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White Salmon River, Washington

White Salmon River

The very name conjures up shimmering, silvery bodies of fish flashing through the water on their way upstream to spawn. Green trees throng its sides and shrubs lean over the banks of the river as it picturesquely twists and turns it way down canyons. And that is exactly what you get with White Salmon River.

The river has a length of only 44 miles (71 kilometres) and runs on the southern border of the Pacific North-western US state of Washington. It has its source in the glaciers of Mount Adams and runs partly through the Adams Wilderness region.

White Salmon is a tributary of the Columbia River, emptying into it near the community of Underwood. In 1986, the strip between Gilmer Creek and Buck Creek was designated “Wild and Scenic” and in 2005, the upper stretch near Gifford Pinchot National Forest was designated the same.

The river is stunning and truly beautiful. Its white-tipped waters churned by rapids and fed by numerous springs and glacier melting has made it a favourite destination for white water rafters and kayakers. There are excellent boating opportunities in calmer waters of its lower reaches. The Native Americans, particularly those of the Yakama Nation, have lived off the bounty of the river for centuries.

Yet the reason for the river’s name was lost for 100 years. That was because of the Condit Dam. The 125 foot high dam was completed in 1913 and proved impassable to the salmon and steelhead fish. They were restricted to spawning in only three miles of the river.  The dam also affected the river’s natural cycle as mineral rich sediment was blocked from moving downstream.

Fortunately the dam has outlived its usefulness and in October 2011 was breached. In November 2012, the final concrete section of Condit Dam was removed and the river now runs free. In the short span of a year there is nothing to show that the dam ever existed.

What is even more amazing (and exciting) is that in the same time the salmon have returned and are spawning abundantly.

As a recreation and adventure holiday site, White Salmon River is easily accessible. It is only about 90 minutes from the Portland/Vancouver area. The river has plenty of Class III and IV rapids as it surges through thickly forested gorges.

Now that the dam has gone and the fish are back, you can add fishing to the attraction of the river. As if that were not enough, the White Salmon River area is forested, enjoys great weather and the water itself is clear. So hiking or rafting trips of one or two days is a great way to spend the holiday.

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  1. comment by: Alex on Apr 30 at 06:18

    I had the pleasure of fishing in the White Salmon river earlier this year.

    I expect the river to "flood" with passionate fisherman in the coming years as the spot becomes ever so popular

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