from class II to class V, this Park provides a wide diversity of opportunities for the whitewater enthusiast including challenging backcountry adventures. Some of the best runs include the challenging class V+ Raven Fork, class IV/V Big Creek, class V West Prong, and class III/IV Little River, and the class III Greenbrier run in the Little Pigeon drainage. A sample of these and some additional runs that make up the whitewater highlights in the Park include the following:

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GUMO)

Established 1972

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the world premier example of a fossil reef from the Permian Era.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Haleakala National Park (HALE)

Established 1916

Stark volcanic landscapes and sub-tropical rain forest

Paddling Opportunities: Information is limited but members have reported an expert whitewater reach on the Seven Sacred Pools section of Ohe'o Gulch.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (HAVO)

Established 1916

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is a fascinating world of active volcanism, biological diversity, and Hawaiian culture, past and present.

Paddling Opportunities: Limited to expert sea kayaking opportunities along the coast.

Hot Springs National Park (HOSP)

Established 1921 (Reservation 1832)

Hot Springs National Park is in an urban area, surrounding the north end of the city of Hot Springs.

Paddling Opportunities: A short segment of the class II Bull Bayou flows through the western edge of the Park.

Isle Royale National Park (ISRO)

Established 1931

General Management Plan 1998

Isle Royale National Park was established “to conserve a prime example of North Woods Wilderness” with 98% of the Park in wilderness.

Paddling Opportunities: Backcounry flatwater paddling is available throughout the numerous lakes, bays, and islands of Isle Royale. Interior lakes connected by portage trails offer popular routes for canoeists while sea kayakers explore the island shore of Lake Superior.

Joshua Tree National Park (JOTR)

Established 1994 (National Monument 1936)

A desert Park that reveals a fascinating variety of plants and animals that make their home in this land shaped by strong winds, unpredictable torrents of rain, and climatic extremes.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Katmai National Park (KATM)

Established 1980 (National Monument 1918)

This Park is famous for volcanoes, but also for brown bears, pristine waterways with abundant fish, remote wilderness, and a rugged coastline.

Paddling Opportunities: The interior waterways provide exceptional opportunities for backcountry paddling. American Creek is a backcountry whitewater run featuring some of the best rainbow trout and arctic char fishing in the Park and two canyon sections with class III rapids. The Savonski Loop is a popular 86 mile flatwater paddle through the scenic Katmai National Park backcountry. The outer coast is a well-known backcountry sea kayaking destination.

Kenai Fjords National Park (KEFJ)

Established 1980

General Management Plan 1984

At the edge of the Kenai Peninsula lies a land where the ice age lingers. Nearly 40 glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield, Kenai Fjords' crowning feature. Wildlife thrives in icy waters and lush forests around this vast expanse of ice.

Paddling Opportunities: The Park provides a diversity of sea kayaking opportunities including high challenge trips along an exposed and rugged coast.

Kobuk Valley National Park (KOVA)

Established 1980

General Management Plan 1986

Caribou, sand dunes, the Kobuk River, Onion Portage - just some of the facets of Kobuk Valley National Park. Half a million caribou migrate through, their tracks crisscrossing sculpted dunes. The Kobuk River is an ancient and current path for people and wildlife.

Paddling Opportunities: Floating the 350-mile Kobuk River is a great way to experience the park. Whitewater sections are in the upper reaches outside of Kobuk National Park but within Gates of the Arctic National Park.

Lake Clark National Park (LACL)

Established 1980

General Management Plan 1982

Remote and unimpaired Lake Clark National Park is a land of stunning beauty where volcanoes steam, salmon run, bears forage, craggy mountains reflect in shimmering turquoise lakes, and local people and culture still depend on the land and water of their home.

Paddling Opportunities: Using a canoe or kayak to travel through Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is a peaceful and rewarding experience. There are numerous lakes and rivers to explore in this way. Whitewater rivers include the class I-III Chilikadrotna, the Tlikakila with a short class II/III reach, the Mulchatna with swift-flowing class I/II and the class V Kijik. The General Management Plan states that activities occurring in the Park “are those commonly associated with the Alaskan wilderness” including specifically river floating. The Plan states that 30 to 35 river trips occurred in the Park in 1981 and further notes that “formal river use regulations and individual wild river management plans will only be proposed when voluntary cooperation among river users is not sufficient to prevent degradation of the river ecosystems, their pristine appearance, or the quality of the wild river experience.

