This meandering stretch of river offers a surprising sense of wilderness considering its close proximity to civilization. The sandbar on which we camped was laced with bear tracks and the land seemed so untouched that it was a shock to catch a rare glimpse of a road or pass under a bridge and be reminded of the nearby human presence. Views from this teal-tinted river vary from gray-walled ridgelines to silver-snagged marshlands thriving with birdlife. The presence of snags and log jams makes the river something of an obstacle course and this adds a little excitement to what is also a very scenic paddle.
Fitness Level: 1 or easy
Skill Level: 2 (advanced beginner to intermediate paddling skills). While there’s no whitewater, there are sweepers and log jams to contend with. In places you need to maneuver well to get through narrow gaps flanked by woody debris. In other places you may need to get over to the bank quickly to portage around logs that are completely blocking the river.
Distance. About 8 river miles (one way).
Map. (Print on 8.5″ x 11″ paper).
- Drive west on Highway 2 from Leavenworth about 14 miles to Cole’s Corner (Milepost 84.7) and turn right (north) onto Highway 207.
- MP 4.4: The road forks–stay left to keep on the Lake Wenatchee Highway which runs along the north side of Lake Wenatchee.
- MP 8.8: There is a Ranger Station on the right. On the left just before the ranger station is a road that heads toward the lake. Turn here, drive 100 yards, turn left onto North Shore Drive, and drive 0.3 miles to a small pullout on the right side of the road. Leave a bike in the woods between this pullout and the lake. A small trail goes 30 to 40 yards down to the lake from here and there is a rocky but usable beach.
- MP 10.6: Back on the Lake Wenatchee Highway, turn right onto the White River Road.
- MP 2.6 of the White River Road: The road to Sears Creek branches off to the left and immediately crosses the White River (locals call this the Sears Creek Bridge). If floating the lower White River, park on the left side of the road in a pullout just upstream of the bridge. Carry boats another 50 yards upstream and follow a little path to the river. Beware of thick mosquitoes in this area–especially around dusk.
- Put in at the access mentioned and follow the river. Allow 4 to 5 hours to reach the take-out area.
- For those interested in a wilderness experience located near civilization, it is possible to camp along the river. There are a fair number of sandy or gravel bars to camp during the first three miles of this trip.
- There are many log jams in the river. The majority are passable with a little maneuvering. In one spot a huge tree has fallen across river and has a root ball on far left side that you can just sneak around. Slightly farther down was one spot where the river was completely blocked. However, an easy 10-yard carry across a little section of gravel makes it simple to pass.
- At the mouth of the river, take a diagonal route over to north shore of the lake and then follow the shore back to the take-out beach.
- A shorter possibility would be to do a bridge-to-bridge float of the river which might take 2 to 2.5 hours. Put in at same place and get out at the bridge where the Lake Wenatchee Highway crosses the river as it heads over to the Little Wenatchee River. We recommend the longer option.
- The bike ride back to the car is relatively short (roughly 4.5 miles). Joggers might want to run the shuttle.
Photo: At the take-out along the banks of Lake Wenatchee
Recommended Season: Summer. Even in August this section of river with its flat grade seems to hold enough water to accommodate canoeists and flatwater kayakers.
Hazards and Annoyances. The river is littered with snags. The majority of the time it is only the occasional branch or log, but a few jams require some more complicated maneuvering to pass and, at one point, fallen trees have entirely blocked the river and it is necessary to drag boat over a gravel bar to get past. Also, bugs are often bad in the summer if you’re on the river banks. We’ve camped on this stretch of river because it is kind of wild and has a remote feel (even though it isn’t remote). We found the mosquitoes to be terrible at dusk but then not a problem later in the evening and the next morning when it was still cool. Even during those hours when the bugs are terrible on shore, they’re not a problem while you’re paddling out on the river.
River Gauge. White River (near mouth) – Dept of Ecology
Land Designation. The riverbanks are a combination of Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, Fish and Wildlife, private properties.
Fees / Permits. No permits needed.
Trip Reporters. Allison and Andy Dappen, 8/5/06
Condition Update. July 26, 2009. Carolyn Griffin Bugert reports, “…canoed the White River from the Sears Bridge down to the bridge on the Little Wenatchee Road. Great conditions. The river was slow moving which gave plenty of time to negotiate around obstacles. The river was totally obstructed in only one place–less than a quarter of a mile up river above the take-out bridge. The river was moving so slowly that it was easy to pull the canoe over the top of the downed logs and continue on. Mosquitoes were fierce at the shoreline (we pretty much launched the canoe at a dead run!). But once you got on the river it was almost bug free. Very pleasant. Very scenic. Very fun.”
Usage Update. September 2009. The White River at the head of Lake Wenatchee is now closed to motorized boats and personal watercraft. Chelan County commissioners just voted to add the river to the list of waters closed to motorized traffic, which also includes the Wenatchee River, Icicle Creek, Lily and Clear lakes, and Beehive Reservoir. Electric trolling motors are still allowed in the river.
Leave It Better Than You Found It. This should be every user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull noxious weeds along your route, disperse old fire rings, throw branches over unwanted spur trails…
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.