Guidebook Title

Packsaddle Title
(Packsaddle Park to Mill City)

Packsaddle Info BoxThe Packsaddle stretch of the North Santiam is one of the primary beginner runs in the mid-Willamette Valley. Packed with forgiving rapids, lots of practice spots, and consistent year-round flows, Packsaddle is the perfect place to learn to boat or brush up on skills. This is one of the rivers where I learned to kayak and even now I get nostalgic when I take a run.

River Description(Kayak/Canoe/Raft)
The put-in at Packsaddle Park is quite civilized with a concrete boat ramp, parking area and toilet. In the fall, salmon spawn in the shallow water near the boat ramp. The first half of the run contains many small rapids interspersed with some calm pools. The Swirlies is the first named rapid on the run and contains some nice play waves at medium flows. The deep water and huge pool at the Swirlies make it a great place to play for an extended time. More small rapids continue below the Swirlies.

About a half mile below the Gates bridge, the pace picks up with 4 rapids close together. There are lots of lines through the first 3 rapids but it can be tough to collect swimmers or gear in between rapids. Thankfully, there is a big pool before the 4th rapid; the infamous Spencer's Hole. At most flows, Spencer's consists of a big wave/hole in the middle of the river. There are cheat routes on either side but the run down the middle is the most memorable. Spencer's is a fun play hole or intimidating rapid depending on your experience level. Just remember, the rapid is plenty deep and everything flushes into the big pool at the bottom.

Around the corner below Spencer's lurks Carnivore; a tricky little drop on the left side of an island. After this the river quiets down for the next couple miles or so until Mill City comes into view. There is a fun rapid on a sharp right turn and then the Mill City bridge is in sight. Mill City Falls is the final rapid and makes a great way to finish the day. At low flows the preferred routes are center left and center right but at high flows this 4 foot ledge can be run anywhere. A little momentum is usually helpful. The take-out is on the right just below the bridge.

Hazards
None in particular. There are good pools below all the major rapids. Mill City Falls can be scouted before the trip from the Mill City bridge. Spencer's can be scouted from the right or left without too much difficulty. At extremely high flows (around 10,000 cfs) the currents are deceptively strong at several places on the run and the run is only recommended for strong, confident paddlers.

How to get there
Take-out
From I-5 near Salem, take Oregon 22 east to Mill City. The take-out is at the bridge across the river at Mill City.

Put-in
To reach the put-in at Packsaddle Park return to Hwy. 22 and travel east to Packsaddle Park which is about 3 miles east of Gates.

Gauge
North Santiam River at Niagara
900 cfs is a typical summer flow. Flows increase in the fall as water is released from Detroit Reservoir. The best play levels for Spencer's is generally 900-1500 cfs.

Photo Gallery

Raft running Mill City Falls (900 cfs)
Raft running Mill City Falls (900 cfs)