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  Washington Kayak Club
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It's Always Sunny on the Cispus

Published on 2/22/2016

Written by: Michael Deckert

Cispus Fun

The lower Cispus River is a beautiful class II-III whitewater run passing through old growth forests and open vistas.  Spirited and playful, the river keeps accomplished kayakers happy and entertained with numerous play spots.  The river also provides a safe challenge to beginning boaters.  It provides excellent teaching and training opportunities for the youngest generation to get their first taste of whitewater.  In the past rafters gathered to run the river, and renew old friendships.  Music from guitars, fiddles, and banjos rang out late into the evening.


Joyce and crew


The put-in at about river mile nine, the “Twin Cedars” is framed by luxurious forest.  Passing huge moss draped trees, the river provided adventure and wildlife observing opportunities.  Great blue herons ghosting through a heavy snowfall, kingfishers, eagles, ouzels, harlequin ducks, elk, deer and even rare bobcat sightings have provided immeasurable joy to those lucky enough to be paddling the river.

cispus beauty

The take-out at the confluence of the Cispus and Cowlitz Rivers was unparalleled in evoking magical feelings. Meeting in a head on clash, the deep-green, clear waters of the Cispus drove hard into the muddy waters of the Cowlitz.  The interface swirled in a kaleidoscope of mixing colors within unpredictable eddy currents and whirlpools.


As the merged rivers rebounded at a ninety-degree angle, they charged off into an artist’s palate of variegated greens, grays, browns, and yellows lining the canyon below.   The deep and vibrant colors added vibrancy as the clouds hanging in the mountains deepened the feelings of mystery.


Around the corner, the river raced on through Cowlitz Falls.  Cowlitz Falls provided an opportunity for a “big-water” feel that was unique in western Washington.


Throughout the river, a wide variety of play spots allow paddlers of any level to improve their skills.  Fast glassy waves entrance long boaters, short boats find places to throw ends with endless spins, and squirt boaters spiral down in mystery moves along the deep-green eddy lines.


Recently, I’ve paddled it at flows above 5000cfs and found surfing paradise (while remaining very friendly, it’s no longer a beginner’s run at that level).

Cispus Surf


The Cispus River brings joy to anyone lucky enough to paddle it.


The Problem..


Lewis County Public Utility District (LCPUD) destroyed the big-water run through Cowlitz Falls, inundated the most beautiful confluence in the state, and flooded the lower mile and a half of the Cispus River.  In exchange for destroying these recreation resources with their dam and reservoir, LCPUD was required to provide a take-out facility at the head of the Cispus Arm of the reservoir.


Despite LCPUD being required to provide access, you generally can’t get there.  You can’t get there because LCPUD failed to provide access to a public road.


The only road (the 300 road) to the take-out belongs to private companies (currently Port Blakely) who often close the road about four and half miles above the take-out.  If the 300 road gate is open, a second gate about ¼ mile up the hill from the take-out prevents you from driving there.  Kayakers have made the hike up the hill, but the hike precludes rafters from using the take-out. I’ve met one rafter who hiked his raft and gear out and his comment was “never again.”


Music used to ring out from boaters gathered around the Cispus.  Currently a dark silence is falling as a generation of boaters endured a twenty-year struggle to use the river.


What you can do..


Currently, LCPUD offers three days a year to the kayak and rafting clubs where LCPUD will open the gates so you can drive down to the take-out.


  • Support this access by leading and participating on Cispus trips if and when the 300 road is open.  The river is a great beginners run at lower flows, introduce the next generation to the Cispus River.  There are lots of play spots for those with more skills.
  • Mostly, paddle and enjoy this wonderful resource.  Don’t let LCPUD’s failure to provide access diminish this outstanding recreational resource.
  • Contact Michael Deckert for more information and coordinating a trip on the Cispus:

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