Hood Canal is known throughout the nation as a kayaker’s paradise, thanks to stunning waterways and ridiculously gorgeous wilderness. Placed high in the wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula, the rivers that drain into Hood Canal are wild, steep and stunning. While many paddle the easy stretches of rivers like the Hamma Hamma, the Duckabush and the Dosewallips, a handful of hearty folk push their limits. Few who paddle Hood Canal ever take the time to venture further upstream, exploring lesser known areas. For those who do, they are rewarded with rivers that, if located near a large city, would be among the most famous paddling destinations in America.

Skokomish Park Lake Cushman lucky dogMost who paddle the waters of the Olympic Peninsula focus their attention on the lakes and estuaries near Hood Canal, but there are a handful of rugged individuals who search for more. Found miles from the river mouths, a small section of local paddlers epitomize the epic spirit, searching for new rivers to run and canyons to maneuver through. In the rivers that drain into the Hood Canal, extreme paddlers are challenged, while those new to river paddling are rewarded with box canyons, old growth forests and some of the most underdeveloped rivers in America. Along Hood Canal, the wild Olympics show their spirit, and nowhere is this more evident than paddling the rivers.

whitewater kayak hood canal
The stunning Hamma Hamma River is one of the awesome whitewater kayak routes near Hood Canal. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

Paddling the rivers of the Hood Canal drainage isn’t for those new to the sport. Instead, these adventures are the next step – for those looking to expand into the whitewater kayaking universe and for those who strive on adrenaline. While many consider whitewater kayaking to be dangerous, those who are prepared and smart should be fine each and every time. Most of the rivers drain from the Olympic Mountains and are steeper and more technical than anywhere else in Washington, making them rated higher in difficulty. Despite that, there are numerous runs that are fairly manageable for beginner and advanced paddlers along the Dosewallips, Duckabush and Hamma Hamma Rivers.

Before heading out on the upper reaches of the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula, please understand that you are incurring all of the risk. Whitewater rafting and kayaking in the rivers of Washington are more challenging than nearly everywhere else in the country. Compared to other rivers in Washington, the ones that flow into the Hood Canal can be even more challenging.

Exploring the Duckabush will gain you access to great rapids.  Photo courtesy: Douglas Scott.
Exploring the Duckabush will gain you access to great rapids. Photo courtesy: Douglas Scott.

Remember, if you are not skilled and experienced, many of the sections of rivers are not safe for beginners. With that being said, those looking for amazing adventures paddling the rivers of the eastern slopes of the Olympics should experience five of these, and take a look at the sixth from a distance.

Six Possible Whitewater Kayaking Trips

The easiest section of fast flowing water to paddle along the eastern slope of the Olympic Mountains is the Dosewallips River. Starting at Six Mile Bridge and floating down to Dosewallips State Park, this Class II/III section is a perfect afternoon trip. At 6.5 miles long, this route will challenge beginners enough to get the adrenaline flowing, while the scenic beauty will keep advanced paddlers happy.

After your introductory lesson on kayaking the rivers along the Hood Canal, the next logical place to paddle is the run from the Hamma Hamma Campground to the Gorge and Box Canyon. Considered between a class II and IV, this five mile route is wild, gorgeous and a great way to build up your endurance for further exploration of the river around the Olympic Peninsula.

Next up is a gorgeous Class III/IV along the Dosewallips River. Starting at the end of the road at the Elkhorn Campground and running down to Six Mile Bridge, this 5.2 mile run is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. This is an intermediate level of whitewater kayaking through one of the more underrated rivers in Washington State.

whitewater kayak hood canal
Dosewallips River is a gorgeous Class III/IV whitewater kayaking route. Photo credit: Douglas Scott.

For those needing more of a challenge, exploring the Duckabush will gain you access to great rapids. However, the route from 2515 Bridge to Highway 101 does require a short hike in, as well as a portage around Ranger Hole. With two full miles of intermediate rapids to start off with, this is a stunning way to see an often overlooked river. At 6.2 miles in length, this makes for a perfect way to spend the day.

If even these runs seem easy, there is a class V+ along the Hamma Hamma River that will test your skills. Starting at the put-in, located five miles past the Hamma Hamma Campground, this fast flowing river with numerous technical drops runs for 3.5 miles. Ending just past the Lena Lake Trailhead, this run requires numerous portages and should be avoided during high waters. This stretch of the Hamma Hamma is rarely seen, and will be a good challenge for all. More details on this run can be found here.

Finally, if you are looking for one of the most insane, and quite frankly dangerous runs on the entire Olympic peninsula, head down to the end of the road along the Hamma Hamma River and check out Hamma Hamma Falls. For a select few, this is where reputations are gained in the world of whitewater kayaking, with daredevils plunging their kayaks down this 75-foot, double-tiered waterfall. This run is insane and should never be attempted unless you are a professional. However, numerous videos exist showing kayakers going down it.

whitewater kayak hood canal
Kayak the Hamma Hamma River. Photo courtesy: Wild Olympics.

The rivers that drain into the Hood Canal may not be easy or accessible for everyone to explore via kayak. Luckily, numerous companies operate around the Olympic Peninsula, waiting to help you explore the rivers and lakes of the region. Focusing on the Duckabush and Dosewallips Rivers, Kayak Brinnon is a fantastic bet to exploring the waters of Hood Canal. Offering multiple styles of tours, including multi-day trips, movies and pros alike will enjoy the waters around the small town of Brinnon, Washington. Down in the southern Hood Canal, Blue Horizon Paddle Sports and Hood Canal Adventures both offer unique river and lake experiences.

For even more information on whitewater paddling around the region, I highly suggest you pick up Gary Korb’s book, A Paddlers Guide to the Olympic Peninsula.

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