The 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.
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.
How to get there