Skagit River Introductory Whitewater | Class 2-3

An instructional trip designed to teach safety and fundamentals of whitewater rescue to introductory level rafters, families, and large groups, in North Cascades National Park

Skagit River "Nerd Chart"

Ability Level: Beginner

Trip Cost: $85 per person. $400 per raft group rate. (explanation of rates)

Pack List: (click here)

Difficulty: Class 2-3 (explanation here)

Exertion Level: Somewhat Hard (90%), Very Hard (10%) (explanation here)

Normal Season: June-Mid September

Length of trip: 9 miles

Duration of trip: 2-2.5 hours on the river depending on river flow. 3-4 hours total (includes safety talk and shuttle ride)

Passenger minimum: 8-16 depending on river flow (2 raft minimum)

Minimum age: 5

Minimum weight: 50lbs

Liability Waiver Required prior to trip: yes (online here)

Meeting Location: USFS Marblemount Boat Launch located across the bridge in Marblemount, WA (click here to be directed to the USFS page and map).

For a PDF map with directions click here.

Upper Skagit River Rafting Trip Details

This is an instructional trip designed to introduce our clientele to whitewater and educate the general public on contemporary use of equipment on whitewater rivers. A great early season run when other rivers are dangerously high, the Skagit River rafting experience is also a beautiful and exciting trip for families in late summer and early fall when temperatures are up and sunny skies return to the North Cascades.

On the Upper Skagit, the wonder of nature and a wild river are literally at the fingertips of our guests. This river is extraordinarily special, with a rich archaeological and historical past that gives it a near mystical feeling; the area was once home to the first human residents of the corridor, the Upper Skagit Tribe. 

People new to whitewater will be given instruction on safety, prevention, and rescue procedures, followed by a nice 9 mile trip through one of North America’s most gorgeous rivers. The Skagit is a mild river in comparison, but it's also very powerful; it's a great way to introduce someone to the sport, or to get started for the summer with some great whitewater that can be enjoyed by the entire family. If you or someone you love wants to get into rafting, this is the place to start and we are the company to take you.

The Upper Skagit River rafting experience is a great introductory whitewater trip. Suitable for families and children at most flows, it's truly a mix between great natural scenery and whitewater. We have designed this trip as an instructional introduction, so the emphasis here is on teaching and learning rather than adrenaline filled whitewater; if you have never been in a whitewater situation, it makes sense to take this trip first. This trip is considerably tamer than our power packed Sauk River Whitewater trip, but does have a section of nice rapids with big, fun waves. We encourage anyone who wants to get an introduction to whitewater or learn more about the sport in a safe manner to explore the Upper Skagit River; there truly isn't a better introductory whitewater trip out there in Washington. 

When running the Upper Skagit River rafting trip, we should take a moment to reflect on the rich history of the area. Both Native Americans and European Settlers have had their difficulties with the surrounding North Cascades Mountains. The Upper Skagit exemplifies a pristine mountain river, with its clear and iridescent green water fresh off of the glaciers of southern British Columbia. The trees remain green well into the fall, their overhanging limbs draped so heavily with lichen that we can almost touch it as we float by. The Skagit doesn't frighten the adrenaline junkie, but who cares? This is a white water rafting trip in Seattle beginner adventures can enjoy.

Please click HERE to be directed to American Whitewater's page on the Upper Skagit River for more information on this particular section of river.

The trip meets at the Marblemount Boat Launch, just outside of Marblemount, Washington, by traveling East on Highway 20 until you reach the town of Marblemount, then taking the bridge across the Skagit River as the road curves to the left (if you go East of Marblemount you've gone too far!). Our crew prepares you at the Marblemoun Boat Launch, where temporary restrooms are available. From here we transport our guests up Highway 20 to Goodell Creek, which is located about 14 miles upriver from Marblemount. At Goodell Creek we will drop our rafts and begin our safety talk (once everyone is comfortable in their equipment). 

Our Skagit River safety talk is just as involved and detailed as any of our other whitewater trips, and it's vital that new whitewater river runners listen in and ask any questions about how to deal with possible rescue scenarios while on the river. Your lead guides will go through safety precautions, as well as whitewater swimming, throw bag rescue, high siding, and flipping. All of these drills will take place at Goodell prior to departure. 

