The Clackamas River holds a special place in my heart. This is my home river where my company, Blue Sky Rafting, runs our summer rafting trips, so I've probably run the Upper Clackamas upwards of 300 times. Even so, I never seem to tire of the incredible beauty of this river.
When boaters speak of the Clackamas, they are usually referring to this section of river. Only 30 short miles from downtown Portland, the Upper Clackamas tumbles through a variety of intermediate rapids mainly formed by boulders. The canyon rises steeply from the river and is covered by lush forest. Rafters tend to focus on the section from 3 Lynx to Memaloose while kaykers focus on the section from Fish Creek to Bob's Hole.
River Description (Rafting/Kayaking/Canoeing)
Below Powerhouse the river contains many smaller rapids and great scenery. The Narrows Rapid is a little bigger than others but is a clean run through waves down the middle of the rapid with a good recovery pool. The next significant rapid is Roaring River; named for the tributary just downstream of the rapid. At very high flows Roaring River has a huge wave/hole at the bottom of the rapid and at low flows, it is a mess of rocks. Be careful of the left wall at the bottom which is slightly undercut and has been known to pop rafts.
About a half mile below Roaring River is the next significant rapid, Hole in the Wall, where the river plows into a headwall. The left side of the rapid has an incredibly sticky, swirling eddy which has a tendancy to hold swimmers, rafts, kayaks, wood, etc. for a long time. At anything but low flows, it is nearly impossible to paddle or swim out of this eddy and the swirling current tends to hold swimmers underwater for much of the time. This rapid has the most fearsome reputation on the river but has gotten considerably easier in the last few years. Despite this, there seem to be rafts and kayaks that have trouble here every year and provide rescue practice for all the local rescue professionals. Hole in the Wall is easily scouted from the road and very easy to sneak on the far right.
About a mile below Hole in the Wall, Fish Creek enters on the left. There is a boat ramp here and this is the most common put-in for kayakers looking for a short run. Most of the classic play spots on the Clackamas are located on the 3 mile section of river below Fish Creek. After 2 fun intermediate rapids (Fish Creek and Armstrong) the river pools above Carter Bridge Rapid. There are a variety of lines through Carter Bridge. There are also several good playspots immediately above Carter Bridge and at the bottom of the rapid.
Below Carter Bridge the river enters a pleasant section with great scenery and mostly flat water. Be on the lookout for Slingshot Rapid which is a fun ride through big waves. Just below Big Eddy, a huge pool where the road reappears near the river, is Rock and Roll. At Rock and Roll the river splits around a small island. The right channel looks the tightest but even at low summer flows provides the best line for both kayaks and rafts. Just around the next corner is Toilet Bowl; probably the most memorable rapid in this section. At medium and high flows Toilet Bowl has huge waves that can easily flip rafts and kayaks but is clean of any hazards and has a long recovery pool at the bottom. There is a steep trail up to the road just after Toilet Bowl which is often used as a take-out but most kayaks continue around the corner to Bob's Hole to play on the waves and holes. Although most kayakers take-out up the rocks at Bob's, the river below Bob's Hole contains some fun Class 2 rapids for boaters wanting a longer run. Most rafters continue another 2 miles below Bob's and take-out just below Memaloose Bridge. The section of river from Bob's Hole to just below Memaloose is also becoming more popular as a short beginner run.
How to get there
Put-In (GPS: 45o07.000'N, 122o04.537'W)