Kayaking the Chetco is an expeditionary-style journey through tight, intimate green canyons and boulder-strewn rapids in a nearly-uninhabited and almost-entirely untouched part of the country. Glass-crystal pools and small side creeks offer nice counterpoints of rest and recharge during an otherwise challenging-but-loving-every-second-of-it adventure.
In 2011, four NWRC guides embarked on an exploratory trip down the Chetco. For most of them it was a dream realized. Two years later we received one of only two permits issued to an outfitter and led our first group of guests on an unforgettable, inaugural trip. Now we offer two options to run the Chetco: 1) the Upper Chetco River through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and 2) the Lower Gorges of the Chetco.
A trip down the Upper Chetco doesn’t even begin on the Chetco. It starts with an intense, ten-mile hike through the rugged Kalmiopsis Wilderness, one of the largest wilderness areas in Oregon and, quite possibly, one of the most beautiful places you’ve never heard of.
Traversing through ghost trees and snags, remnants of 2002’s Biscuit Fire, the terrain is both tough and cathartic. And, of course, stunning. By the time you get to the put-in, you’re mentally prepared for the real challenge and beauty that awaits. On many boaters’ bucket-lists, the Chetco affords an experience like no other through its green-glass waters so clear you can see your shadow on the bottom.
While the second trip option down the Lower Gorges of the Chetco by-passes the ten-mile hike, it’s only a slightly easier version of a tough and tough-to-top expedition. For someone who is active but not up for the brutal hike in, the Lower Gorges are a great way to see the river.
Whether you do the Upper or Lower Gorges, we promise your time on the Chetco will be a singular experience. This trip exemplifies our off-the-beaten-path approach to creating the best whitewater wilderness trips in the West.
While its upper stretches are defined by narrow gorges and boulder-congested rapids, the river begins to transition into a broad channel through lush forestlands the closer it gets to the Pacific. With the wilderness hike at the start, running the Upper Chetco is intense nearly the whole way through, the second day being the most difficult. The Lower Gorges flows at a slightly—and only slightly—easier pace.
Off the rafts
Once we hit camp for the day, we might go for hikes. But being such an adventurous trip, we’re usually happy to relax in camp, talk about the day, and steep ourselves in the solitude and immense beauty surrounding us.