The state of Washington offers up some of the best commercial whitewater rafting experiences found in the Pacific North West with rivers flowing both east and west out of the Cascade mountains. The Cascade mountains are the geographical dividing line of Washington state running north and south from Oregon into Canada. This spine of snow and glacier capped peaks and mountains gets its moisture from Washington’s Pacific ocean coastline and provides year round flows for the multitude of streams and rivers. Some of the best whitewater of Washington flows from the Cascade mountains and are listed below in no particular order. 

Just east of Skamania Washington whitewater rafting
Just east of Skamania on the White Salmon River

The Wenatchee River – Leavenworth, Washington

Flowing from the eastern side of the Cascade mountains of central Washington the Wenatchee area is known for its abundant fruit harvesting, dry climate and abundant sunshine. Whitewater rafting trips generally start in the town of Leavenworth and continue to the town of Cashmere. The Wenatchee river drops at a rate of 21 feet per mile which is pretty good for commercial rafting provided the water levels are favorable. Watch those water levels as the Wenatchee like most rivers runs low come early to mid-summer and does not have a dam system to release steady flows of water. Come low water time rafting on the Wenatchee becomes more of a SUP, inflatable kayak and inner tubing river. Consult the local outfitters for up to date conditions and advise on how to get the best ride for the time of year you’ll be rafting. At higher water levels the Wenatchee river ranks as some of the best whitewater of Washington.

The Skykomish River – Just west of Seattle / Redmond, Washington.

Running from the western flank of the Cascades is the Skykomish River a perky little run that drops at an impressive 35 feet per mile for its 7 mile run (Cable Drop to Big Eddy). Side note: I bet there is a “Big Eddy” on just about every whitewater river in the state of Washington. The Skykomish is a quick run sporting about 10 class II and III rapids and then one super rapid apply named Boulder Drop that is classified as V. Of course, don’t run Boulder Drop unless you know what you are doing. Its big. The water levels can really drop out of the Skykomish River early in the season so make sure you are there at the right time of year. Because of its impressive drop the Skykomish river ranks as some of the best whitewater of Washington.

raft guide school
Guide School with Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys

White Salmon River – White Salmon, Washington

Hands down the White Salmon River is Washington state’s premier whitewater experience offering multiple sections of whitewater from beginner to advanced experts. Flowing south out of the Cascades the White Salmon River run the line between east and west leaning just a little bit more east of the rim of the Cascade mountains. In the boating community you will hear talk of sections such as the Star Wars Run, Farmlands, Truss, Upper, Middle, Lower and maybe even a few more. The most popular run is From BZ Corner to Northwestern Park (7.5 miles) or you can shorten it up and run from BZ to Husum Falls. The river is tight and technical and most rafters choose to retain the services of a commercial outfitter while kayakers find the White Salmon to be the ultimate playground. The river runs fast because of an amazing gradient of 60+ feet per mile from BZ to Husum. Gradient makes water go fast and fast water equals whitewater which the White Salmon River does not lack. To top it all off midways on the White Salmon River is the OPTIONAL (you can easily walk around) Husum Falls. If you want to plunge over a 14 foot waterfall then this is the trip for you. Husum Falls is known as the highest commercially run waterfall in the United States. The White Salmon River’s channel is made up mostly of an old lava tube left behind from an eruption of Mt. Adams. The White Salmon River runs with healthy flows of water all year long due to the glacier feed from the White Salmon Glacier on Mt. Adams along with an un-counted number of underground springs that release year-round water into the river, some pouring in as waterfalls straight out of the canyon walls. It’s a beautiful place to raft. With its multiple sections of whitewater and amazing gradient the White Salmon River ranks as the best whitewater of Washington.

Klickitat River Whitewater Rafting at Wonder Falls
Wonder Falls on the Klickitat River

The Klickitat River – Columbia River Gorge, WashingtonThis is the “sleeper” river of the state of Washington flowing long and fast. It gets it origins in the Goat Rocks and receives lots of water from Mount Adams. Not many people know about this special run. It’s a sleeper because it is well off the beaten path (but there is a path) and it has a very short season for whitewater rafting. A typical season for the Klickitat River is April through the second week of June depending on how fast the snow melts off for the year. The speed of the water is impressive. It just keeps moving out and you can clip off a 19 mile rafting trip in 4.5 hours including a stop for lunch. The first 8 miles of the rafting drops at 59 feet per mile and the next 11 miles at 34 feet per mile. There is a local saying about the rapids on the Klickitat River. “There are so many class II and III rapids we just don’t name them all”. The Klickitat River can be a dangerous one because it changes on a regular basis. Fallen trees are common for this canyon and can create some nasty hazards. If you raft the Klickitat on a Monday you still have to keep your eyes downstream on Tuesday looking for anything that may have moved. The shuttle on the Klickitat is a tough one but there is a shuttle service at the Canyon Market in the town of Klickitat that charges very reasonable rates. Keep your eyes on the canyon walls as you rafting the Klickitat because you just might get to see a white Mt. Goat standing proudly on a cliff. Because of its remote and rugged beauty combined with long flowing rapids the Klickitat deserves a rating of best whitewater of Washington.

Oregon Whitewater Guide
Mark Zoller has been guiding whitewater rafting trips on the White Salmon and Klickitat Rivers since 1985. He lives in and loves the Columbia River Gorge