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My mom is still angry. Angry at my dad. It all stems from a fun little adventure when I was twelve years old. Dad took the family on a three-day whitewater rafting vacation. He had a huge raft for the family, but let me navigate the class III river in a little inflatable kayak which is what made mom angry. It’s been 44 years and I’ve made a career out of guiding whitewater rafts on the White Salmon and Klickitat Rivers. None the less, Mom is still angry.

youth rafting
My brother Tracy and I saved up all summer to purchase our first raft just after my pioneer voyage at age 12

Well, fast forward those 44 years and I’ve now been professionally guiding whitewater rafts on the White Salmon and Klickitat Rivers for the past 36 years where I am having the time of my life. You should come rafting with me.

Here is the great thing about the White Salmon River. There are multiple sections of river to raft, giving everyone an opportunity to choose what suits them best. Want the longest commercial run on the river? No problem. Want the highest adventure level? Got it covered. Want something kids as young as six and seven can challenge? Its here. The White Salmon River has it all, and it is outrageously beautiful.

For those looking for the highest adventure level, they need to go to the Upper Gorge. When you want your kids to come have fun it is the Middle Gorge. For the medium long trip you’d be wanting the Middle/Lower Combo. And for those looking for high adventure and the longest trip on the river you’ve got to go for the Upper/Middle/Lower Combo. All of these trips overlap in one section so that each trip gets a shot at the “optional” Husum Falls.

Husum falls rafting
Mark Zoller, 2nd Generation river guide takes it over Husum Falls the “optional” big drop on the White Salmon.

Husum Falls is regarded as the highest commercially run waterfall in the United States. I’m not sure how it got that reputation, but I like it! It is reasonable to raft over the falls, but is not recommended for everyone. Portaging around the falls is easy and many people choose to walk, while many choose to go over it. We re-arrange the raft loads just above the falls to let the super adventure seekers take it on while others become the spectators and cheering squad. There is a saying among the guides that goes something like this. “I’m going to tell you about and prepare you for every possible outcome, but I plan on this going so perfect that it will look easy. Dropping over Husum is a kick that adventuresome teens and willing adults need to consider.

lower gorge white salmon
Shooting dow the narrows of the Lower Gorge

The White Salmon River and canyon is visually stunning. The entire White Salmon valley is a flow of lava. We’ve got lava tubes, caves, (more on caving in another blog post) everywhere and the bed of the White Salmon River was once a huge, long lava tube. The roof of the tube has collapsed and the river runs through it. At our private launch point there is a 104ft cliff, almost straight down to the river. That cliff is the edge of the old lava tube. In total length I’d estimate that the tube is 14 miles long. It is lush to say the least with maidenhair ferns and various moss species. Western Red Cedar, Fir and Pine trees grow straight out of the canyon wall. Wildflowers in the spring give it extra splashes of color and fresh clear water makes it all sparkle. A multitude of springs flow into the river treating us to a tasty drink and providing the river with ample volume for great rafting all year long.

family rafting and riding the bull
Why look so surprised? We call it riding the bull for a reason! Fun on the Middle Gorge of the White Salmon

Kids just might be my favorite guest in a raft. Rafters as young as six and seven join me just about every day of the summer. Some of the nervous ones might start at the back of the raft where it feels more secure, but it does not take long and they are up front leaning over the front of the raft taking shots from waves straight up their noses. If they follow instructions well, I just might make them a Jr. River Guide.

White salmon upper gorge
Third Generation river guide Zach Zoller taking it big on the Upper Gorge of the White Salmon in a custom mini raft

Depending on the time of year, rafting trips go out multiple times a day and if a person has a little flexibility in their schedule we can always find them some seats in a raft. You don’t have to come prepared with a bunch of gear, just a swim suit or shorts as a base layer, then we gear you up with wet suits, neoprene river shoes, splash jackets, PFDs, helmet etc. We can dress you up according to the weather of the day. We raft comfortably Spring through Fall.

Come join us for some fun on the river and bring your 12 year-olds on a trip that even my mother would approve of.

Things to know:

*Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys rafting headquarters and private launch site are located at BZ Corner just 12 miles north of Hood River, Oregon.

*Raft season opens the first week of April and wraps up mid to late October.

*No experience is necessary. Just be a good listener and have lots of fun.

*If you are not sure which trip is best for you, give me a call and I’ll match you up according to your needs.

As always, never hesitate to hit me up for information about all kinds of fun in the Columbia River Gorge.

Mark Zoller – MarkZ@ZooRaft.com

Older male guide and company owner, Mark, holding his raft paddle and smiling.
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