First off, I have to admit I'm a little biased about the Little Sandy River. When Jason and I did this run in the spring of 2000, we didn't have any information about any other descents. I had scouted the first 1.5 miles and found some very runnable rapids set in a tiny creekbed with almost constant gradient. So we plunged in with both feet and eventually finished the run after paddling the last couple miles in the dark. This run still remains as probably the most adventurous exploratory run I've done. Both physically and mentally demanding, the Little Sandy is a special whitewater trip.
Unfortunately, in 2002 the Little Sandy was included in the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit (Portland's drinking supply) and boating or hiking is not allowed anywhere in the Little Sandy drainage. I hope to get back up on this run sometime in the future but I'll just have to wait and see what happens.
Looking downstream from the bridge at the put-in the river looks tiny as it disappears through some brush and small rocks. Don't despair, the riverbed consolidates just downstream and starts dropping through some tight, technical boulder gardens and small ledges. At anything other than low flows, eddies can be mighty scarce in this section. Almost everything can be boat scouted but it is usually possible to scout the steeper drops.
Shortly after a long slide ending in an abrupt ledge drop, you'll see a big horizon line approaching. This is Meatcleaver Falls, a 30-ft. behemoth with a shallow landing. Make sure to stop early enough to get out of the river. I've portaged this one by lowering boats down the left side of the falls but I've also heard that it can be portaged down the middle at some flows. Below the falls the riverbed gets wider and some small boulder gardens appear.
You'll know you are getting to the big stuff when you encounter a riverwide "L-shaped" ledge. This can be run anywhere but be careful because just around the corner is a tougher ledge drop which should be scouted. There is a small eddy on the left right at the lip of the drop. Portaging is easy if you make the eddy.
You are now in the heart of the gorge and there are more drops than I could possibly describe. Many of the drops are tight and technical and have been known to contain wood. There is also a portage at Funnel Falls so scout carefully. One rapid after Funnel is Leap of Faith, a 10-15' sloping falls. There is one more big rapid after the falls and then the gorge starts to open up and the rapids ease off for the next 5 miles or so. There are a couple really nice suprise rapids in this section.
The first take-out is just after you pass a bridge before the Little Sandy dam (scheduled to be removed in 2007). If you are still feeling like you want a little more, portage the dam and run the last couple miles of the Little Sandy. Turn left at Bull Run River and take-out underneath the next bridge on the left. This makes your hike much easier but the risk of prosecution is higher once you hit the Bull Run.
The biggest hazard is the fact that it is technically illegal to boat the Little Sandy. You can decide for yourself whether you want to risk getting caught.
How to get there
To reach the takeout on the Bull Run River, stay on Ten Eyck Rd., turning left after crossing Revenue Bridge and follow for about 1.4 miles. Turn right on SE Bull Run Rd. and follow down the hill to the bridge across the river. There is a parking area in front of the gate to the powerhouse.
Put-in (GPS: 45o24.214'N, 122o01.295'W)-approximate