Lassen Volcanic National Park (LAVO)

Established 1916

General Management Plan 2003

Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to smoking fumaroles, meadows freckled with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes, and numerous volcanoes. Jagged peaks tell the story of its eruptive past while hot water continues to mold the land.

Paddling Opportunities: Flatwater paddling opportunities are available. Non-motorized boats are permitted on Manzanita, Butte, and Juniper Lakes at their designated boat launch areas.

Lewis and Clark National Historic Park (LEWI)

Established 2004

Lewis and Clark National Park is made up of 12 separate park sites located on about a 40-mile stretch of the Pacific coast from Long Beach, Washington to Cannon Beach, Oregon. Together these Park units tell the dramatic stories of America's most famous explorers

Paddling Opportunities: The Netul River (now the Lewis and Clark River) provides flatwater paddling opportunities and is part of the Columbia River Water Trail that is connected with the various units that make up this Park. Visitors can join a ranger-led paddle or explore the Lewis and Clark River, Columbia River, and Pacific Coast on their own.

Mammoth Cave National Park (MACA)

Established 1941

General Management Plan 1983

Mammoth Cave National Park preserves the cave system and a part of the Green River valley and hilly country of south central Kentucky. This is the world's longest known cave system, with more than 390 miles explored.

Paddling Opportunities: Over 30 miles of the Green and Nolin Rivers trace through the park and offer a wealth of recreational opportunities. Visitors can enjoy flatwater paddling on the Park rivers to fish, look for wildlife, and take in the scenic beauty of the springs and river bluffs. Camping is available on islands or in the floodplain (with a backcountry use permit), or by the river at the Houchins Ferry Campground.

Mese Verde National Park

Established 1906

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Mt. Rainier National Park

Established 1899 General Management Plan 2002

Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape. An active volcano, Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S.A., spawning six major rivers.

Paddling Opportunities: Expert paddlers seek out the spectacular paddling opportunities that are available on Chinook Creek, Ohanapecosh, and Muddy Fork Cowlitz. Of these runs, only Chinook Creek is totally within park boundaries. The other two runs have their put-in inside the park boundary but the majority of the run is on Forest Service land. Over the years other segments of river and some waterfalls have been run with the Park boundaries. Reflection Lakes and Tipsoo Lakes are closed to boating to protect shoreline and aquatic resources and the quality of the visitor experience at these locations.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, WV

Established 2020, P.L. 116-260 (National River 1978, P.L.95–625)

A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River (Section 10, Section 11, Section 12, Section 13, Section 14, New River Gorge) is among the oldest rivers on the continent. A number of tributaries, most class V expert runs, join the New River that are at least partially in the National Park corridor. These include Mill Creek, Wolf Creek, Keeney's Creek, Manns Creek, Dunloup Creek, Laurel Creek, Meadow Creek.

North Cascades (NOCA)

Established 1968

General Management Plan, National Park 1988
General Management Plan, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, 2011

An alpine landscape with more than 300 glaciers, North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area are together the North Cascades National Park Complex.

Paddling Opportunities: The North Cascades National Park Complex includes both intermediate whitewater on the easily-accessible Skagit River and more challenging backcountry runs that are regularly enjoyed. The most popular whitewater reach is the Skagit River that flows along Highway 20 within the Ross Lake NRA. Commercial outfitters use this stretch and it has also been the site of the wildwater national championships. Additional backcountry paddling opportunities are available within the Ross Lake NRA on Lightning Creek, Ruby Creek, Thunder Creek, Stetattle Creek, and Little Beaver Creek. With regard to boating, the 2011 General Management Plan for the Ross Lake NRA specially states that “self-propelled and non-mechanized recreation will be encouraged throughout Ross Lake NRA.” The upper Baker River, Bridge Creek and the upper reaches of the Stehekin provide wilderness paddling opportunities within North Cascades National Park. Agnes Creek and the lower Stehekin provide whitewater paddling opportunities in the Lake Chelan NRA.

Olympic National Park (OLYM)

Established 1938

General Management Plan 2008

Olympic National Park is a land of beauty and variety. A day's exploration can take you from breathtaking mountain vistas with meadows of wildflowers to colorful ocean tidepools. Nestled in the valleys are some of the largest remnants of ancient forests left in the country.

