The Wenatchee River is like a party at a theme park. In the town of Peshastin (between Leavenworth and Wenatchee), with the big waves begin tossing you around, the Central Washington dry heat sizzles the cold water on your skin, and the festive atmosphere whips up camaraderie among complete opposites. Class 3 and borderline Class 4 waves and holes are distributed perfectly along the ride: Satan's Eyeball embedded in Rock and Roll, the kayak playground at Rodeo Hole, Drunkard's Drop, a gigantic wall of water where you will be photographed at your most disorganized moment (Northwest Outdoor Pursuits has an office in Cashmere where you can buy the photos), and the big hydraulics of Snowblind, Grannies Rapid and Suffocator, all with background of sandstone and rolling hills.
The Methow River
The beauty and quiet of the Methow River valley, between McFarland Creek and the river's confluence with the Columbia, has a disarming old-Western flavor and a Class 2 to 3 bouncy consistency. But it's a river of transition, both in whitewater intensity and environment. Forested foothills and mountain peaks beget desert, and the river turns ever wilder to set up the roiling chaos of Black Canyon. The last 30 minutes on the river wakes you up, with powerful waves and pounding holes, one of which is horrendous enough to have earned an expletive for a name.
Rolling Thunder, Hurricane Rapids, Cinder Block Drop, Jolly Green Giant and Just Another Roadside Attraction keep you honest throughout the float. The Methow enters the Columbia River, about 55 miles northeast of the city of Wenatchee, upriver from the town of Pateros.
The frenetic Tieton River has to be a quick study because this bouncy little glorified rill will punish those not paying attention. Lying 40 miles west of the city of Yakima along Highway 12, the Tieton grows in September with the annual water release at Rimrock Dam and becomes the only whitewater game in town for late summer. You can cap your season with the 13 miles of this Class 3 roller coaster. The Tieton is the warmest (the water sits in Rimrock Lake all summer), fastest and steepest river in the state, dropping more than 50 feet per mile. The course through such rapids as High Noon, Wild Rose and Waffle Wall passes under gorgeous basalt cliffs and formations. Camping is great and plentiful near the Tieton.
Starting beneath the stark mountain grandeur of Index Village, the Skykomish doles out immediate and constant thrills. Fast water, and big drops and holes lead up to the most fabled section of any Washington river--the highly technical slalom through Boulder Drop, which is the only recognized Class 5 rapid (4 in lower water) routinely run in the state. The 6- to 10-mile float cowers under the massive rock walls of Mounts Index and Persis, bloating as streams and creeks invade from both sides of the river. This river should only be attempted by experienced rafters, helmets should be worn and a guided first trip is highly advised. Most guides have age minimums of 16 or 18 on the Skykomish.
The Green River
The Green River Gorge is wilderness where you'd least expect it. Surrounded by a full-blown population explosion, this segment of the dam-controlled lower Green River, east of the city of Tacoma, is only accessible at its termini. The persistent pool-and-drop excitement and the gorgeous, mossy depth of this steep-walled 14-mile canyon extricates all thought of civilization. Water-level changes at the evident whim of the Howard Hansen dam employees.
The upper Skagit River, 75 miles northeast of the city of Everett is a busy little float on the wet (west) side of the Cascades and is perfect for first-timers. The drive alone is a big payoff, and the river commonly runs past deer, otters and eagles to complement the rugged mountain views. The float is nontechnical and short, usually less than 2 hours, and a road trip deeper into North Cascades National Park is almost mandatory while you're there.
The world still has not found the glacial-green, relentless rock-soup of the Sauk River, near the town of Darrington. Technical and fast, fed by the creeks and streams of the Glacier Peak Wilderness, the Sauk never quits putting Class 3's and 4's in front of you, with some special problems like Alligator Drop, Jaws and Popeye. If you have a second to look up, the mountain and glacier views are among the best in the state.