Chetco River Trip Report

The Chetco River flows from the heart of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. It is most famously known for it’s clear as glass water clarity and scenic river canyon. It’s most commonly done in inflatable kayaks at low (less than 1,000 cfs) flows. It is quickly capturing the attention of whitewater kayakers and is a wilderness expedition of a lifetime. Enjoy!

Women's chetco river expedition

2015 Expedition – Lisa Byers, Nicole Mansfield, Elizabeth (Libby) Tobey, Jo Kemper, Lori Turbes

Put-in: Carter Creek
Take-out: 1st Steel Bridge (Above Candy Cane & Cone Head)
Trailhead: Babyfoot Lake

Schedule of Events

Friday – January 23, 2015
Started hike at Babyfoot Lake Trailhead – 9:00 am
Reached right switch back onto 1129 TR – 1:45 pm
Left Camp Bailey – 4:45 pm
Stopped on trail for camp – 8:15 pm

Sunrise at babyfoot lake trailhead

Sunrise at Babyfoot Lake Trailhead        Photo: Nicole Mansfield

Trees on the kalmiopsis wilderness trail

Some of the many trees we had to deal with on the hike    Photo: Jo Kemper

Fallen trees from the 2002 biscuit fire

Libby getting pretty good at crossing the fallen trees.   Photo: Lisa Byers

Hiking through the dead trees of the 2002 biscuit fire in the kalmiopsis wilderness

Hiking through the dead trees in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness   Photo: Nicole Mansfield

Kayakers hiking in the kalmiopsis wilderness into the sunset

Hiking into the sunset on the ridge line just above Camp Bailey    Photo: Nicole Mansfield

Saturday – January 24, 2015
Started hike – 9:00 am
Put on river – 10:00 am
Granite Creek – 2:30 pm (4.5 hours through the steep section with 2 portages)
Found Camp – 4:15 pm

Kayakers camp on trail to chetco river

Packing up our camp on the trail, getting ready for the final .5 mile hike to the put-in.

Kayakers at the carter creek, the put-in for the wild and scenic chetco river

Happy to finally be at the put-in at Carter Creek!

Fun rapids in the section between slide creek and granite creek

Libby running one of the many fun rapids between Slide Creek and Granite Creek Photo: Jo Kemper

Rapids on the wild & scenic chetco river

Lori running one of the classic style of rapids on the Upper Chetco River Photo: Jo Kemper

Beautiful rapids of the upper chetco river

Beautiful rapids of the Upper Chetco River

Celebrating finding a camp on the wild and scenic chetco river

Celebrating finding our camp for the night. Photo: Jo Kemper

Sunday – January 25, 2015
Put on river – 11:00 am
Reached take out at 1st Steel Bridge – 3:15pm
Scheduled Shuttle Pickup – 4:30 pm

Rapids on the chetco river

Forested scenery and fun rapids of the Chetco River     Photo: Jo Kemper

Libby hitting one of the many fun little boofs on the chetco river. Photo: jo kemper

Libby hitting one of the many fun little boofs on the Chetco River. Photo: Jo Kemper

Scenic flatwater on the chetco river. Photo: lisa byers

Scenic flatwater on the Chetco River. Photo: Lisa Byers

Kayakers on the chetco river

All smiles after a successful kayak expedition.    Selfie: Jo Kemper

Steel bridge on the chetco river

1st Steel Bridge take out on the Chetco River with a great trail on river right. Photo: Jo Kemper


Our flows were dropping from 2,200 cfs to 1,900 cfs on the Chetco gauge at Brookings. This was a low-medium flow for the run. The Magic Canyon section, above Slide Creek, was boney and things filled in better once Slide Creek comes in and the river gorges up and steepens. The steepest section is between Slide and Granite Creeks. We found it easy to boat scout and portage at river level if needed at these flows. This section is best described as Class IV(+) technical low-volume creeking with 1-2 Class V rapids that can be portaged on river right.

Chetco river gauge at brookings, oregon

Below Granite Creek the river is filled with fun Class III(+) and some Class IV rapids with pristine pools between. There are two Class IV rapids (false Candy Cane & false Cone Head) after Tolman Ranch that we boat scouted. They could be scouted from shore and portaged if needed. My next trip I’m going to try for a maximum of 3,000 cfs and dropping.

Nicole mansfield running a typical rapid in the upper chetco river

Nicole Mansfield running a typical rapid in the Upper Chetco River


The infamous Biscuit Fire of 2002 sets the stage for hiking through ghost trees and encountering fallen snags. The Siskiyou Mountain Club does their best (which is awesome!) at keeping this trail open. In 2014 they had the trail pretty well cleared of fallen trees but, unfortunately for us, a windstorm in December 2014 changed this drastically. We encountered 50+ fallen trees, which added to our hike time significantly.