American Whitewater is actively engaged in the conservation and stewardship of rivers in Olympic National Park. There are a number of rivers that whitewater boaters regularly enjoy in the Park. Unlike nearby rivers in Olympic National Forest the rivers in the Park offer unparalleled and unique opportunities for wilderness exploration. Rivers in the Park provide opportunities for primitive unconfined recreation where individuals have freedom to explore, can practice self sufficiency, and engage in a direct experience with the natural environment. The following are the primary rivers that provide this experience.

  • Elwha River: The Elwha is perhaps one of the most visible expert whitewater runs in the Park that attracts visitors from across the country who come to experience wilderness opportunities on the Grand Canyon of the Elwha and Rica Canyon. Intermediate paddlers enjoy the front country paddling opportunities below Glines Canyon on a reach that continues to the park boundary. The headwaters of the river reach into the interior of the Olympic Peninsula and the river cuts a path through the major geologic strata of the Olympics on its path to the sea. Traveling down this river one has a unique opportunity to experience the geologic history of the Olympic Peninsula
  • Gray Wolf River: River trips begin in the Park at Three Forks and continue through the Buckhorn Wilderness to Dungeness Forks in Olympic National Forest. The river offers unique opportunities for wilderness exploration.
  • Dosewallips River: The Elkhorn Canyon run on the Dosewallips begins at the base of Dosewallips Falls and continues downstream past the Park boundary. This river challenges regional experts who currently hike in past the road washout on Forest Service land to access this run. While the road provides convenient access the river itself provides a wilderness quality experience.
  • North Fork Skokomish: The North Fork Skokomish provides opportunities for expert paddlers who hike six miles up the Skokomish Trail and paddle back down to Staircase. The river offers spectacular opportunities for wilderness adventure along sections of the river inaccessible by trail.
  • Quinault: The Quinault River offers opportunities for paddling adventures on an intermediate river in the front country areas of the Park. The river is popular for fishing along the reach above Lake Quinault. Hike in wilderness boating opportunities are available upstream of Graves Creek.
  • Quinault Gorge: The Quinault Gorge begins at the Pony Bridge and ends at Graves Creek. Expert paddlers hike in to run this wilderness river through a gorge that is inaccessible except at river level.
  • North Fork Quinault: The gorge on the North Fork Quinault is well known as one of the most scenic wilderness sections of river in Olympic National Park. Every summer when flows drop to suitable levels, experienced paddlers hike in 12 miles on the North Fork Trail to Geoduck Creek.
  • Tshletshy: This creek in the Queets River drainage is accessed by hiking up Big Creek Trail out of the Quinault drainage. This creek offers unique opportunities for wilderness exploration through a remote river canyon that passes through some of the park’s most impressive old-growth forest. No trails pass through this remote region of the Park providing a unique opportunity to explore the Park’s primeval wilderness areas.
  • Sams: The river is one of the more accessible rivers in the Park because the put-in can be accessed from Forest Road 2180 and the first few miles of river are on National Forest lands. The river ends by skirting the boundary of the Park before joining the Queets at the Queets Campground in the Park.
  • Queets: The Queets Trail heads 16 miles up river from the Queets Campground to Pelton Creek. Wilderness paddling opportunities suitable for intermediates are available on this section of river for those willing to hike in and some individuals have explored the section upstream of Pelton Creek. The section from the Queets Campground to Hartzell boat launch provides roadside access in the front country zone and is popular for those who enjoy the fishing opportunities the Queets offers.
  • South Fork Hoh: Individuals can hike in on the South Fork Hoh Trail and run a section of river that continues past the Park boundary. This is an easy day trip for paddlers through a short segment of wilderness.
  • Hoh: The majority of paddling opportunities on the Hoh begin at the boat launch located just inside the Park boundary. Some individuals have hiked up the Hoh Trail to experience wilderness paddling opportunities available on upstream reaches.
  • Bogachiel: The Bogachiel offers one of the most spectacular wilderness paddling opportunities on a west side river. Access is available by hiking up over the ridge from the Sol Duc and dropping into the Bogachiel drainage.
  • South Fork Calawah: Access is available from Rugged Ridge on Forest Service land that provides convenient hike-in access to this river that provides a wilderness boating opportunity suitable for intermediate paddlers.
  • Sol Duc: This river provides one of the more popular intermediate paddling opportunities in the Park. Paddlers typically begin at Salmon Cascade and can continue out past the Park boundary onto Forest Service land. The fact that this river is in the front country zone makes it accessible as an easy day trip. With the exception of the section just downstream of Salmon Cascade, the road is largely hidden from the river providing a high quality aesthetic experience for those on the water.
  • North Fork Sol Duc: An easy hike makes this river accessible as a day trip through wilderness for intermediate paddlers that can be enjoyed during the winter rainy season.

