Liquid Assets: A Water Guide to Seattle-area Rivers

The best area rivers for paddling, playing and fishing.

By Seattle Mag July 19, 2011


This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Seattle magazine.

The Yakima River
Angling for a new hobby? Hop in your car, drive southeast for a couple of hours and stick your toes into some of the best fly-fishing waters in our state. A 75-mile stretch of the Yakima River is Washington’s only official Blue Ribbon trout stream (meaning it’s one of the best in the country). The year-round catch-and-release fishery makes for a great introduction to fly-fishing, especially the three-mile stretch south of Ellensburg (take Ellensburg Canyon Road to the river). Here, wild rainbow and cutthroat trout average 13 inches long—and can be as long as 20 inches. Fish from the river or shove off in a drift boat, floating past firs, pines and bighorn sheep that come down to the river for a sip. If you’re new to fly-fishing, hire a local guide, like our fave go-to, Red’s Fly Shop, which is located on the banks of the Yakima and offers daily reports on fly hatches, guide services and a lodge.

Spray Dates
Say “waterfall” around here and you conjure visions of Snoqualmie Falls, the 270-foot thundering giant that sends up spray that can drench you from a quarter-mile away. But if you like a little elbow room with your water drama (more than 1.5 million people flock to Snoqualmie every year), take one of these trails less traveled. (Directions to all three at

Twin Falls: This locals’ fave, 30 miles east of Seattle, is just three miles round trip and easy enough for kids (even whiners!). You’ll meander along the East Fork of the Snoqualmie River before hiking switchbacks up into the forest. Watch for a spur trail at the one-mile mark; this leads to a wooden platform, where you can eat chocolate and gawk at the 150-foot cascade of the falls.

Silver Falls: Just think: In three hours, you could be scampering through old-growth forests on this short, easy hike. Pick up the trail at the Ohanapecosh Campground on the southeast side of Mount Rainier National Park. At one and a half miles in, you’ll find the mighty, glacial Ohanapecosh River tumbling over Silver Falls.

Denny Creek Water Slide: Shove a beach towel into your backpack and head to this smooth natural rock water slide, slippery enough to make for some fab butt surfing. About 30 minutes east of Seattle, the water slide is about a mile up an easy trail. It’s shallow enough to be safe for kids—but you’d better jump in, too, just in case.


The Skykomish River
Living in a city that sees more rain than shine, we’re used to getting wet; perhaps that explains the passion for rafting in our area. There are dozens of rivers—and killer rapids—just an hour’s drive from Seattle. The most challenging—and the only river in our state where helmets are required for rafting—is the Skykomish (or the “Sky,” as it’s known to locals). Most of the river is class III rapids, but adrenaline seekers love the class IV–V “Boulder Drop,” a gnarly stretch filled with house-size boulders. Join a guided tour in Index, if you dare; Outdoor Adventures boasts a solid safety record, and offers a hot tub and rib-eye steak afterward. Those who are risk averse can stick a toe in the gentler Skagit.

Rapids 101
Before clambering into that raft, it’s important to know what’s ahead of you—particularly if what’s ahead of you is a large boulder or a raging waterfall. Rapids are rated in six different classes; here’s how a few local rivers stack up.

Class I: easy; bring Grandma

Class II: medium; put down the latte

Class III: difficult; bring an expert you can cling to

Class IV: very difficult; dangerous rocks, tossed cookies

Class V: extremely difficult; run away!

Class VI: unraftable; are you crazy?


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