Wenatchee River draws rafters, young and oldEverybody knows the Wenatchee River is one of the most popular rafting rivers in the state, so that all figured into Gary Planagan’s plans when he moved his family from Idaho to Leavenworth back in 1977. An avid outdoorsman, Gary found the river rafting, skiing and other recreational activities in North Central Washingon irresistible.
At first it was regular family excursions on the calmer Icicle and Upper Wenatchee rivers and Gary had no trouble finding a lot of fun, creative ways to enjoy the river with close friends. Picnics somehow took on an added dimension when they were on the river.
“I took all my neighbors out,” Planagan remembers, “and I never had a complaint.” In fact, the most frequent refrain was something like: “You know, this is pretty cool – people would really like this.” By then it was the early 90’s and Osprey Rafting was just getting started.
Planagan, a logger by trade, earned his guide certification and began taking paying customers river rafting on weekends. After four years of weekend operation, it was time to take it full time and, since that time, the business has been built up to the point that more than 8,000 people took some sort of a rafting or tubing trip with Osprey in 2014.
That’s especially gratifying to Planagan because he’s also been able to involve family members in the enterprise. Two of his sons, for example, have each spent a decade or more as guides. While he admits he never really wanted to be a businessman, it’s all worked out well for Planagan, who has spent considerable time out on the river and made a lot of friends along the way. In fact, that’s kind of what river-rafting is all about, Planagan says -- making new friends.
“It’s a shared experience and it doesn’t matter how much money you make, who you are or where you come from,” he says. People just enjoy meeting and getting to know their fellow rafters.
The wildlife also is a big part of it, Planagan says, and his customers enjoy the many species they discover on their way down the river including river otters, beavers, every kind of bird you can imagine, and lots more. Osprey nests, Planagan said, are located at several points down the river and he even knows of a cave where he takes rafters to get an up-close view of an ouzel nest. 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.
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. 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 outfitters say that river rafting does not necessarily have to be a physical challenge, although the higher class rivers require more strength and endurance. Age really isn't a factor either, as people in their 60's routinely raft Class 4's and above.
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. 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.
No matter what type of float, an outfitter like Osprey will provide all the safety equipment you need including wet suits (needed in early season) and floatation devices. Every participant receives instruction from their guide before they depart so that they know safety procedures and what to expect on their ride.
Among the trips offered by Osprey Rafting are:
The Main Event – This trip runs from Leavenworth to Cashmere and takes you over a total of 15 river miles through such rapids as Rock and Roll, Drunkards’ Drop, Snowblind and the Suffocator. The trip ends with a barbecue beach party at Huck’s Landing, a beach and recreation area, where there also is live music on Saturdays. After mid-July, the river slows down some, which allows rafters to change from a raft to a kayak for a portion of the river if they like. This trip takes 4.5 hours. Price: $78.56 plus tax.
High Adventure Happy Hour – This 5 p.m. trip is for the thrill-seekers who get two runs down the Wenatchee River’s Class 3 and Class 4 rapids. You’ll raft Triple Shot, Tenley Falls and the Bull Ride, two times each, and the whole thing takes only two hours. Or you can take one trip down the longest continuous Class 3 rapid on the Wenatchee River, the infamous Boulder Bend. Price: $50 plus tax.
Wenatchee River Family Float – This trip is great for multi-generations because it’s a scenic and splashy trip but safe for both young kids and older adults. The group meets at Huck’s Landing, a private location in Cashmere and this guided float trip will raft through the beautiful east end of the Wenatchee River. You’ll float along the river and estuary enjoying scenic views, emerging onto the historic Columbia River. It includes a barbecue and lasts between two and three hours. Price: $55.45 plus tax for age 8 and above, $27.72 plus tax for ages 3 to 7.
Inner-Tube Rentals – If you want a lazy float down a relatively calm part of the river on your own inner-tube, Osprey offers that as well. They’ve set up a shuttle service that will take you from the Osprey office to Icicle Bridge in Leavenworth where you get a safety talk before you take your rental tube out on the river. Typically the trip takes an hour but you can take as long as you want. They’ll pick you up at Blackbird Island and take you back to the Osprey office, or back to take another float down the river. Price: $30 with barbecue.
Paddleboard Rentals and Instruction – You can rent a paddleboard and see the wildlife in the Horan Estuary near the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers. Osprey operates a rental shop at Walla Walla State Park, where you can also rent inflatable kayaks, river rafts and all the gear needed to get out on the water. Instruction also is available. Paddleboards rent for $25 an hour for the first hour, $35 for two hours and $50 for the entire day. A guided paddleboard trip through the Estuary, including lesson, is $65 plus tax.
For more information on Osprey Rafting, please visit www.ospreyrafting.com or phone 888-548-6850.
PHOTOS: From top: family float on Wenatchee River; Class 3 rapids; paddleboarding; Gary Planagan
PHOTO CREDITS: Photos courtesy Osprey Rafting and by Cary Ordway
RECOMMENDED LODGING: North Central Washington lodging
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