The Chetco River flows from the heart of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. It is most famously known for it’s clear as glass water clarity and scenic river canyon. It’s most commonly done in inflatable kayaks at low (less than 1,000 cfs) flows. It is quickly capturing the attention of whitewater kayakers and is a wilderness expedition of a lifetime. Enjoy!
Put-in: Carter Creek
Take-out: 1st Steel Bridge (Above Candy Cane & Cone Head)
Trailhead: Babyfoot Lake
Schedule of Events
Friday – January 23, 2015
Started hike at Babyfoot Lake Trailhead – 9:00 am
Reached right switch back onto 1129 TR – 1:45 pm
Left Camp Bailey – 4:45 pm
Stopped on trail for camp – 8:15 pm
Saturday – January 24, 2015
Started hike – 9:00 am
Put on river – 10:00 am
Granite Creek – 2:30 pm (4.5 hours through the steep section with 2 portages)
Found Camp – 4:15 pm
Sunday – January 25, 2015
Put on river – 11:00 am
Reached take out at 1st Steel Bridge – 3:15pm
Scheduled Shuttle Pickup – 4:30 pm
Our flows were dropping from 2,200 cfs to 1,900 cfs on the Chetco gauge at Brookings. This was a low-medium flow for the run. The Magic Canyon section, above Slide Creek, was boney and things filled in better once Slide Creek comes in and the river gorges up and steepens. The steepest section is between Slide and Granite Creeks. We found it easy to boat scout and portage at river level if needed at these flows. This section is best described as Class IV(+) technical low-volume creeking with 1-2 Class V rapids that can be portaged on river right.
Below Granite Creek the river is filled with fun Class III(+) and some Class IV rapids with pristine pools between. There are two Class IV rapids (false Candy Cane & false Cone Head) after Tolman Ranch that we boat scouted. They could be scouted from shore and portaged if needed. My next trip I’m going to try for a maximum of 3,000 cfs and dropping.
The infamous Biscuit Fire of 2002 sets the stage for hiking through ghost trees and encountering fallen snags. The Siskiyou Mountain Club does their best (which is awesome!) at keeping this trail open. In 2014 they had the trail pretty well cleared of fallen trees but, unfortunately for us, a windstorm in December 2014 changed this drastically. We encountered 50+ fallen trees, which added to our hike time significantly.
Turtling: This is a term we used often on the trail, especially when crossing fallen trees. It refers to when your pack weight starts to shift in a way that you can’t stop it. So… you simply fall backwards onto your kayak and shout, “I turtled!” At the time it was extremely frustrating but in hindsight it was very comical. Our biggest regret is we didn’t get any photos of this happening. Good times!
We gave the Siskiyou Mountain Club a full trail report after our trip. They are planning to send crews in ASAP to re-open the trail. Hopefully the trail will be better for you than it was for us!
I would highly recommend having a good trail map and GPS. You come to several trail junctions and getting lost or confused on the trail would be a huge bummer. The only water we found on the trail was at Camp Bailey.
There is limited camping between Taggert’s Bar and Boulder Creek. We found a small patch of sand at the top of a cobble bar and were able to flatten some great sleeping spots.
Jo, Libby & Nicole made a feast for us at dinner. We ate fresh burritos with sausage, onion, peppers, garlic, beans, cheese and couscous. Much better than the dehydrated meals Lisa & I brought. The second day we knew we’d have plenty of time to make our miles before our scheduled 4:30 pm take-out time.
We were lucky to have a couple great friends who lived nearby that were willing to drive our shuttle. HUGE THANK YOU to Tara & Vimal for the late drive to the trailhead and camping with us!!
After Your Trip
Send a full trail report to Siskiyou Mountain Club. They do an outstanding job keeping this trail open and viable but need to know the current conditions. Post your comments on the Whitewater Guide Book webpage for future boaters.
Tips & Take Aways
Leave No Trace: With the growing popularity of this run, it’s important to practice your Leave No Trace ethics. It’s a very special place and each person deserves to experience it in its pristine condition. We found a lot of trash around Camp Bailey. When we reached our take-out at the steel bridge a truck drove over and threw a can into the river. Seriously?!? A pretty disappointing site to our re-entry into civilization.
Kayak Pack Systems: Be sure you have a BOMBER pack system before the trip. Less than a mile into our hike Libby’s pack broke and sent her flying into some Manzanita bushes. It was quite the site to be seen. Thankfully she was OK and, after the fact, we all got some good laughs from it. We had a combination of NRS Kayak Sherpa & Pyranha packs and a few broke at some capacity. A key saver was having extra cam straps to repair our pack systems. (Thanks Jo!) The broken pack issues resulted in additional hiking time.
Steep Section: Take your time! The river is the steepest between Slide and Granite Creeks. We took our time through this section and had plenty of time to scout/portage if needed and set good safety. We moved much faster on the water after this section and had plenty of daylight left even with short January days to find a camp.
Ticks: Lisa found a tick embedded in her skin at the take-out. We weren’t able to get the tick’s head out so she later went to the ER to have that portion removed. She saved the tick and had it sent in for Lyme’s Disease testing and thankfully it came back negative!
Pack Animals: We opted to hike in our hardshell kayaks loaded with our camping, paddling and safety gear along with food and water. After the trip, I must admit, my curiosity on pack animals increased. I called Mike with Sour Dough Trail Rides (541-955-9654) to check on costs for a future expedition. Unfortunately, for hardshell kayakers, the horses can’t carry kayaks because they are too bulky. It looks like I’ll be carrying my kayak and gear for all future Chetco Trips and that is totally fine! The hike was a challenging yet extremely rewarding experience and I will do it again.
Commercial Outfitters: Don’t want to plan your own expedition? Our friends at Northwest Rafting Company offer inflatable kayak trips during the summer.