The West Fork of the Hood River is the best Class IV run in the Columbia Gorge. It has consistently fun rapids, two beautiful basalt gorges, and is fun at a wide variety of flows. Most people take-out just above Punchbowl Falls, which is a great lower leg work out for kayakers and a rope challenge for rafters.
Length: 5.5 miles
Gradient: 82 fpm
Put-In: Lake Branch
Take-Out: Punchbowl Falls
Flow: 4.5 to 7 feet Hood River at Tucker Bridge. Class V at higher flows.
You’ll start your day by parking where Lost Lake Road crosses the Lake Branch. From here, walk downstream and put-in on the Lake Branch about a 100 feet before the confluence with the West Fork.
The first few rapids are Class IIIs, making for a good warm up. You’ll soon notice the beginning of the first basalt gorge, which has a few fun Class IV rapids.
After the basalt gorge, the rapids ease up but are still plenty of fun. You’ll need to pay attention because there is a mandatory portage around a fish ladder. At river mile 3 you’ll see a horizon line at the end of a long straight away. At medium flows (up to 7 feet) it’s pretty easy to stop on river left to portage around the fish ladder. At higher flows be sure to pay close attention so you don’t miss it.
After the fish ladder the rapids start picking up in difficulty and there are many challenging Class IV rapids. You enter the second basalt gorge after passing Green Point Creek, which enters on river left.
The last rapid (this rapid always tosses me around!) goes under a tall bridge with tight canyon walls.
Right after this, you’ll pull over on river right to avoid going over Punchbowl Falls, a 10 foot waterfall with a deep, nasty hole. The take-out on river right is a good leg work out if you’re kayaking or a royal pain if you’re rafting. If you have rafts, I suggest running a 200 foot rope up to a pulley on a tree and have someone pull downhill on the rope. At the same time, have a few people walk the raft up the hill. For detailed directions about slightly more complicated system for rafts, check out this West Fork trip report.
Punchbowl Falls can be portaged by kayakers on the right or lined by rafters on the right if you want to continue down and take out at Tucker Bridge or in town.
Logistics: From Hood River, get yourself to Dee. You’ll cross the East Fork of the Hood here and take your first right. Stay to the right through the intersection and in about a minute you’ll see a parking area for take-out on the right. If you cross another bridge you’ve gone too far.
From take-out drive back the way you came and take a right at the first intersection (Green Road). Stay on Green Road until you hit Lost Lake Road, which you’ll take all the way back to put-in. You’ll see a small parking area and gate after Lost Lake Road crosses the Lake Branch. Park here and go boating!