Alpine Water: Rafting the White Salmon

Publish date:
Social count:

With such a bounteous annual crop of snow, Oregon has no shortage of wild rivers, but the White Salmon River may be the best of the bunch. Its proximity to Portland (about 1 1/2 hours), Gattling gun rapids (30 Class II, III and IV rapids in 7 miles), verdant forests, white-ribbon falls and black canyon walls all make this wild and scenic river one of Oregon's most popular stretches of whitewater.

Hair splitters will squawk that the White Salmon isn't actually in Oregon. It drains from the volcanic hulk of Washington's 12,276-foot Mt. Adams and brushes the Oregon state line at the Columbia River Gorge-the very heart of one of the world's premier windsurfing meccas. That's good enough for Oregon to claim it as its own, especially because most of Oregon can access the river faster than most of Washington.

Truth be known, however, the White Salmon is bigger than Oregon. People from around the world come to float it. For good reason. The setting is both stunning and imposing as you float over emerald waters below the 130-foot cliffs lining the river. But it's the rapid-fire action that really draws the crowds. Drops such as Shark's Fin, Grasshopper and Corkscrew Falls keep the drama high.

With the river continually twisting and the steep canyon walls prohibiting landfall, it's impossible to scout most drops. You run the river blind, which means you'd better know your stuff-or be in the company of guides who do. A word to the wise: Avoid flying over Husum Falls-a dangerous drop most boaters portage.

When you're done floating the turbulent 7 miles between BZ Corner and Northwestern Lake, you'll have filled your memory banks and drained your adrenal glands. But the day is not done: world-class windsurfing, mountain biking, climbing and hiking await you in this neck of Oregon. For diehards, there's even summer skiing at Timberline and Mt. Hood, 50 miles south. After you finally put your toys away, head to Fidel's in Bingen for a much-deserved margarita.

The White Salmon River, 65 miles east of Portland, can be floated throughout the summer. Most visitors hire a guide service, such as Phil's Whitewater Adventures (800-366-2004; ). Budget four hours of time and $55 per person, including shuttle, instruction and personal safety equipment (lifejacket, helmet and wetsuit).