If you’re contemplating whether a trip down the White Salmon River may be for you, a big thing to consider are the portages. A “portage” is where everyone gets out of the raft and walks along the side of the river to navigate around a commercially un-runnable rapid or potential hazard. Routinely starting in July, as water levels drop, we will encounter these portages on both our Half and Full Day trips when we run the Upper and Lower Lower sections of the White Salmon.
For both our Half and Full Day trips, we start off by shuttling everyone via bus from our base in Husum to our private put-in 5 miles upstream. We can brag that this is the furthest upstream put-in for a commercial rafting company on the White Salmon. Once there, following a standard safety talk, we load everyone into the boats and start our adventure! The first two miles of river will consist of some fun class IV rapids before we arrive at our first portage at BZ Falls.
To portage around this 17 ft. waterfall, our guides pull the boats to the side of the river, and everyone simply gets out and walks around the falls. That being said, because we are in a remote and wild section of the river, the path is not the average “walk in the park.” You will be stepping on slippery rocks, climbing up rustic stairs, and walking through the mossy trees and their root systems. It is important to note that some people may find this difficult, such as folks who have any mobility issues.
As you make the hike, the guides lead the boats through the portage from the shore using ropes. At the end of the path, you will find yourself on a 15 ft. ledge. At this point, you have the option to jump into the water and swim back to the boat, or climb down to main shoreline and walk back to the boats. Both options prove equally exciting!
We don’t want these portages to scare you away, but we do want to be realistic and say that they are not for everyone. And if they’re not for you, that doesn’t mean you can’t come on the trip! We have found a way to accommodate everyone with our BZ put-in option!
Want to skip the portage?
People choose to opt out of the first 2 miles of river and mandatory portage for a number of different reasons, ranging from mobility issues to just being nervous. That’s okay with us! We know that you know yourself better than we do! To accommodate this range of needs, our alternative put-in option allows you to skip the portage and catch up with your group just after BZ Falls!
You still get to ride up with the entire group and see the upper put-in. After our safety talk, you would then ride with a Wet Planet employee just 2 miles downstream to the lower put-in located at the BZ launch site. We actually use this put-in for all of our early season trips! You will be led down a short trail to the river, where you then wait with beautiful scenic views alongside our trip photographer. Together, you can watch your group go over the popular class III rapid, called Top Drop, before hopping into the boat to start your whitewater journey!
Congrats! Either way, you just made it through a portage! BZ Falls is the only portage on our Half Day trip – the rest of the action on your float will happen inside the comfort of your boat – hopefully!
If you signed up for a Full Day trip, however, you will have one more mandatory portage to get through. There is no option to skip this portage, so read on to make sure it will work for you.
So far you have rafted our Upper section, portaged around BZ falls, taken a plunge over Husum Falls, enjoyed a delicious riverside lunch just above Rattlesnake Rapid, and are now back on the raft headed down to the Lower Lower section of the White Salmon, where the scenic forests become narrow canyon walls. This brings you to your next and final portage. Like the first portage, it requires you to walk on uneven and slippery surfaces – so if you’re not sure-footed, you could find the task ahead difficult.
As the walls of the canyon become tight, the water pushes its way through, creating a very fast flow. Coming up this portage, you will see an open area on your left with ropes along the rock wall. These ropes will be your guide and anchor as you walk around Steelhead Falls. A Wet Planet guide will help assist everyone in getting out of the boat and together, the group walks alongside the river through and over water and rocks to the other side of Steelhead while holding on to this rope.
Whew! The hard part is over! You have now completed the final portage and it’s all smooth paddling the rest of the way! Everyone will hop back into the boats and float out to the Columbia where you will end the day with beautiful views of Mt. Hood.
The White Salmon offers the kind of beauty and adventure that we think everyone should have the opportunity to experience. With all this information in mind, we hope that it may help aid you in the decision on which trip down the White Salmon River, whether it be a Half or Full Day, is the best trip for you!
Author Baylee Olson works in the office here at Wet Planet. She loves to be able to share her passion for the outdoors and adventure with all our guests who call and email in!