At high water, the Wenatchee River streaks through the town of Leavenworth like a murmur of starlings. Its water reflects green forests, leafy orchards, and the white-tipped Cascade Mountains to the west. The air feels fresh and lively, sending a shiver of cold and excitement through the throngs of thrill-seekers waiting to launch their boats at Trout Unlimited Park.
The Lower Wenatchee River attracts some 100,000 sun-starved visitors each year from both sides of the Cascade Mountains, all jostling for a taste of Washington’s most popular whitewater. In early June, the river reaches peak flows above 10,000 cfs, turning it into a fluid string of fun rollercoaster rapids. If you own a kayak or raft and have amassed enough experience to paddle/row safely down frigid Class III water, haul your watercraft over to Leavenworth and try your luck on Satan’s Eyeball and Demon’s Drop, two of the river’s nine rollicking rapids. If you would rather leave the rowing to the professionals, you can choose from dozens of outfitters eagerly waiting to squeeze you into wetsuits and catapult you safely downstream.
The half-day float provides the main course of a weekend menu, but there are plenty of side dishes to enjoy. “The great thing about floating the Wenatchee is you can make a whole weekend out of it,” says Don Martin, owner of River Recreation, one of the area’s many experienced outfitters. “You can explore Leavenworth, visit wineries and breweries, go hiking, rock climbing, or mountain biking. You can also head over to the Columbia River in Wenatchee and bike or rollerblade on the Apple Trail or paddleboard on the Estuary [at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Colombia Rivers].”
The lower Wenatchee runs about 16 river miles from Leavenworth to Cashmere, making it a comfortable 4-5 hour float. There is a mandatory portage on river right around a lowhead dam at mile 7 where Peshastin Creek enters the river. The Wenatchee is cold and fast enough to require wetsuits or dry suits for all paddlers, regardless of skill level, and can be dangerous for novices.
For more information on the rapids, locations of put-in and take-outs, shuttles, and more, visit Americanwhitewater.com/wenatchee. Check out the list of commercial guides at the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce website: Leavenworth.org/experience/rafting-kayaking/.
Lower Wenatchee Trip Details
Leavenworth to Cashmere (or Monitor, add 4 miles)
Length: 16.5 miles (about 4 hours)
Difficulty: Class III
Recommended flow level: 2,000 – 20,000 cfs
Put-in: Leavenworth, Trout Unlimited Park
Take-out: Cashmere Riverside Park or Monitor
Permits not required.