Trip Report: North Cascades Whitewater Kayaking

By Steve Bailey

Stehekin, Wash.

Bridge Creek to the Stehekin River is a remote, multi-day, self-supported whitewater run that takes kayakers through Washington State’s stunning North Cascades and down to Lake Chelan.

Typically, there is a narrow window in which the water level and snowpack conditions allow for this section of water to be paddled. So, when a friend called on a Monday in Mid-July to let me know that it would be in by the weekend, I packed enough gear for three to four days into my kayak and headed west.

We had planned on starting the 4-mile hike in midafternoon, but were delayed due to traffic. We started the trek just after sunset with headlamps on, carrying gear and kayaks.

The next morning, we woke up to discover that the small tributary creek we had planned on using as the put-in location was too low; so we packed up and hiked another mile or so to find enough water.

Bridge Creek starts off as a shallow and slow Class II with lots of wood and rock pin hazards in the current. As we got farther downstream, the water provided by the tributaries and additional gradient helped us warm up for the canyon below with some fun Class III-IV drops.

We had a few hours of paddling, taking in the views, and enjoying the sight of large snow deposits along the side of the river.

Kayaker taking short drop from a rock into whitewater river.
Whitewater kayak dropping in. // Photo: Steve Bailey

Hearing the sound of the approaching falls known as Sieve Falls, we knew that things were about to pick up. The portage around Sieve Falls takes some teamwork to get all gear up the steep canyon wall to a narrow and exposed trail that leads to the seal launch just below the falls.

Once back on the water, it was time to have some fun. We prepared for some adventurous Class IV-V whitewater. It was the perfect warm, blue-sky July day for eddy hopping down the steep boulder gardens and taking in the epic views.

After a long day, we reached the confluence of the Stehekin River and set camp to rest.

The next morning, the Stehekin River provided some bigger style rapids. It slowly builds from Class III, then provides some super fun Class IV rapids, and finishes with Tumwater Canyon.

We opted to camp near the confluence of Agnes Creek in hopes that it too would be at a good flow and that we could spend an extra day to hike up the creek and run the falls in the upper canyon.

Unfortunately, after hiking a short distance up Agnes, it was apparent that the water level was too high, and we decided to save that one for another day.

Our third day on the water was a mellow paddle down to the town of Stehekin at the north end of Lake Chelan. Of course, we had to pull over on the riverbank, hike up to the small bakery, and get a warm breakfast before finishing the paddle to the Lady of the Lake Ferry

We relaxed on the ferry ride back to Chelan, Washington, where we had left our vehicles and enjoyed a warm meal that didn’t start out dehydrated in a bag.

Originally published as “Trip Report: Kayaking Bridge Creek to Stehekin” in the January-February 2022 issue.

Visit the OTO archives to find more stories about Lake Chelan, North Cascades, Stehekin, or kayaking.

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