Rafting the White Salmon River

Rafting the White Salmon River A 45-mile long force of nature

White Salmon, Washington


Few adventures can top the intoxicating thrill of navigating an inflatable raft or kayak down an icy cold glacial river thrusting itself from the flanks of a 12,000-foot volcano.

Originating from the snowy, western slopes of Mount Adams the White Salmon River is a 45-mile long force of nature churning its way to the Columbia River. Coursing through what was once an ancient lava tube the White Salmon River is enveloped by cedar, pine, ferns, alder and oaks along with numerous springs bursting from the steep rock walls.

Our weeklong stay at the iconic Skamania Lodge on the Columbia River Gorge put us a short 30-minute drive to Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys, widely considered to be the premier outfitter in the region for thrilling adventures on the White Salmon River. Not only is Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys the go to river rafting outfitter but they also have the distinction of being the longest running enterprise, going back three generations.

Zoller’s has several different day trips available including the Upper Gorge, Middle Gorge, and Lower Gorge. There is also a trip that combines the Middle and Lower Gorges which was the excursion that we signed up for. Trips vary in length, time on the water and are tailored for a wide range of skill levels.

Arriving in late morning we were greeted by Zoller’s incredibly friendly staff…from the folks checking us in (with complimentary chocolate chip cookies!) to the various river guides sizing up who would ride in which rafts. The guide for our adventure was none other that Zack Zoller…3rd. generation of this pioneering whitewater family.

Rafting the White Salmon River
PGE l Captain Zack Zoller and his crew
With everyone checked in and the pre-trip briefing completed we signed the necessary waivers and headed out to the sheds to suit up. Being that the water is a chilly year-round 43 degrees we were (thankfully!) offered a wetsuit, booties, spray jacket and of course, a life vest and helmet. As we descended the steep, zig-zag staircase to the put-in the river came into view and we quickly realized that we were in for an afternoon of pure fun.
Zollers heading to the rafts
PGE l Heading to the rafts

Once on the river, we immediately began to experience the exhilaration that is unique to whitewater river rafting. Calm water was quickly interrupted by stretches of Class lll and IV rapids as Zack skillfully guided the raft while calling out various commands. We spun around…reversed course…bounced off rocks and boulders…and in the blink-of-an-eye we were heading backwards to the whoops and hollers of our fellow rafters.

Rafting the White Salmon River
PGE l Things are getting interesting!
And so it went for 3+ hours until Zach pulled over to a quiet spot to inform us that the grand finale to our lazy little river cruise was the legendary Husum Falls, a Class V, 15 foot drop that could produce any number of interesting consequences, not the least of which would be getting pitched from, or pinned under the raft resulting in potentially uncomfortable contact with this mother nature induced blender.
Zollers final approach to the big drop Husum falls
PGE l The calm before Husum Falls

Suitably informed of the adrenaline fueled parting shot that awaited us we were given a last minute opportunity to “portage” (read: leave the raft and hike a short trail to rejoin Zack so as to avoid the five second heart-pounding 15 foot drop). Having come this far we choose to stay with the raft to experience what a near vertical drop with untold volumes of water consuming us would feel like.

Zollers time to focus
PGE l Going...
Zollers in the thick of it
PGE l Going...
Zollers going going gone
PGE l Gone!

Once we emerged intact from the torrent of water and with our hearts beating wildly it was easy to understand the lure, and addiction, that whitewater rafting holds for millions of enthusiast around the world. Needless to say, we too were hooked.

With the big drop behind us we encountered several smaller drops before pulling the raft up the take-out ramp, loading into the van and laughing like school kids the entire way back to Zoller’s Lodge.

Zollers load em up
PGE l Loading up the rafts
What an afternoon! What an adventure!