Rafting in Washington
Breathtaking is the word for Washington's scenery: majestic mountains, evergreen forests, semidesert flatlands and snow-fed rivers slicing through to the Pacific. This is the land of the Cascades, of Mount Rainier, Mount Baker and the Olympic National Park. While whitewater rafting in Washington, many are content to take in the spectacle by floating on lakes amid snow¬capped peaks before hitting the rapids to come downstream.
For those with zest for excitement, the Evergreen State has an abundance of fast-flowing wilderness rivers. They vary greatly in difficulty with the flow of water. In the spring - April through June - they are typically in spate from melting snow. From July until the end of the season in September, they are fed by dam releases or melting glaciers. In any event the water is always cold, whether one is paddling in the mountains or the desert. Wet suits are recommended for runs of whitewater rafting in Washington, and Washington rafters should check water levels before setting out.
Whitewater Rafting in Washington on the Wenatchee River
The most popular river in the state is the Wenatchee, which runs off the east flank of the Cascades - the warmer and sunnier side. Its rapids rate as Class III+ and some previous white water rafting experience is recommended during peak run-off. With a highway beside the river for much of the run, civilization is never far away.
The Sauk River is a great challenge for experienced whitewater rafters in Washington By contrast, superb scenery is to be found along the Sauk River, which flows through dense forest between snowy mountains on the west side of the Cascades. The Upper Sauk run, starting some 16 miles from Darrington, is eight miles long and has tough rapids at the beginning and the end which demand expert paddling. The Middle Sauk trip down to Darrington from the White Chuck River confluence is still more challenging, with its Class III-IV rapids rising to Class V at peak river levels. The Sauk is known for its rapid fluctuations in water flow, which may double from one clay to the next. Parts of it are very difficult to scout because of the terrain and the whole river is subject to logjams.
One of the tougher rivers in the state is the Skykomish, with an eight-mile run rated Class III-V. The put-in is near Index, just off US 2 and only an hour's drive northeast of Seattle. Its most famous rapid is the Class V Boulder Drop, which many paddlers prefer to portage. The Skykomish is a very clean river with magnificent views of 5,000-foot mountains, and its banks are forested with evergreens and hardwoods.
Only 30 miles from Seattle is the Green River Gorge, a boulder-choked chasm with Class III-IV rapids dropping into deep green pools. Although it is one of the state's most beautiful river canyons, its waters are dam-controlled, with releases at unpredictable intervals. So outfitters cannot schedule trips through this lush rain forest gorge except at short notice, and then only in the spring.
A great float for families all summer long is the Skagit within North Cascades National Park. Although several dams control its flow, the Skagit is still relatively unspoiled and scenic, with salmon spawning in the fall and bald eagles circling overhead during the winter. The put-in for the nine-mile Class II-III run is near Newhalem and paddlers enjoy views of high Cascades peaks.
Washington State is not only blessed with magnificent mountains and rivers; it also has the superb San Juan Islands. They are said to be the only place in the world where sea kayakers can watch whales. But there is much more besides: largely unspoiled forested islands, historic sites, and plenty of wildlife, including dolphins, seals, sea turtles, water birds, and bald eagles. Fishermen pursue salmon, cod, and rockfish. But the real attraction is whitewater rafting in Washington. River Runners conduct "mild to wild" guided trips on the Eagle, Upper Skagit, Suiattle, Nooksack, Wenatchee, Methow, Tieton, Skykomish. Sank, Green. Cascade and Klickitat rivers, as well as streams in Oregon. Some of these are recommended for beginners, others have rapids of Class V+ difficulty.
Downstream prides itself on quality and safety, with all its river guides certified as Swiftwater Rescue Technicians. Open from March to September, it provides instruction and trips of one to five days' duration. Some outfitters provide wetsuits.
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