Guidebook Title

Niagara Title
(Big Cliff Dam to Packsaddle Park)

Niagara Info BoxThis stretch of the North Santiam River is a classic fall run for mid-Willamette Valley paddlers. Although short, the run contains many fun rapids, a few playspots, and a couple of the hardest rapids on the whole river. At high water both of the harder rapids pack quite a punch. Fall dam releases from Big Cliff Dam make the N. Santiam a consistently good fall paddling destination.

River Description(Kayak/Canoe/Raft)
Putting in near the base of the Big Cliff Dam, it is easy to be intimidated by this run. The water is always very cold and seems to rush downriver in a hurry right from the beginning. Of course, the fact that the Narrows lurks less than a half mile downstream could be a big part of it. The first significant rapid is a great class 3-4 which begins on an obvious right turn. Be sure you stay in control through this rapid as the Narrows lies just below a short moving pool at the bottom of the rapid. At the Narrows, the river constricts to 15' wide. The Narrows contains challenging hydraulics at all flows but is most difficult at high and low flows. At low flows there is a big hole at the top of the rapid followed by a powerful diagonal hole. At high flows, there are 3 huge waves followed by a funky hole on the bottom right. Scout/portage on the right.

Below the Narrows are several good Class 3 rapids which can contain some big holes at high water. There is a long Class 3-4 rapid just above Niagara. This rapid has some very large waves and holes at high water. Generally the left side of the rapid is more forgiving than the right but be on your toes because there isn't much time below the rapid to recover before the river squeezes down to 5' wide and enters Niagara. At Niagara, the river snakes through sculpted rock walls and ends in a large, turbulent pool. The walls are undercut in places and potholes below the surface create some strange hydraulics.

The left channel below Niagara has some good play waves at some flows and there is one more fun Class 3 rapid before the gradient tapers off; eventually backing up behind Minto Dam. Portage the dam on the right through the fish hatchery and take note of the nasty keeper hydraulic at the base of the dam. The take-out is on the right a couple hundred yards downstream of the dam at Packsaddle Park.

Rafting Note:Portages at the Narrows and Minto Dam require some careful work and getting a raft through Niagara at low flows can require some creative teamwork.

This run increases in difficulty dramatically at higher flows. At flows approaching 3000 cfs, the whole run is Class 4. There is very little recovery time between the first rapid and the Narrows. The Narrows contains some very powerful hydraulics and a swim here could be disastrous. Niagara is very dangerous at higher water. The large pool at the bottom re-circulates back into a hole on the right and the rock wall bordering the pool can make rescue difficult.

Niagara can be scouted before committing to the run by stopping at Niagara County Park. There is a trail down to the Narrows across from the old store at Little Sweden about a mile east of Niagara County Park. The owners have asked that cars park on the north side of the highway if hiking to the Narrows.

How to get there
From I-5 near Salem, take Oregon 22 east past Mill City. The take-out at Packsaddle County Park is about 5.5 miles east of Mill City on Oregon 22.

To reach the put-in at Big Cliff Dam continue east on Hwy. 22 from Packsaddle Park for another 4.5 miles. There are several paths to get down the steep bank to the river.

North Santiam River at Niagara
900 cfs is a typical summer flow. Flows increase in the fall as water is released from Detroit Reservoir. Difficulty increases dramatically at flows above 3000 cfs.

Photo Gallery

Raft in the Narrows at high water(4000 cfs) Raft in the Narrows at medium water(2200 cfs) Raft in entry slot of Niagara (2200 cfs) Raft exiting Niagara at low water(1200 cfs)
Raft in the Narrows at high water(4000 cfs) Raft in the Narrows at medium water(2200 cfs) Raft in entry slot of Niagara (2200 cfs) Raft exiting Niagara at low water(1200 cfs)