The General Management Plan recognizes boating (rafting or kayaking) as a form of river-based recreation appropriate within the Park (Final GMP EIS, Vol 1, page 221). The Plan identifies three different wilderness zones: wilderness trail zone, primitive wilderness zone, and primeval wilderness zone. These zones span a range of experience with increasing opportunities to appreciate wilderness character, risk and challenge, and solitude. Non-motorized/hand-powered boating is recognized as an appropriate means of experiencing all three of these zones (Final GMP EIS, Vol 1, page 72). In the response to comments section on recreation, the Plan specifically states that for the life of the Plan, “within the frontcountry and wilderness zones, non-motorized/hand-powered boating including kayaking will continue to be an approved activity” (Final GMP EIS, Vol 2, page 68).

American Whitewater Wild Olympics Project Page

Petrified Forest National Park (PEFO)

Established 1962 (National Monument 1906)

General Management Plan 2004

Best known for globally significant Late Triassic fossils, the park attracts many researchers. Geologists study the multi-hued Chinle Formation. Archeologists research over 13,000 years of history. Biologists explore one of the best remnants of native Arizona grassland.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Pinnacles National Park (PINN)

Established 2013 (National Monument 1908)

Spectacular remains of an ancient volcanic field characterize the geology of this Park. Massive monoliths, spires, sheer-walled canyons and talus passages define millions of years of erosion, faulting and tectonic plate movement.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Redwood National and State Parks (REDW)

Established 1968

General Management Plan 2000

Most people know Redwood as home to the tallest trees on Earth. But the parks also protect vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild riverways, and nearly 40 miles of pristine coastline, all supporting a rich mosaic of wildlife diversity and cultural traditions.

Paddling Opportunities: Redwood Creek flows through the Park providing a class III whitewater opportunity.

Rocky Mountain National Park (ROMO)

Established 1915

Final Master Plan 1976

Rocky Mountain National Park’s 415 square miles encompass and protect spectacular mountain environments.

Paddling Opportunities: The Big South run on the Poudre is known as one of the finest expert runs in Colorado and marks the western boundery of Rocky Mountain National Park

Saguaro National Park (SAGU)

Established 1994

Tucson, Arizona is home to North America’s largest Cacti. The Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park, to the East and West of the modern City of Tucson.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Sequoia – Kings National Park (SEKI)

Established 1890

General Management Plan 2006, Wilderness Stewardship Plan 2015

This landscape testifies to nature's size, beauty, and diversity - huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world's largest trees. 

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada, east of the San Joaquin Valley.

Paddling Opportunities:

  • Middle Fork Kings – This river is among the most highly respected and sought after runs of the trans Sierra kayaking trips. While the timespan that this river is boatable is short (during Spring runoff) and the hike in is challenging, paddlers come from around the country and the world to experience the stunning and sheer Kings Canyon, Tehipite Valley and granite Tehipite Dome. The most difficult part of this section is just outside the park boundary from Tehipite Valley to the confluence with the SF Kings. Typical trips down this section last 4 to 5 days.
  • South Fork Kings – Paddlers enjoy the headwaters of this river, but it has not become a widely popular run due to the difficulty of hiking over the crest to the put-in. Those who do hike in find an easier route from the end of Cedar Grove Road, and enjoy the river to the confluence with Bubbs Creek.
  • Roaring River – This river has a series of impressive cascades and waterfalls, the last few of which have been boated. Boaters hauled their boats a very short way up the canyon. We also know of boaters who have planned to backpack boats into the upper reaches of Roaring River and then boat down into Cedar Grove. The flow window would be very narrow on the low end and only highly skilled and strong experts would have the confidence to attempt such a trip.
  • Clover Creek – Kayakers primarily boat this Creek near Wuksachi Lodge. They carry their boats about 1 mile upstream along the creek then paddle back down. There is a narrow boating window of a few days to a week or so when flows are optimum for this trip. The streambed is attractive to boaters for its granite slides, falls and potholes.
  • North Fork Kaweah – Kayakers often carry their boats upstream from Yucca Creek several miles then paddle back down over beautiful bedrock slides and drops. Boaters have also launched further upstream from the Cherry Flat/Tarbell Pocket area to boat on down to Yucca Creek.
  • Middle Fork Kaweah - Paddling from Hospital Rock picnic area down to Potwisha or further to the park boundary has been popular since it was first run by the pioneering team of Lars Holbeck and Chuck Stanley in 1984. This section is especially popular in the winter as flows begin to rise. Boaters have also taken to hiking further and further up trails to access the high sections of the Middle Fork. The trek is made infrequently as the river is difficult to access and the whitewater is only for experts. Those who make the trek enjoy the geology of the river valley – primarily granite with metamorphic sections.
  • Kaweah – This river offers a technical run with waterfalls, hydraulics and continuously challenging rapids for the advanced kayaker. The Kaweah and its tributaries are popular among boaters for wilderness exploration. Kayakers paddling the gateway section of the Main Kaweah previously accessed the river at the Gateway Bridge. Since access was lost at this location, paddlers now often launch after driving ½ mile into Sequoia National Park.
  • East Fork Kaweah – Boating on this river is only done by upper echelon expert boaters. While boating on this river is mostly outside the park, starting at Oak Grove Bridge, there are opportunities on the upper reaches within the park boundaries.
  • North Fork Kern – First run in 1981 by Royal Robins, the headwaters of the NF Kern is one of the easiest of the high elevation expedition boating trips. Getting to the put-in requires boaters to carry their equipment from Whitney Portal and over Muir Pass to the river. The Kern is unique in that it flows North to South while all other major Sierra rivers flow east to west.

The Wilderness Stewardship Plan continues to recognize boaters as hikers for trail quotas, restrictions stating that “party-size limits for hikers would apply to boaters under all alternatives” (See p. xi, Table ES-1 and p. 114). Whitewater recreation is recognized as an important activity within the Wilderness Area; boating and rafting are mentioned throughout the Wilderness Stewardship Plan as activities that happen in the area.

Shenandoah National Park (SHEN)

Established 1935

General Management Plan 1983

Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which form the eastern rampart of the Appalachian Mountains between Pennsylvania and Georgia. Cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, and quiet wooded hollows characterize the Park.

Paddling Opportunities: None, although several runs begin at the Park boundary.

Theodore National Park (THRO)

Established 1978 (National Monument 1947) In the North Dakota badlands, where many of President Roosevelt’s personal concerns first gave rise to his later environmental efforts, Roosevelt is remembered with a national park that bears his name and honors the memory of this great conservationist. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is in the colorful North Dakota badlands and is home to a variety of plants and animals, including bison, prairie dogs, and elk.

Paddling Opportunities: A float trip down the Little Missouri River is an ideal way to experience the beauty and solitude of the North Dakota Badlands. It takes about three or four days to canoe the 110 miles between Medora near the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Long X Bridge on U.S. Highway 85 near the park's North Unit. The Park publishes an informational sheet on this trip.

Virgin Islands National Park (VIIS)

Established 1956

Virgin Islands National Park’s hills, valleys and beaches are breath-taking. However, within its 7,000 plus acres on the island of St. John is the complex history of civilizations - both free and enslaved - dating back more than a thousand years, all who utilized the land and the sea for survival.

Paddling Opportunities: The marine environment offers opportunities for sea kayaking.

Voyageurs National Park (VOYA)

Established 1975

Voyageurs National Park lies within the heart of the North American Continent. Here you can see and touch rocks half as old as the world, experience the life of a voyageur, immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of a boreal forest, view the dark skies, or ply the interconnected water routes.

Paddling Opportunities: Extensive network for water trails throughout the Park for flatwater canoeing.

Wind Cave National Park (WICA)

Established 1903

Swaying prairie grasses, forested hillsides, and an array of wildlife such as bison, elk, and prairie dogs welcome visitors to our country’s seventh-oldest national park and one of its few remaining intact prairies. Secreted beneath is one of the world’s longest caves, Wind Cave. Named for barometric winds at its entrance, this complex labyrinth of passages contains a unique formation – boxwork.

Paddling Opportunities: None

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (WRST)

Established 1980

General Management Plan 1986

The Chugach, Wrangell, and St. Elias mountain ranges converge here in what is often referred to as the “mountain kingdom of North America.” The largest unit of the National Park System and a day's drive east of Anchorage, this spectacular park includes the continent's largest assemblage of glaciers and the greatest collection of peaks above 16,000 feet. Mount St. Elias, at 18,008 feet, is the second highest peak in the United States.