Hiking through the kalmiopsis wilderness to the chetco river

hiking through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness to the Chetco River Photo: Lisa Byers

Turtling: This is a term we used often on the trail, especially when crossing fallen trees. It refers to when your pack weight starts to shift in a way that you can’t stop it. So… you simply fall backwards onto your kayak and shout, “I turtled!” At the time it was extremely frustrating but in hindsight it was very comical. Our biggest regret is we didn’t get any photos of this happening. Good times!

We gave the Siskiyou Mountain Club a full trail report after our trip. They are planning to send crews in ASAP to re-open the trail. Hopefully the trail will be better for you than it was for us!

I would highly recommend having a good trail map and GPS. You come to several trail junctions and getting lost or confused on the trail would be a huge bummer. The only water we found on the trail was at Camp Bailey.


There is limited camping between Taggert’s Bar and Boulder Creek. We found a small patch of sand at the top of a cobble bar and were able to flatten some great sleeping spots.

Morning on the chetco river

We had a very slow, relaxing morning at camp.

Jo, Libby & Nicole made a feast for us at dinner. We ate fresh burritos with sausage, onion, peppers, garlic, beans, cheese and couscous. Much better than the dehydrated meals Lisa & I brought. The second day we knew we’d have plenty of time to make our miles before our scheduled 4:30 pm take-out time.


We were lucky to have a couple great friends who lived nearby that were willing to drive our shuttle. HUGE THANK YOU to Tara & Vimal for the late drive to the trailhead and camping with us!!

After Your Trip

Send a full trail report to Siskiyou Mountain Club. They do an outstanding job keeping this trail open and viable but need to know the current conditions. Post your comments on the Whitewater Guide Book webpage for future boaters.

Tips & Take Aways

Leave No Trace: With the growing popularity of this run, it’s important to practice your Leave No Trace ethics. It’s a very special place and each person deserves to experience it in its pristine condition. We found a lot of trash around Camp Bailey. When we reached our take-out at the steel bridge a truck drove over and threw a can into the river. Seriously?!? A pretty disappointing site to our re-entry into civilization.

Kayak Pack Systems: Be sure you have a BOMBER pack system before the trip. Less than a mile into our hike Libby’s pack broke and sent her flying into some Manzanita bushes. It was quite the site to be seen. Thankfully she was OK and, after the fact, we all got some good laughs from it. We had a combination of NRS Kayak Sherpa & Pyranha packs and a few broke at some capacity. A key saver was having extra cam straps to repair our pack systems. (Thanks Jo!) The broken pack issues resulted in additional hiking time.

Nrs sherpa pack broke on hike into kalmiopsis wilderness

Jo & Nicole helping to make modifications to Libby’s broken pack. Photo: Lisa Byers

Steep Section: Take your time! The river is the steepest between Slide and Granite Creeks. We took our time through this section and had plenty of time to scout/portage if needed and set good safety. We moved much faster on the water after this section and had plenty of daylight left even with short January days to find a camp.

We portaged the class v rapid on the upper chetco river. Photo: jo kemper

We portaged the Class V rapid on the Upper Chetco River. Photo: Jo Kemper

Ticks: Lisa found a tick embedded in her skin at the take-out. We weren’t able to get the tick’s head out so she later went to the ER to have that portion removed. She saved the tick and had it sent in for Lyme’s Disease testing and thankfully it came back negative!

Pack Animals: We opted to hike in our hardshell kayaks loaded with our camping, paddling and safety gear along with food and water. After the trip, I must admit, my curiosity on pack animals increased. I called Mike with Sour Dough Trail Rides (541-955-9654) to check on costs for a future expedition. Unfortunately, for hardshell kayakers, the horses can’t carry kayaks because they are too bulky. It looks like I’ll be carrying my kayak and gear for all future Chetco Trips and that is totally fine! The hike was a challenging yet extremely rewarding experience and I will do it again.

Commercial Outfitters: Don’t want to plan your own expedition? Our friends at Northwest Rafting Company offer inflatable kayak trips during the summer.


About JR

JR's enthusiasm for life readily extends to all things whitewater and at Sundance, we consider him the guru of everything kayak. He spends his summers on the Rogue River as an awesome kayak instructor and during the off season, he gravitates toward any body of water that will give him some thrill. He tends to surround himself with others that share the same passion.