The Upper Wind River

by Zachary Collier

Washington's Upper Wind River is a classic Class IV+ to V (flow dependent) river in the Columbia Gorge. It's popular with rafters and kayakers for its nearly continuous whitewater, easy shuttle, and beautiful canyon. This is a good place to test your abilities and get some practice if you're looking to get into Class V boating.

The Upper Wind starts in the hamlet of Stabler on river right just above the bridge that crosses the river. The first mile is a good warm up with some fun Class II and III rapids.

One of the Warm Up Rapids Above Trout Creek

One of the Warm Up Rapids Above Trout Creek

Look for Trout Creek, which enters on the right and signals the first big rapid Initiation.

Mark and Greg in Initiation Rapid

Mark and Greg in Initiation Rapid

If you struggle at Initiation, you might want to rethink continuing downstream as the rapids soon pick up in intensity. There's a fun one just around the corner, which is quickly followed by Ram's Horn, perhaps the most challenging rapid of the Wind. It's long and complicated, with a big drop at the bottom that is known to flip both rafts and kayaks.

Rafting the Bottom Drop at Ram's Horm

Rafting the Bottom Drop at Ram's Horm

Ram's Horn is immediately followed by another challenging rapid and then you'll have Balls to the Wall Right, a tricky rapid that most rafters and kayakers run through a tight slot along the right wall. Catarafts and oar boats tend to take a line down the middle and break left at the bottom.

Catarafts in Balls to the Wall Right at Higher Water

Catarafts in Balls to the Wall Right at Higher Water

Next, there are a couple of easier Class IV rapids including Balls to the Wall Left and Morning Wood.

Morning Wood is a Tricky Rapid just Above Climax

Morning Wood is a Tricky Rapid just Above Climax

The next big rapid is Climax, which has a nearly vertical 6-foot drop down the center. You can choose to run middle, do the airplane turn on the left side, or a junky (and forgiving for rafts) move on the right.

Running the Main Drop at Climax

Running the Main Drop at Climax

Morgan Running the Main Drop at Climax

Morgan Running the Main Drop at Climax

Don't let your guard up after Climax, because Wet Spot is just downstream. This is a tricky rapid that lives up to its name by catching a lot of people off guard.

Wet Spot Rapid with Climax in the Background

Wet Spot Rapid with Climax in the Background

The next few miles to take-out are full of fun Class II and III rapids. There are some great places to surf rafts and catarafts as well as gorgeous scenery and waterfalls.

Enjoying Scenery on the Wind River

Enjoying Scenery on the Wind River

The take-out is on river right just before High Bridge.

Upper Wind Festival

The Upper Wind Festival is a fun weekend of raft and and kayak races typically held the second week in March.

Beginning of the Kayak Mass Start Race as the 2012 Upper Wind Festival

Beginning of the Kayak Mass Start Race as the 2012 Upper Wind Festival

Logistics

Get yourself to Carson, Washington and head North on Wind River Road. A few minutes North of town take a left on High Bridge Road (if you cross High Bridge you've gone too far) and then a right on Old Detour Road. You'll drive through a short residential neighborhood - PLEASE DRIVE SLOWLY! Continue down the dirt road at the end of Old Detour Road down to the river. Leave your take-out vehicle here and please park it out of the way so trucks with trailers can turn around.

At take-out you can check the Gauge Rock to get a sense of the flow.

Low Water on the Gauge Rock (4.9 feet)

Low Water on the Gauge Rock (4.9 feet)

At Low-Medium Flows (about 5.5 feet) Water Flows Between the Horns

At Low-Medium Flows (about 5.5 feet) Water Flows Between the Horns

From take-out get back to Wind River Road and head further North. You'll drive about 5 miles and then take a left on Hemlock Road. Cross the River on Hemlock Road and then take you're first right which will bring you to the river.

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Author

Zachary Collier

Owner of Northwest Rafting Company, Zach Collier combines international guiding experience in places like Siberia, Bhutan, and Chile with a natural business acumen for systems and logistics. Whether he’s on big water or in the back office, Zach strives to ensure NWRC offers exceptional whitewater and wilderness experiences for guests and guides alike.

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