Paddling Opportunities: The rivers of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve offer visitors adventure and solitude. It is possible to travel for days at a time without seeing another person, trail, sign or bridge. The Copper River (Section 1, Section 2, Section 3) forms the western border of the Park and provides a popular multi-day river trip. Over a dozen known class II to class V whitewater runs flow from the glaciers. Popular float trips include the trip on the Nizina (Section 1, Section 2), Kennicott, and Chitina Rivers; Nabesna River; and White River Float. Some of these rivers are commercially run.

Yellowstone National Park (YELL)

Established 1872

Old Faithful and the majority of the world's geysers are preserved here. They are the main reason the park was established in 1872 as America's first national park—an idea that spread worldwide. A mountain wildland, home to grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of bison and elk, the park is the core of one of the last, nearly intact, natural ecosystems in the Earth’s temperate zone.

Paddling Opportunities: All vessels are prohibited on park rivers and streams except the channel between Lewis and Shoshone Lakes, where only hand-propelled vessels are permitted. The following rivers hold some of the most appeal for whitewater paddlers:

  • Black Canyon of the Yellowstone: This run offers incredible whitewater with a spectacularly scenic backcountry experience. Put-in and take-out access points already exist at Tower Bridge and Gardiner. A trail parallels the river for its entire length. Numerous tributaries, including Slough Creek and Hellroaring Creek, which flow out of the bordering Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area to the North, add to its volume. Knowles Falls, a 15-foot Class V rapid, is one of many exceptional rapids. There are columnar basalt formations, coniferous forests, sandy beaches, and talus slopes throughout the canyon. The last three miles of the river, before Gardiner, pass through an arid, desert-like region. This stretch can be run in a day and has been the subject of several American Whitewater Journal articles.
  • Gardner River Canyon: This is a roadside run with excellent access points. The put-in is near the 45th parallel and is also near the trailhead for the short upstream hike to Boiling River, which is a well-known hot springs. The Boiling River is one of the few places where people can legally swim in Yellowstone’s natural hot springs. The trailhead has a parking lot and a sanitation facility. During most periods of sufficient water for boating, the hot springs are closed. This eliminates concerns for overcrowding in the parking lot, and the potential for user conflicts. The river follows the North Entrance Road and runs through spectacular volcanic formations. Boaters can take out at the river’s confluence with the Yellowstone in Gardiner, Montana. This stretch can be run in a day.
  • Lamar River: The Lamar River exits the Lamar Valley and enters the steep-walled Lamar Canyon where it drops significantly through a series of extreme rapids with large boulders and big hydraulics for a tenth of a mile. Some of the oldest rocks in Yellowstone National Park are exposed along the riverbanks. These rocks substantially predate the recent volcanic activity that affected the majority of the Park’s topography. As the river re-emerges from the canyon, it winds through boulder-strewn, Class II(+) whitewater for 5.9 miles to the junction with the Yellowstone River. Intermediate boaters can run this lower stretch in a day; it is uncertain whether the top stretch can be run at all.
  • Lewis River: The Lewis River begins at the outlet of Shoshone Lake in the south-central portion of the Park. It flows 4.5 miles south into Lewis Lake; this short stretch is known as the Lewis River Channel and is the only river segment in the park where boating is permitted. The river re-emerges at the southern tip of Lewis Lake where boating is banned. The river rushes out of Lewis Lake through several rapids before plunging 30 feet over the Class V-VI Lewis Falls; this waterfall will require establishment of a regular portage route. The Falls is followed by a series of moderately difficult Class III rapids for the next 7.6 miles through a steep-walled canyon which is bounded by adjacent ash flow tuffs from Yellowstone’s caldera-forming activity. The river parallels the South Entrance Road, although once in the canyon, it is far below road height. The last 1.3 miles of the Lewis River is fast-flowing until it empties into the Snake River near the Park’s South entrance. This trip is an ideal Class III wilderness run and can be completed in a day.

