The North Fork of the Clackamas is one of those "love it or hate it" runs. Nearly continuous rapids in the harder sections, loads of places to pin, and the constant threat of wood, make the NF a potential nightmare for some boaters. However, I'm one of the boaters who thinks all of that just adds to the fun. Throw in a 20-ft. waterfall and a take-out 5 minutes from my house and it means the NF Clackamas is one of my favorite runs.
After about a mile and a half be on the lookout for a gradual left bend with some flagging on the right bank. Take out on the left above the flagging and look for a faint trail that leads up and downstream. This is the best portage option around a nearly unrunnable 45 ft. waterfall. If you miss the trail and find yourself scouting a clean 10-ft. waterfall you have a couple options. Either run the waterfall and hike up the left bank from the pool below or work your way back upstream to find the trail. The best way back down to the river is down a steep trail about 25 yards downstream of a steep creek coming in on the right side of the river. This puts you directly above a sweet 20-ft. waterfall.
This drop is one of my all time favorites. It is a wild ride through a big hole at the bottom but I haven't seen any mishaps yet. It is fairly easy to put-in at the base of the waterfall to set safety or to portage.
Below this waterfall is where the real action begins. The rapids get steeper and more trashy than the upper section. Very tight lines between boulders, logs and bushes make for some interesting boating. Most of the rapids are cleaner than they look but that's not saying too much. Just after you think you've had enough, keep your eyes peeled for a dangerous ledge drop. This is Storm Drain and is almost impossible to recognize your first time down the river. There are a couple small eddies above it and currently it is just around the corner from a large logjam. Do your best to scout this one as it pushes into an undercut on the left, drops onto a shallow shelf on the right and has a very powerful hole in the middle. Oh, and it can often have wood at the bottom. I ran it once without scouting and surfaced with a log across my cockpit that I couldn't see until I was committed to the drop. I was lucky I didn't get pounded in the hole. If you catch one of the small eddies on the left it is very easily scouted and/or portaged on that side.
Below Storm Drain is one more exciting rapid where the river drops through some funky hydraulics and exits through a narrow slot and then careens over a steep, trashy boulder jumble. Anywhere but middle on the boulder jumble seems to be o.k.
Don't start celebrating quite yet as most of the logs on the run are from here to the end. The rapids, however, ease considerably until they end completely as you abruptly enter the reservoir after a sharp left turn. If you made it to the reservoir with all your gear intact consider it a good day.
How to get there
Put-in (GPS: 45o13.475'N, 122o13.230'W)