Paddling the free-flowing White Salmon River

Blog post by Brett VandenHeuvel, Riverkeeper's Executive Director—

Kayakers passing through former Condit Dam site on the White Salmon River

We paddled between the high bedrock walls where the Condit Dam used to stand, yelled out a big cheer, eddied out on a gravel bar, and someone passed around a bottle of champagne. The dam is gone. The White Salmon runs free!

This was a thrilling moment for me and the two dozen people that ran the White Salmon soon after it opened on a cold November day. PacifiCorps blew a hole in the dam in October 2011, but just finished removing the dam itself and opened up public access this month.


When I say the dam is gone, I mean gone. Unless you look very closely, you don’t see any traces of it. PacifiCorps did a great job removing the dam. They should try it more often. In a few years, people will paddle through those bedrock walls without knowing where the dam sat. The river will redistribute sediment, plants will grow, and generation after generation of salmon will return. That’s the way it should be.

Long time coming

Splashing through the former Condit Dam site

The freeing of the White Salmon River did not come easy. For over 30 years, local citizens and Friends of the White Salmon River have pushed for a free-flowing river. There were public hearings, rallies, and songs to make the argument that Condit Dam should be removed. Other groups - American Rivers, American Whitewater, Friends of the Columbia Gorge - joined the fight along the way. Columbia Riverkeeper (then Columbia River United) and allies signed a settlement agreement in 1999 that required PacifiCorps to remove the dam. After additional delays not worth spilling ink over, PacifiCorps blasted the Condit Dam on October 25, 2011 and the river immediately started coughing our 100 years of sediment. Watch the dam explosion video

See for yourself

The Narrows on the lower White Salmon River

On our trip down the White Salmon, Felt Soul Media filmmakers shot the scene of our rafts and kayaks paddling through the dam site. This exciting moment will be featured in Patagonia’s new film DamNation. Check out the trailer.

Thanks to Wet Planet Whitewater for organizing this historic paddle. Tom O’Keefe from American Whitewater wrote a piece on this trip, and describes this section if you want to try it yourself (“paddlers running this section of river should be solid class IV boaters comfortable running unfamiliar sections of river”).