American Whitewater Yellowstone and Grand Teton Project Page

Yosemite National Park (YOSE)

Established 1890

Merced Wild and Scenic River Management Plan, 2014
Tuolumne Wild and Scenic River Management Plan, 2014

Yosemite National Park, one of the first wilderness parks in the United States, is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more

Paddling Opportunities: Whitewater runs include several sections of the Merced that flows through Yosemite Valley (Section 1, Section 2, Section 3), the South Fork Merced (Section 1, Section 2), Tuolumne (both the section above Hetch Hetchy and Poopenaut Gorge below), Yosemite Creek, and Tenaya Creek (the 1800 foot long slide featured in Scott Lindgren’s film Aerated). Many of these runs have a long history of exploration and use by expert whitewater paddlers.

The 2014 Merced Wild and Scenic River Management Plan places paddling on equal footing with other activities in the Park by managing visitor numbers similar to hiking and other backcountry uses. The plan considers river segments as “water trails” or backcountry routes. The 2014 Tuolumne River Wild and Scenic River Management Plan creates a more complicated suite of access restrictions that are unique to whitewater boating but does include provisions to legally boat the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne between Pothole Dome and Pate Valley.

American Whitewater Yosemite Project Page

Zion National Park (ZION)

Established 1919

General Management Plan 2001, Virgin River Comprehensive River Management Plan 2013

Follow the paths where ancient native people and pioneers walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Challenge your courage in a narrow slot canyon.

Paddling Opportunities: A Park entrance fee and a free backcountry permit is required to paddle on the North Fork Virgin River. The Park has been closed to boating in the past, but the Virgin River Runner's Coalition worked with the Park Superintendent to develop a management plan that allows boating on the lower segment when flows are greater than 140 cfs. More recently, interest has increased in paddling the Zion Narrows and the Park imposed a requirement that flows must be below 600 cfs.

The General Management Plan provides the following overview of river recreation: Concerns have also been expressed about the impacts of river recreation. Visitors kayak the North Fork of the Virgin River in the spring, and swim, wade, and hike portions of the river in the summer. There are concerns about the impacts of these activities on water quality (e.g., increased sedimentation and turbidity, spread of human waste), soil erosion, sensitive species, and the disturbance of other visitors, particularly in the Zion Narrows. Concerns regarding the use and management of the North Fork will be addressed in a river management plan. (2001 Zion National Park General Management Plan, page 25).

With the river designated as a Wild and Scenic River through the Park in 2009, a Wild and Scenic River plan was completed in 2013. The plan formally recognizes whitewater boating in the Park. Use limits apply to activities within the river corridor including boating and provisions were formalized to manage access based on river flow.

More Whitewater Destinations Administered by the National Park Service

In addition to National Parks, the National Park Service administers several National Monuments, National Preserves, National Rivers, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Recreation Areas. Many of these units have whitewater paddling opportunities including those listed below:

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, AK

Aniakchak River provides an opportunity for a remote river expedition on the Alaska Peninusla.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area KY/TN (BISO)

General Management Plan 2005

Encompassing 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. Whitewater recreation is recognized as a value of this River and Recreation Area.

Whitewater reaches within the NRA include Clear Fork ( Section 1, Section 2, Section 3), White Oak Creek, New River, Big South Fork Cumberland (Reach 1, Reach 2), North White Oak Creek, and Pine Creek.

Big South Fork represents the first time the concept of a National River and that of a National Recreation Area have been combined and reflects a decision that preservation and recreational enhancement are the appropriate goals for the area. The enabling legislation specifically states that “the preservation of the natural integrity of the scenic gorges and valleys and the development of the area's potential for healthful outdoor recreation” (PL 93-251). The General Management Plan states that “The National Area was established, in part, to preserve the free-flowing Big South Fork and its tributaries. This system of rivers affords some of the highest quality rafting and canoeing in the eastern U.S.” 2005 GMP, Page 211.

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC/VA (BLRI)

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands.

Paddling on the Linville River within Park Service boundaries, which extend to roughly 1/3 of a mile below Linville Falls, is currently prohibited. The upper reach of the Boone Fork is also within the Parkway where paddling is prohibited.

Bluestone National Scenic River, WV

The Bluestone River and the rugged and ancient gorge it has carved is a richly diverse and scenic area of the southern Appalachians. The Scenic River includes a 10.5 mile segment of the river.

