Some Washington Rivers for White Water Rafting

By: Andrew Beene

Have you ever tried river rafting in Washington? Washington holds one of the most diverse sets of biospheres in America: a mountain range cuts North to South; the West is relatively wet, supporting dense forests; to the East are steppes and deserts. Along the mountain range are dormant volcanoes. Further East are grasslands, while further West are the harbours of Puget Sound. Distributed throughout these various places is the Washington river system and its tributaries, coming from the mountains and all leading towards the Pacific Ocean.

Some tourism startups have recognized this fact and have started offering whitewater rafting in the Washington rivers, complete with safety officers and tour guides and wildlife experts to help enhance the experience. What follows are some of what you may see and experience while rafting in Washington.

Skagit River

Skagit River is the only river that acts as spawning habitat for all five local species of salmon and two species of trout. The fish travel up river to the place of their birth to lay eggs. Bald eagles fly in from as far as Canada to meet the salmons and prey on them from October to January. Snow geese fly in to feed on marsh plants and potatoes left on the field by farmers from the year’s yield. On the trees by the side are garter snakes and rubber boas, and by the shore are beavers. They have been known to build their fabled dams across the waters of Skagit, indirectly helping with the spawning of fish. Among the few animals dangerous to man are black bears, commonly seen stalking the waters for fish, and bobcats.

Nisqually River

The Nisqually River Delta is Washington’s largest estuary. The presence of salty water from Puget Sound adds with Nisqually’s fresh-water waves, resulting in very interesting biodiversity: twenty-four species of fish in the main river system; porpoises and whales by the shore; gulls, ducks, and herons feed on shrimp, clams, and crabs in the saltmarshes and mudflats; mice and voles in the grasslands hiding from coyotes and hawks.

Wenatchee River

The Tumwater Canyon Dam and the Dryden Dam, working in concert to provide electricity across the Cascade Mountains. Trains pass regularly on railroad tracks that run along the river. The river provides irrigation water for century-old orchards in the area.

Tieton River

Tieton River proper flows east from Rimrock Lake, an artificial reservoir created by the Tieton Dam, storing water for irrigation. A diverse set of birds all year round: golden eagles, white-headed and pileated woodpeckers, prairie falcons, and harlequin ducks. Mammalian population includes bighorn sheep, elk, and mule deer. Along the Tieton is Highway 12 that cuts across White Pass.

Toutle River

South of Toutle River is the volcano Mount St Helens, which erupted in 1980. It delivered tons of lahar into the Toutle, rendering it impassable. The US Army Corps of Engineers built the Sediment Retention Structure at Toutle’s north fork in an effort to dredge the river of volcanic ash. Before the eruption, the area was primarily elk territory. After the eruption, there have been active projects to replenish and protect the fish and wildlife in the area. Thanks to its proximity to and history with Mount St Helens, Toutle River is one of the more famous spots for river rafting in Washington.

White Salmon River

White Salmon River is one of the most popular spots for kayakers and rafters all year round. In most circles, when people say “Washington white water rafting,” they talk about White Salmon River. Beginners are recommended to start their river rafting in Washington experience in White Salmon, but there are only a few scouting opportunities, so those running the river for the first time should seriously consider using a professional guide. Life jackets should he worn by all those running this river.

Skykomish River

The waters of Skykomish are excellent for sea-run cutthroat, steelhead, and salmon. It is the toughest for white-knuckled white water rafting in Washington, definitely not for the beginners, but at every end of the trip, the rafters are prized with a view of Gold Bar, a one-time mining community by the river’s waters. Along Skykomish runs the BNSF Railway, currently enjoying a reclamation and rehabilitation program in aid of reclaiming the area’s beauty prior to the more-than-a-century old contamination from careless waste disposal from Skykomish’s past as a refueling station for the Great Northern Railway.

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