Nearly all of my rafting experience is on the rivers in Colorado and Southern Utah so you can imagine my excitement when I moved to the PNW and found out that rafting the Wenatchee River was not only possible but could actually be a great run!
Rafting the Wenatchee river, however, is a fairly new idea. The calm water of the Icicle and Upper Wenatchee rivers are fun to play around in but more conducive to a picnic than river-running.
Is The Wenatchee A Serious River For River Rafting?
When most of my friends in Utah heard that I was going to be doing some river rafting in Washington they responded, “Well…at least the scenery will be nice.”
They’re not wrong. The scenery on the Wenatchee River changes from one gorgeous landscape to another, making it one of the best ways to truly experience the natural beauty of North Central Washington.
However, they were also missing the boat by discounting some of the waterways in the PNW.
River rafting in Washington State is in full swing during the spring and summer months, with the fastest and highest water earlier in the season. Many rafting companies offer a diverse menu of trips that are designed to match the various skill levels and physical capabilities of the participants. There is everything from family floats down calm Class 1 or Class 2 rivers to whitewater Class 3 and 4, and even some Class 5 rivers where white-knuckle rapids are suitable only for the most adventurous.
The Wenatchee River is a Class 3 with segments that can reach Class 4 in the early season. By mid-July, the rapids are less intense and rate between a Class 2 and Class 2-plus.
This makes it a perfect river for family adventure trips. It’s a popular all-ages kind of river because it offers the thrill rides most moderate adventure-seekers like, but also includes parts of the river that are ideal for calmer floats favored by families with young children.
If you are considering rafting on the Wenatchee then let me tell you the secret to having an amazing experience: find a great guide.
There are dozens that make trips on the river and the outfit that you choose will make or break your experience.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how great the water was, how good the food tasted, or how many deer you saw. If you’re guide sucks, you’ll have a poor experience.
So how do you choose? Well, I’ll give you my recommendation as to who you should book with, provided you can get a spot before they fill up!
Best Wenatchee River Outfitter – Osprey Rafting
By now, everyone knows that the Wenatchee River is one of the worst-kept secrets in the state.
However, back in 1977, Gary Planagan was aware of the river when he moved his family from Idaho to Leavenworth.
He was already an avid outdoorsman who found the activities in the area irresistible but there was something particularly interesting about the Wenatchee.
It wasn’t long before he started up Osprey Rafting which grew from a weekend-only venture to a full-time business that was taking thousands of people on trips every year.
Planagan’s family has been a huge part of the company’s success and two of his sons, for example, have spent more than a decade as guides.
However, if you ask Planagan what the best part of the whole thing has been he would probably tell you it’s all about the friends he has made along the way.
“It’s a shared experience and it doesn’t matter how much money you make, who you are or where you come from.“
Well, lucky for me because I’m about as poor as someone could possibly be and still afford to get on the river!
These days, Osprey Rafting are no longer a tiny operation but, instead, a professional rafting team that offers a full gamut of river-related experiences.
Among the trips offered by Osprey Rafting are:
The Main Event
Osprey Rafting’s keystone trip is a 4.5 hour tip that runs the 15 miles of river from Leavenworth to Cashmere. You’ll enjoy rapids such as Rock & Roll, Drunkard’s Drop, and Snowblind, broken up by stretchs of clamer water.
The trip ends at Huck’s Landing with a beach, recreation area, and some excellent bbq. If you’re doing a Saturday trip you might even be treated to live music.
If you’re running later in the year (meaning after mid-July) the water will slow a good deal and you’ll be able to switch to a kayak during the trip if you prefer.
High Adventure Happy Hour
This evening trip really is only an hour long and takes place at 5:00, as is traditional for happy hour.
Those who choose this option will get to run the Wenatchee’s Class 3 and Class 4 rapids (Triple Shot, Tenley Falls, and the Bull Ride) not once, but twice. It’s only an hour-long run so they’re kind enough to tow you up and let you go at it again.
Alternatively, you can run the longest continuous Class 3 rapid on the Wenatchee River, the infamous Boulder Bend. Price.
Wenatchee River Family Float
This trip is exactly what is sounds like: a fun float trip aimed at families that is safe for both your kids and your parents.
You’ll meet at Huck’s Landing and take a scenic (and mostly serene) float down the east end of the Wenatchee river before joining the Columbia River.
The whole experience (bbq included) typically takes between 2 and 3 hours.
Children as young as 3 and as old as 300 are welcome on this trip so invite the whole famn damily!
If you’re in the mood for a calm float on a tube of your own, that is an option too at Osprey.
They’ve set up a shuttle service that will take you (and your rented tube) to Icicle Bridge in Leavenworth where you’ll get a short safety talk and then get shoved out into the river.
You have no time limit to get back (as long as it’s before they close) but most people take about an hour. You’ll be picked up at Blackbird Island after which you’ll be shuttled back to where your car is parked (or back up the river if you want to go again).
Paddleboard Rentals and Instruction
If you fancy the opporunity to see more wildlife (and maybe work on your tan) then you can rent a paddleboard from Osprey as well.
The paddleboarding is in the Horan Natural Area near the meeting point of the Columbia and Wenatchee Rivers. Here, Osprey runs a small rental shop that offers inflatable kayaks, river rafts, paddleboards, and all the other gear you might need to get out of the water. Sunscreen not included.
If you want a narrator, guided paddleboard trips through the Estuary are also available.
What To Expect On A Wenatchee Rafting Trip
When it comes to outdoor activities, being prepared is half the battle. So whether you plan on rafting, kayaking, or simply float-tubing the Wenatchee river here are a few things to be aware of and keep in mind.
The wildlife is one of the main reasons to raft the Wenatchee.
What you see will obviously depend on the day, the seasons, and how loud your group is but many people see beavers, river otters, birds, deer, elk, and more. Not to mention the occasional cow.
Osprey nests are also plentiful along the route and, if your guide is knowledgeable, he or she should be able to show you a couple of points along the river where you can see them.
Beautiful scenery is a given in the PNW but the area around Leavenworth is particularly breathtaking.
The apline-esque crags and pines are somehow even more beautiful when you’re able to soak them in after shooting out of the other side of Boulder Bend.
As you would expect from a river fed by mountain runoff, the Wenatchee can be bone-chillingly cold, especially when running high in the early season.
Any reputable outfitter will provide you with all the gear and safety equipment you need to have fun on your trip.
If you are planning to run the river by yourself, you better be prepared and dip your toe in the water before heading out!
On the other hand, if you are paying for a trip and your guide is wearing a wet or dry suit you should be asking where yours is and how to get it on.
You won’t be alone.
Many people see the dramatic scenery and hope to find some solitude on the river. Don’t count on it. In the early season, you’ll be sharing the river with adrenaline junkies and later, when it warms up, you’ll find families and couples all over the water.
Just expect to have people around and you’ll be pleasantly surprised if they’re few and far between. Maybe you’ll get lucky and it’ll rain?
All in all, rafting the Wenatchee is a great experience that I would recommend for both thrill-seekers and families.
My biggest problem is that the trips are so short. There are no week-long trips here. Even on the longest continuous runs, you’ll be back to your car before you know it.
But that just leaves you time for another run. Stay safe out there!