Last summer I was still using the whitewater kayak on the Wenatchee River as late as July 28. Last year, however, the winter and spring snowpacks were abnormally plump, and regional rivers ran well above historic averages throughout the summer.
This is an averaging year, and river levels are running a bit below historic norms. The rain earlier this week has temporarily bumped up river levels again, but that bump will work its way out of our watersheds soon and, once again, they’ll be drawing from a snowpack that looks a lot like Olive Oyl next to last year’s Brutus. So if you want to enjoy the local whitewater by raft, kayak, or canoe before the rapids lose their muscle, it’s time to go.
As of today the Wenatchee River is running just below 6,000 cubic feet per second. That means the commonly run whitewater segment of the river between Peshastin and Cashmere with its Class III whitewater is still a very fun run. Once the river drops below 4,000 cfs, some of the rapids are still roller-coaster rides, but the excitement factor of the entire run mellows significantly.
The lower Wenatchee River between Cashmere and Wenatchee, meanwhile, is a good canoe trip for intermediate paddlers at this level. The river moves along quickly and you’ll get a good ride with a slimmer chance of capsizing. ‘Intermediate’ here applies to river canoeing and the ability to paddle Class II rapids. It also implies that equipment suited to the task (e.g., canoes outfitted with air bags) will be used.
The lower Methow River is running about 4,200 cfs and, at this level, the Class III+ rapids between Black Canyon and Pateros are fast and furious enough to slap water waves into your face, but not so ferocious as to slap you senseless.
Some of the smaller rivers are near the lower levels of runnability, and this could well be the last weekend of the season to grab them. The lower Entiat River from Ardenvoir to the Columbia River is running at 800 cfs. This is low for rafts, but intermediate whitewater kayakers and advanced whitewater canoeists should be able to bounce down the run without scraping too many gravel bars or clobbering too many boulders.
Finally, the Chiwawa River is just below 1,100 cfs. The beautiful boulder-strewn rapids between Huckleberry Ford and Plain (Class II+ to Class III) still have adequate flow over them but the tap is just about to turn off.
At WenatcheeOutdoors.org, the ‘River& Lake Level’ link in the Condition Reports and the ‘Whitewater Paddling’ link in the Guidebooks provide the river gauges, written details, and maps that experienced paddlers need to monitor and run these rivers. Those who want in on the fun but lack the equipment or experience to navigate whitewater might consider joining a commercial rafting company for a day. If you want to know what a day of rafting is like with one of these companies, read the ‘Clashes of the Wenatchee Titans’ story that is currently a top-listed article on the website — it’s an exaggerated account capturing the craziness of rafting these unruly rapids.
Andy Dappen is the content Editor of WenatcheeOutdoors.org, the foremost website about outdoor adventures within an hour’s drive of the Wenatchee Valley.