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Packrafting the Imnaha River: A one-night trip in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains.


Why Imnaha?: The Wild and Scenic Imnaha River is a remote tributary of the Snake River, flowing through stunning high desert scenery in Northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. The lower Imnaha section is a fun intermediate stretch of whitewater with a riverside trail that makes for a great day-trip or a one-night outing.

The last of the Imnaha as it joins the Snake River. There is excellent camping at the confluence just downstream.

Why Packraft?: The Imnaha is only a 4.5 mile section with a convenient riverside trail, so packrafts make sense for a logistically simple paddle out, hike back trip. The best option for raft and kayaks is Heller Bar takeout 23 miles downstream of the Imnaha's confluence with the Snake. While a great trip, that option entails having multiple vehicles and driving a 3.5 hour shuttle (one-way).


Returning to the put-in via the excellent riverside trail.

Difficulty and Water Levels: Depending on the flow, this river could vary dramatically in character. We paddled it in mid-April with a flow of 950 cfs and found it to be mostly class III rapids punctuated with a few bigger rapids that would likely be considered class IV. This felt like a nice medium level with plenty of water and moving recovery pools between most of the drops. As flows increase, this run would be solidly class IV. Apparently, this trip is still enjoyable down to 450 cfs where it is pool drop in character with more bolder dodging and very few hydraulics of note (likely a great trip for less experienced packrafters with good guidance).

The character of the Imnaha at moderate flows of 950 cfs.

Logistics: From the town of Imnaha, follow Lower Imnaha Road north (in the same direction the river flows) to Cow Creek Trailhead. While you could consider putting it at any point, much of this land is private ranch land so do some research before pioneering an alternative. The road is mostly gravel, and while appropriate for 2WD vehicles in dry conditions, expect the 20-mile drive to take at least an hour. At the trailhead there are primitive camp spots on both sides of the bridge and a pit toilet on the east side.


Looking downsteam shortly after the first whitewater of the trip. The trail is visible on river left.

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