Chetco River in Oregon
This is one of my favorite runs in the western US. Because of the requirement to carry boats and camping equipment a long distance to the river, it is not everyone's cup of tea. But once you reach the river, the clear green water is amazing, and you encounter challenging rapids from beginning to end, with only a short break near Tolman Ranch. Brian Vogt sums it up well: “Deep and pristine wilderness, gorgeous green water, and high quality whitewater combine to make this trip a classic.” Jason Shappart estimates about 150 class III-IV rapids, with a quarter of them being class IV.
In previous years boaters reached the Chetco from a river crossing near the Illinois river put-in, but the trail following old mining roads has been lost underneath blow-downs following the 2002 Biscuit fire. In 2011 the Siskyou Mountain Club cleared another trail following old roads, and this is currently the most viable route to the river. It is a tough hike with gear! The trail starts at a top-of-ridge trailhead around 4200' elevation, ascends to about 4800' elevation, and descends almost 3400' to put-in. Total trail distance is about 9 miles, but the distance seems longer because the last 2 miles drop steeply over 2000' to the Carter Creek confluence.
In 2011 Zach Collier posted this blog and published a Chetco article in the American Whitewater Journal. Probably fewer than a dozen people had previously boated the upper Chetco. In 2012 Brian Vogt posted a trip report on Jason Rackley's Oregon kayaking website, the [upper] Chetco River. Jason Shappart also wrote a how-to guide and trail report, published on paper and also here online. In 2013, Northwest Rafting was issued a permit to run the upper Chetco, and you can read about their trips here!
To reach take-out, drive to Brookings Oregon. Just north of the highway 101 bridge across the Chetco river, turn upriver (east) and follow signs towards Alfred Loeb state park. Past the park, cross the river on another bridge to the south bank. Continue upstream past campgrounds and cross the south fork Chetco, after which the road turns sharp left. Proceed uphill away from the river to the next bridge crossing. Although you cannot see it from above, this is the steel frame bridge. It is 20.1 miles and about 50 minutes from Brookings to the steel bridge.
To reach the trailhead to put-in, return to Brookings. Drive south 15 miles on highway 101 to North Bank Road, a shortcut to highway 199, and turn left. After 6.7 miles, turn left onto highway 199 north. Follow highway 199 upriver over the pass and thru the tunnel into Oregon. About 2.7 miles north of Kerby (3.7 miles south of Selma) turn west onto Eight Dollar Mountain Road. After 2.8 miles, bear left and cross a green bridge over the Illinois river. In another .2 mile the road changes to dirt, USFS road 4201. Ascend, steeply at times, another 12 miles to Babyfoot Lake trailhead, where you find a vault toilet and many flat spots for camping. It is 15.3 miles and about 40 minutes from highway 199 to the trailhead.
To reach put-in from the trailhead: near the parking area, take the trail on the right (west) side of Hungry Hill and follow the countour line. After a quarter mile, you reach a trail junction. Go left (west) uphill towards Babyfoot Lake rim. The right (northwest) trail leads to Babyfoot Lake and is an alternate route, longer but less steep. After climbing steeply to the rim, the trail stays fairly level until it descends to an old road, meeting the alternate route around mile 1.4. The trail soon enters Siskyou wilderness area and follows this old road almost all the way to Bailey Cabin. When it reaches the edge of a hill, the old road switchbacks sharp left. At 3.2 miles, in a non-burned forested area, the road switchbacks right at a junction with the trail to Canyon Peak. The old road is heavily infested with manzanita for another mile at least. In an open area above an old mine, take the road fork leading uphill. Follow this to the top of a ridge, then go gently downhill along the ridge. Near the low point of the ridge, at around 6.5 miles, a side trail leads to Bailey Cabin site, where you find year-round water. The trail continues uphill to the shoulder of Bailey Mountain, at 7 miles, then descends continuously to the river, reached after 9.1 miles. The bench above the river has many flat spots for camping. Carry your boats down a steep trail to put-in at the mouth of Carter Creek.
To arrange packers, you could try contacting Mike Pierce, 4807 Granite Hill Road, Grants Pass OR 97526. Mike is one of the few people who have boated the upper Chetco.
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Map of Rivers