This meandering stretch of river offers a surprising sense of wilderness considering its close proximity to civilization. The sandbar where 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 excitement to what is also a very scenic paddle.
Fitness Level: 1 or easy
Skill Level: 2 (intermediate paddling skills). While there’s no whitewater, there are many sweepers and a few log jams to contend with. In places you need precise maneuvering skills to thread 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 (seven river miles and one lake mile).
Map. See map below for more information. (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 take-out and the lake. A small trail goes 30 to 40 yards down to the lake where you’ll find a rocky but usable take-out beach.
- Take-out Update – September 2020. There has been considerable development along the north side of the lake and reduced public access. On our most recent paddle, we drove North Shore Drive to milepost 3.7 and between house numbers 17499 and 17515 found the old, 200-yard-long dirt road (obscure and overgrown) shown on topographic maps that leads down to the water. There is enough room on the lakeside of the road to safely pullover while you drop off a bike for a bike shuttle. We left our bike (chained to a tree) 100 yards down the dirt road and then walked down to the water so we would recognize where to exit the lake. The parking where we pulled over to do all this is not be a legal place to leave a vehicle if you’re planning a car shuttle.
- MP 10.6: Back on the Lake Wenatchee Highway, turn right onto the White River Road.
- MP 2.5 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 20 or 30 yards upstream and follow a short, steep 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.
- For those interested in a wilderness experience located near civilization, it is possible to camp on along the river. There are a many sand and gravel bars for camping during the first three miles of this trip.
- There are many sunken logs, sweepers, and log jams obstructing this river. The majority are passable with a little maneuvering but any given year there will be several log jams requiring a short portage. There may also be places where the deeper water is blocked and you’ll want to line your boat over a shallow riffle skirting the obstacle.
- Around Mile 5.25 of this trip you’ll pass under the bridge crossed by the Lake Wenatchee Highway. Roughly a half a mile downstream of the bridge the river flows over a weir. Depending on the water level, this weir may or may not be navigable. In higher water, you might be able to shoot the spillover in the center of the river. In low water conditions, you’ll need to exit on river right and portage around the obstacle.
- At the mouth of the river, make a diagonal crossing to the north shore of the lake and follow the shoreline to the take-out.
- A shorter trip option is a bridge-to-bridge paddle requiring 2 to 2.5 hours. Use the same put-in at the Sears Creek Bridge and take-out at the second bridge where the Lake Wenatchee Highway crosses the river.
- The bike ride (or jog) back to the car at the put-in is relatively short (4.5 miles for the longer trip option, 3 miles for the shorter trip).
Recommended Season: mid-July through most of September. With its flat grade, this section of river holds enough water to accommodate canoeists and flatwater kayakers throughout the summer. The authors have paddled this section of river around the first day of autumn (September 22) and while we scraped bottom a few times, it was still a fun paddle and and allowed for some prime salmon viewing. The first few miles of the trip have several places where the river gravels and current are perfect for spawning salmon to build their redds. (A salmon redd is a depression in the gravels of the river bottom created by a female. Each female excavates a few of these depressions and, during the one or two days when she actually spawns, she will deposit a few hundred eggs in each of her redds.)
Hazards and Annoyances. The river is littered with woody debris and log jams. Most of this is easily skirted but some of the fallen trees and log jams require complicated maneuvering or portaging. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether there’s a passage through the woody debris ahead until you’re very close to the hazard. Then you need the paddling skill to quickly maneuver through a slot or to swiftly get ashore for a portage. Also through the month of July until the middle of August, mosquitoes are likely to be an annoyance when you go ashore. We’ve camped on this stretch of river and found the mosquitoes to be terrible at dusk, but not that bothersome in later evening or early morning when the temperatures cooled. Even when the bugs were terrible ashore, they won’t be a problem once you’re out on the water paddling.
River Gauge. White River (near mouth) – Dept of Ecology
Land Designation. The riverbanks are a combination of Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, Fish and Wildlife, Forest Service, and private property.
Fees / Permits. No permits needed.
Trip Reporters. Allison and Andy Dappen, 8/5/06. Updated and fact checked 9/2020.
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.