Best Whitewater Kayaking in Washington State
With rivers spanning the entire state of Washington, the whitewater kayaking potential is huge. The rivers vary from big water paddling to technical creek runs. The Olympic Peninsula offers some of the most beautiful paddling in the world. However, these rivers can be deceiving, only flowing with rain fall. On the other hand, the Columbia River Gorge has paddling options all year round. It is hard to choose seven rivers from such a big pool but these, in my opinion, are the best whitewater kayaking rivers in Washington State.
1. White Salmon River
Columbia River Gorge
Paddlers can be found flocking to the free-flowing White Salmon River 365 days a year. With class II, III, IV, and V sections, there is something to challenge anyone. One of the reasons the White Salmon River offers the best whitewater kayaking is because the five different sections are perfect stepping stones for advancing.
After learning on the Lower section, kayakers can move on to the lower gorge or the "middle" run. At lower flows kayakers can learn, practice, and perfect their boof stroke off Husum Falls. Once their boof stroke is dialed, they can move on to the Farmlands section. The Farmlands is a narrow class IV gorge with beautiful pool drop rapids full of fun boof moves. Furthermore, the Green Truss section is an amazing class IV+/V run with the well known drop, Big Brother. The ultimate day on the White Salmon is a top to bottom, starting at with the Farmlands, moving through the Green Truss, Middle, Lower and Lower Gorge runs to end at the Columbia River.
Kayak-able all year round and having sections for all levels of paddlers make the White Salmon the best river in Washington State.
2. Skykomish River
A popular run near Seattle, the "Sky" is another year round option, given the right amount of rain. With good road access and an easy shuttle, paddlers can do many laps in a day. Beginning at the base of Sunset Falls (class V+), the Sky has a number of fun class III/IV rapids including the well known Boulder Drop. Paddlers new to class III should approach Boulder Drop with caution. While it may look simple at low flows, there are a number of tricky moves with potential consequences if missed. What is more, this river gets harder with more water and big sneaky holes. At normal or lower flows, the numerous play spots on this run make it perfect for advanced paddlers wanting to practice stern squirts in play boats. The accessibility, playfulness, and variety of the Sky make it one of the premier rivers in Washington State.
3. Wind River
Columbia River Gorge
Located near the small town of Carson, WA, the Wind River has two different sections for paddlers. The Upper Wind, a class IV/V big water run, is an amazing winter/spring paddling destination. Be cautious of wood on this river as it can flood during winter storms and new trees will catch you off guard. Starting off with a bang, the hardest rapid called Rams Horn is only a mile from the beginning. The fun continues with a few more big rapids and ends with some nice boogie water and surf waves.A quite opposite run from the Upper, the Lower Wind is known for the final four waterfalls. After some fun class III boulder gardens and the class IV Flume, paddlers get to practice running four, very different 10-15 foot drops. Luckily for beginners, it is easy to scout or portage these drops.
After getting their adrenaline fix, paddlers can soak in the natural hot springs that emerge when the water is low enough. From big water to waterfalls, the Wind River has two unique runs for kayakers to enjoy making in one of the best whitewater kayaking rivers in Washington State.
4. Wenatchee River
Next on the list is the Wenatchee River for its two very different sections. The most common run accessed out of Leavenworth is known as the state's play-boater paradise. Kayakers can spend hours surfing the well known Rodeo Hole, Turkey Shoot and Granny's waves. Moreover, there are a few different put ins to accommodate different level paddlers. Perfect for getting comfortable in big water, the rapids on the Wenatchee are fairly forgiving. There are definitely some spots to be aware of though like Satan's Eyeball, a kayak eating hole, and the lowhead dam at the confluence with Pashastin Creek.
Alternatively, kayakers wanting to push their paddling skills need to look no further than the class IV/V Tumwater Canyon. Mostly scoutable from the road, advanced paddlers can run this canyon during both the high water spring runoff and lower summer flows. The big, technical rapids like Perfection of Whitewater and Chaos Cascade are challenging even to those who have many laps through the canyon.
Play-boating opportunities and the thrilling Tumwater Canyon make the Wenatchee River one of the best whitewater kayaking rivers in Washington State.
5. The Grand Canyon of the Elwha River
A hidden gem found in Olympic National Park, the Grand Canyon of the Elwha is not for the feint of heart. With no direct access to the river, paddlers are forced to hike with their boats 8.5 miles to the start of the Grand Canyon. Another option is a shorter hike into Rica Canyon, the final section of this run. The difficulty of the river matches the challenging hike with many must run, unscoutable class IV/V rapids.
However, the hardships are worth it for the chance to paddle through two deep, untouched by man, gorges in the heart of an evergreen forest. The blue green, glacial tinted water creates the most beautiful looking rapids and pools. Furthermore, they will enjoy solitude on a run rarely paddled due to the challenging approach and tricky water level window. For more time, camping in between the two canyons or at the start of the run is common. Be cautious when embarking on this mission, as new wood and changing rapids are often unknown. The challenge to reward ratio of the Grand Canyon of the Elwha are the reason it makes this list of best rivers to kayak in Washington State.
6. East Fork Lewis River
Home of the Northwest Creeking Competition, the East Fork Lewis River (EFL) is nestled in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. For kayakers wanting to just run a waterfall, this is the perfect river. Boaters can simply drive to Sunset Falls Campground and do as many laps as their heart desires off Sunset Falls. Alternatively, paddlers wanting a down river run can continue past Sunset for a spectacular class III/IV run.
Shortly after the beginning, paddlers will approach a jam packed half mile section of five rapids. Despite the continuity, these rapids are scoutable and safety can be set; just be wary of wood. The end of this beautiful gorge of rapids is the sticky John's Swimming Hole. After the confluence of Copper Creek (another fabulous run in the area), paddlers can fly off the photogenic Horseshoe Falls. This is the last main rapid on this run. The EFL is one of the best whitewater kayaking rivers in Washington State due to its beauty, the ability to park and huck Sunset Falls, and the quality run below.
7. Green River
The closest whitewater kayaking to Seattle, the Green River has a couple beautiful sections to paddle. The Upper section is a great beginner section. Even so, it is better to have an experienced paddler leading to avoid trouble in tricky spots such as Railroad Bridge. The more common run the fourteen miles through the Green River Gorge. Beginning with some nice warm up play waves, this run enters quickly into the class III/IV Gorge. This gorge gets harder at higher flows and can be full of sieves at low flows so know the river levels ahead of time. Within the run are many catch on the fly and eddy service waves, such as Paradise Ledge. Do not forget to look around while paddling, you will want to once you enter the stunning Grand Canyon of the Green.
The beauty of this area and proximity to Seattle make the Green River one of the best whitewater kayaking rivers in Washington State.
Learn More about the Green River
In the end, everyone has different favorites and different lists for the "best" rivers. What are you favorite whitewater kayaking rivers in Washington State?