Buffalo National River, AR (BUFF)

Established in 1972, Buffalo National River flows freely for 135 miles and is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states

Segment 1, Segment 2, Segment 3, Segment 4, Segment 5, Segment 6, Segment 7, Segment 8, Segment 9, Segment 10, Segment 11, Segment 12, Segment 13

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, NJ/PA (DEWA)

While the Delaware River offers flatwater canoeing through this National Recreation Area, and is recognized as the Delaware River Water Trail unit of the National Recreation Trails Program, whitewater paddlers are attracted to a few of the tributaries that provide short but high challenge class V creeking opportunities Raymondskill Creek, Hornbecks Creek, and Van Campens Mill Creek.

Dinosaur National Monument, CO/UT

Sections of the Green River through Gates of Lodore and Split Mountain Canyon and the Yampa offer great multi-day trip opportunities through this National Monument. Whitewater recreation is an established use of this unit of the National Park system and permits are issued annually through a lottery.

American Whitewater Yampa River Project Page
American Whitewater Green River Project Page

Gauley River National Recreation Area, WV

The Gauley River is one of the nation's premiere whitewater destinations. Runs include the Upper Gauley, Middle Gauley, and Lower Gauley or you can just do the whole marathon run. The Lower Meadow is also part of the Recreation Area.

American Whitewater Gauley River Project Page.

George Washington Memorial Parkway, Great Falls Park MD, VA, DC

The Potomac River from Great Falls (Virginia Lines, Center Lines, and Maryland Lines) down is literally in the back yard of Washington, D.C. This fact contributes to the strong boating community in the metropolitan region. The Mather Gorge, downstream of Great Falls, is a stunning cliff-lined gorge. Difficult Run also flows through the Park. A General Management Plan for Great Falls Park was published in 2007. Whitewater boating is among the uses formally identified in the Plan and is outlined as follows:

Whitewater Boating and Kayaking: Visitors can gain access to the Potomac River from Great Falls Park for whitewater rafting and kayaking. The park does not offer any equipment or formal programs for visitors interested in this activity. Most visitors either bring their own equipment, or come as part of groups organized by a number of private businesses that service non-motorized boating activities. NPS issues a permit to these businesses on an annual basis and issued three such permits in 2006. Access to the river is gained off Fisherman’s Eddy, located between Overlooks 2 and 3, and AA Gorge area. In addition, access to the river can be achieved from Sandy Landing. (GMP, Page 3.10)

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, ID

The Snake River Bliss run is immediately downstream of the Monument and both are impacted by Idaho Power's hydropower project.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, OR

The Clarno put-in on the John Day River is adjacent to the Monument.

Little River Canyon National Preserve, AL (LIRI)

The Little River Canyon (Reach 1, Suicide Section, Reach 2, Upper Two, Reach 3) is the premier whitewater river in Alabama characterized by an incredible 10 mile long sandstone canyon, blue-green water, and large distinctive rapids.

Niobrara National Scenic River, NB (NIOB)

General Management Plan 2007 (development of River Management Plan underway)

Most visitors come to the Niobrara River to float the river by canoe, tube, kayak or raft and there are a few whitewater rapids on this beautiful stretch of river.

Noatak National Preserve, AK

General Management Plan 1986

Flanked by the Delong and Baird mountains of the Brooks Range, the Noatak River offers 280 miles of superlative wilderness float-trip opportunities.

Obed Wild and Scenic River, TN (OBED)

the Obed stretches along the Cumberland Plateau and offers visitors a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities including some outstanding whitewater on the Obed (Section 2, Section 3, Section 4), Daddy's Creek, and Clear Creek (Section 1, Section 2, Section 3, Section 4).

Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, TX (RIGR)

See description of Big Bend National Park above.

Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, WI/MN (SACN)

The General Management Plan: Upper St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers (1998)
Cooperative Management Plan: Lower St. Croix National Sceinc Riverway (2002)

The St. Croix (Section 1, Section 2, Taylors Falls) and Namekagon, offer 255 miles of clean water gliding or rushing past a lush green landscape, with glimpses of human presence.

Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, NY/PA (UPDE)

Canoe through rapids and quiet pools as the Delaware River winds its way through a valley of swiftly changing scenery or fish amid rolling hills and riverfront villages in one of the finest fishing rivers in the northeastern United States.

The Upper Delaware River is a great canoe river featuring a few rapids including Skinner's Falls. The Mongaup Wave is also on this river segment.

Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, AK (YUCH)

Located in Interior Alaska, Yukon-Charley Rivers offers exploration in a largely untouched landscape. Paddlers can find whitewater on the Charley River.

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