The Ohanapecosh drains the southeastern flanks of Mount Rainier in a fast and furious cascade over boulders and ledges. Long boulder gardens, challenging ledges, big holes, and incredible scenery highlight the secluded, 2.5-mile canyon.
Huge boulders stud the riverbed, offering many routes through the narrow chutes and ledges. After one particularly steep and narrow ledge, the river eases to Class II for roughly a quarter mile before reaching Log Boof, the first rapid of consequence.
The river’s difficulty builds gradually from here with many more boulder gardens and ledges culminating in the often portaged Elbow Room, one of the longest rapids on the run with a dangerous sieve at the bottom.
A few easy rapids remain before the famed Ohanapecosh Falls, a great, 18-foot waterfall, and Petrified, a long rapid with some big holes and multiple routes. The remainder of the river is Class II-III, and paddlers will take-out shortly after the confluence with the Clear Fork of the Cowlitz River at La Wis Wis Campground.
Careful scouting and local beta is important, as old-growth logs frequently make their way into the river, and many slots and sometimes entire rapids can be blocked with wood. Additionally, many sieves exist due the bouldery nature of the river. Paddlers should always scout blind drops or follow someone who knows the river well.
A brief discussion of some of the notable rapids on this run follows, but please consult a river map for specific locations and information.
Overall, the river features many Class IV rapids with some significant Class Vs, all of which can be portaged. The geology and scenery is fascinating, with smoothly sculpted walls, house-sized boulders, and a vibrant selection of foliage that nearly blocks out the sky in some places.