Once everyone is ready to go, with a paddle in hand, we get ourselves nestled into the rafts. A great trip for families, the Skagit River usually runs deep enough that we can take our larger boats, so even larger groups of 6 or 8 can fit into one raft. When we are all set to go we start out with our first class 2 rapid, called Goodell Creek, just like the boat launch. From here we wind around for several miles, hitting the occasional wave, and playing games like the "paddle joust" as well as get a chance to talk about native plants, wildlife, geology, and anthropology. This is a trip that has just enough of everything. 

As we meander downriver we are always within a mile from highway 20, but it never seems to bother us, and we are likely to never hear it. All we see are the trees and the beautifully clear water as we float on down towards the highlight of the trip, the class 3 Shovelspur rapids, also known as the S-Bends. This section of river drops significantly, with a high amount of gradient for approximately 1/2 mile. There are 4 distinct sections of whitewater here, with the first two being the most intense. These rapids are constriction rapids with deep water and big pools at the end, the perfect rescue situation for someone newer to whitewater. While still dangerous, these rapids give most new whitewater enthusiasts just enough, without taking them completely out of their comfort zone. Perhaps that's why so many families choose to take their children on this trip. We invite all children over 50 pounds, who are comfortable swimming in whitewater, to join us on this trip. 

After the S-Bends the river slows down and we are left to tell stories of the whitewater runs through the biggest rapids of the day. Even though we've only been together for a few hours, this trip has a way of making a meaningful impact on the group in the raft. After the rapids are over, many people decide to go for a swim and bob alongside the raft for a while as the rafts float through the deep river corridor, surrounded by the majestic peaks of the North Cascades. 

The trip ends at Copper Creek, which makes the total length of the trip just about 9 miles. Here at Copper Creek is a restroom facility, and here your guides will shuttle you 5 miles back to your cars, which await you back at Marblemount. From here you have some local lunch or dinner options at local cafes, as well as several local hikes. Some people like to take a trip into the Cascade River drainage, where astounding views of the North Cascades can be found, and large peaks such as El Dorado and Triad Peak lurk around the tops of the Cascade River corridor. This trip is the perfect stress free getaway, and is our recommended trip for those who are timid, or have less experience with whitewater rafting. You will not be disappointed, and besides, it's always better safe than sorry when it comes to whitewater rafting, and after this run, you can always come with us on a more challenging river later on in the summer. 

Classification and Risk Analysis of the Skagit River


  • Safety Protocol (in process of renewal)

  • Number of significant rapids (class 3 or higher) at normal flows: 3

  • Generalized classification of river by American Whitewater: Class 2-3

  • Highest possible classification: Class 3

  • Lowest possible classification: Class 2

  • Number of recorded commercial fatalities: 0

  • Number of recorded private boater fatalities: 0

  • Estimated number of boaters (user days) per year: 6000

  • Most significant rapid: S-Bends (Class 3)

  • Major risks to human safety according to our in house analysis: 1. hypothermia 2. Flush Drowning


If you would like to read more about hypothermia risk and cold water immersion please click here.

If you would like to read a short breakdown on whitewater risks please click here.


Trip Cost: $85 (Why does the trip cost this amount?)

Length of Trip: 9 miles

Season: April-October with great opportunities in May (early season) and August-September when other rivers are too high or low.

Runnable River Level: All levels. Rapids become more difficult and dangerous as river levels increase. 

River Gauge Used: USGS Skagit River at Nehalem (click here to be directed to hydrograph).

Meeting Location: USFS Marblemount Boat Launch located across the bridge in Marblemount, WA (click here to be directed to the USFS page and map).

Type of Rafts Used: Self Bailing Whitewater Rafts 13' to 15' in length

Maximum Number of Guests per Trip: 28

Maximum Number of Guests per Raft: 12

Minimum Age: 5 (all minors must be accompanied by parent or guardian, and all minors must be announced at time of booking).

Minimum Weight: 50lbs. (anyone under 90lbs. requires a specific life jacket so all people under 90lbs. must be announced at the time of booking or at least 3 days prior to trip departure).

