For anyone outside of Southern Oregon or Northern California, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness is likely one of the most beautiful places you have never heard of. Its 179,755 acres give birth to three designated wild and scenic rivers and contain some of the highest concentrations of rare and endemic plants on the West Coast. Largely due to 2002’s Biscuit Fire though, and its destruction of the region’s historic trail network, the whole area has in the intervening decade also become known for its legendarily difficult access.

That fact though, has not kept paddlers from making the long march into some of the Kalmiopsis’s most iconic and increasingly popular whitewater, the Wilderness section of the Chetco River. Recent trips have been helped in part by the hard work of Siskiyou Mountain Club and their reopening of some of the trails, but there is still no getting around the nine mile hike to put-in that this section requires.

Fortunately, the Chetco River’s Lower Gorges, located below the Wilderness section’s typical take-out at Tolman Ranch, provide the perfect opportunity to experience the river without the commitment the upper section requires. Along with numerous Class III and IV rapids, this section also contains two of the Chetco’s largest rapids : Candycane and Conehead. Once through those, the river begins a gradual transition to a broad channel while trading rocky outcroppings for a lush coastal forest that includes the world’s northernmost grove of coastal redwoods.

Featured Outfitter

Northwest Rafting CompanyNorthwest Rafting Company (541) 450-9855 is an award-winning group of professional, well-trained guides that lead people down the most beautiful rivers in the world.

While this section is commonly paddled by hardshell kayaks during higher winter flows as a day trip, it has also become increasingly popular as multi-day trip for IK's during the summer. For the latter, lower flows allow the larger rapids to be safely portaged while also making more riverside real estate available for camping.

Trip Highlights

Mile 0: Put in at Tolman Ranch and enjoy making your way downstream through numerous Class III/IV Rapids before arriving at the Steel Bridge.

Mile 6.1: Steel Bridge. This is an alternate access point for anyone looking for a shorter trip, or hoping to take out before the large rapids downstream.

chetco river lower gorges candycane

Paddlers portage their IK's through Candycane Rapid. Photo by Nate Wilson Photography

Mile 7: Candycane Rapid (Class V). Named after the enormous pile of striped rocks that form it, this rapid is an impressive sight. Scout and portage from the right.

chetco river lower below canycane

A paddler navigates the Chetco below Candycane Rapid. Photo by Nate Wilson Photography

Mile 7.2: Conehead Rapid (Class V/V+). Run or Portage this rapid on the right.

portaging conehead rapid

Paddlers portage their IK's through Conehead Rapid. Photo by Nate Wilson Photography

Mile 10.6: Takeout on river left just past the South Fork of the Chetco River.

Please Add Your Thoughts!