The Lake Branch is a major tributary of Oregon’s West Fork of the Hood River and one that I’ve wanted to paddle for a long while. It’s known for its steep, challenging rapids that tumble through a beautiful canyon.
West Fork Confluence
Around 6 feet on the Hood River at Tucker Bridge
The Lake Branch starts with a couple miles of Class III rapids that are a perfect warm-up. As the canyon narrows, the first big rapid is Helmet Peeler, which starts with a stout hole and ends with a narrow chute. It is easier to scout on the right, which is also the best side to portage using a fun seal-launch from a mossy rock.
Soon after Helmet Peeler comes Boat Beater, a rocky rapid with a burly line on the right side.
We decided to spare our boats the beating, portage the very top, and run an easier chute on the left side.
After Boat Beater the canyon grows very deep and narrow, and was amazingly beautiful with the last rays of November sun peeking through the clouds.
Right or Left
The last big rapid is Right or Left, but at the low water, we only had the right option. It starts with an 8-foot drop followed by a slalom between a shallow rock and an undercut rock.
The runout from Right or Left had a fun boof on the right hand side. Except for one small chute, the remaining rapids were Class II/III to the confluence with the West Fork of the Hood River.
It’s fun to do the West Fork after the Lake Branch, so you can leave a car at the West Fork take-out at Punchbowl Falls. If you’re just doing the Lake Branch, then leave a car at the put-in for the West Fork on Lost Lake Road where the Lake Branch meets the West Fork.
To reach put-in, drive a couple miles up National Forest Develop Road 13. Take a left on the dirt road after crossing Diver’s Creek. It’s a short drive down to the river.