River Classification: Class 2-3 (please click here to be directed to AW)

Safety Protocol: Whitewater safety protocol including safety kayakers if necessary (usually in high water or on smaller trips), trip leaders with advanced medical training on staff. Two craft minimum for each trip required by law. Swiftwater rescue kits, medical trauma kits, emergency communication device. 

Paddles/Helmets Required: yes/sometimes

Wetsuits Required: Yes, when water is under 50 degrees. Wetsuits are optional in the late summer after water temperatures warm up.

Type of Life Jacket Required: Type 5 (guests cannot bring their own PFD's)

Liability Waiver Required: yes (online here)

Duration on the River: 2-2.5 hours

Duration of Complete Trip: 3.5-4 hours (depends on river flow and rescue situations)

Food/Beverage Served: no

What Triad River Tours Provides: Qualified expert whitewater certified guides, top quality rafts, type 5 coast guard approved life jacket, wetsuits available for rent, hypothermia gear, safety equipment, medical supplies.

What you may want to bring: Quality footwear (old tennis shoes are great, or if you prefer you can wear sandals, booties, or flip flops), warm wool socks, capilene or other base layer for warmth, a snack or lunch, camera, water bottle that can be attached to the raft (we do not allow loose plastic on the river due to litter issues).

Special Note: Washington State does not have a government operated guides and outfitters licensing board. Whitewater Classification is subjective and often times misleading. If you do not fully understand the classification for yourself, it is best not left up to chance. What is often referred to as "Class 5" whitewater is considered class 3 or 4 by other, often more experienced boaters who have a larger and more apt perspective on the matter. For a closer study of river difficulty and risk, please visit our safety informative page, and read this article (click here for article).

Things to do near the Skagit

 Tumbling in swift curves straight from the heart of North Cascades National Park, the Skagit River is surrounded by some truly beautiful wilderness. With trails for all ability levels looping around glaciated peaks and campgrounds nestled beneath the rising ramparts of the North Cascades, this area is a great place to explore for a day or a weekend.

Hiking & Trail Riding

              In the Newhalem area, easy jaunts through the moss-hung valley forest bring you to views of the icy North Cascades, including the dramatic wall of the Picket Range. From the North Cascades Visitor Center you can take the 1.8 River Loop trail along the bank of the Skagit to mountain views; branching off from this trail is the Trail of the Cedars, a short offshoot into old-growth forest. If you fell in love with the sound of roaring water on your river rafting trip, try Ladder Falls, accessible from a short trail behind the Gorge powerhouse. For those more interested in an all-day, elevation-heavy adventure there’s Sourdough Mountain Lookout, where beat poet Gary Snyder wrote one of his books and glaciers flash in the summer sun to every side. With almost 5000 feet of elevation gain in 5.2 miles and a round-trip distance of over 10 miles, this trail is strenuous but rewarding, with some of the most breathtaking views this area of the Cascades has to offer and a historic fire lookout still standing at the summit. The trailhead for Sourdough Mountain is accessed from the town of Diablo, just east of Newhalem on highway 20.

Camping and Accommodations

              If you want to take a few days to explore after your river rafting trip, the Skagit River area offers an array of reservation and first-come, first-serve campgrounds. 13 miles east of Marblemount is Goodell Creek Campground, sprawled in old-growth forests along the banks of the Skagit. This campground doesn’t take reservations, but does have toilets and drinking water. Just west of Newhalem is the Newhalem Creek Campground, which has easy access to hiking trails and the North Cascades Visitor Center. This campground does take reservations and has water, a dump station, and flush toilets. It can also accommodate large RVs. If you’re looking for a more primitive camping experience, the six first-come, first-serve sites of Gorge Lake Campground offer great views and toilets but no drinking water. If primitive isn’t your style, the Buffalo Run Inn in Marblemount offers hotel rooms, free wifi and a restaurant.


              Marblemount is the best place in the area to grab a bite to eat. Our guides love the small, locally owned fare at the Marblemount Diner. If you’re looking for some quick food and a caffeine fix, try the Mondo Restaurant. For a unique menu that includes, bison, elk and seafood the Buffalo Run Restaurant can’t be beat. If all you need is some sugar on your way home the Cascadian Home Farm, located a few miles outside Rockport, has great ice cream and milkshakes.

For more information:

Washington Trails Association

Pre-Trip Safety Video