Jan 29, 2016

Packrafting at Smith Rock on the Crooked River

We've been wanting to packraft the Crooked River through the popular climbing area, Smith Rock, for some time. While the water is flat and calm as it passes the dramatic cliffs in the state park, right above it is continuous class IV with some short flat areas and only a few access points into the canyon.  Below Smith Rock are some meaty Class IV/V sections when water flows are in the 2,000+ CFS range (only runs for a few days per year at that flow). Something Kirk has boated countless times before, but it's unlikely I'll find myself in those sections any time soon, unless we take our full size raft and R2 it.

However we always wondered if it would be doable at a much lower flow...perhaps the rocky rapids would become serene pool drops? When we saw water levels hovering around the 400 CFS range we decided to check it out.  Most times of the year it is 50-80 CFS or lower.

We parked above the park, loaded our packs with boats and such, and after reaching the river, started heading upstream to find out how far we could get before putting our boats in the water.

We reached the north gorge where the basalt walls started to close in around a jumble of rocks choking the river channel.

Picking our way, we finally determined the water was too low to make it through the river rocks and sieves up higher in the gorge, so we put in just above here and ran the last few rapids of the lower gorge. It looks like high water is the better way to boat this section, but then it becomes continuous Class IV.

So we put on the river for our serene float.

And the sun came out too.

After about 4 miles on the river we rounded the back side of Smith Rock and I spied the famous "Monkey Face" rock formation, which looks much more like a monkey from the water than from on land!

We took off the river after an unrunnable rapid below Smith Rock State Park, yep, there was a big 2x4 board in the middle of the first drop in a rapid called Number 1 (class V), it could be moved but getting to it to move it could be hazardous (if the water comes up it should flush out, and or be covered by water).  Below here you are committed to boating down another 12 miles of class IV/V with no exit from the gorge until Crocked River Ranch where there is a old skid road / trail that gets you up the 400 or so feet out of the canyon.  At this flow you would probably find the same sieved out rock piles with not much passage for a packraft.  There is another committing 18 mile class III-IV run below that but it has a spring on it (Opal Springs) that adds quite a bit of water, so that could be a future trip.  So at this point we packed up our boats, and walked up and over the cliffs back to the car.

Not a bad day in the desert!


  1. Thanks for this write up, it looks like in the fall, early September, this would make for a nice run into the State Park for a beginner, maybe a good bikeraft starter run?

  2. The easy float in Smith Rock will really depend on how far upstream you want to hike with your boat. The gorge quickly narrows outside of the main part of the park, and increases in difficulty. So it's a pretty short run that's doable for a beginner. But the benefit to walking in is you will have a chance to scout the water and put in when you decide it's right for your comfort level.