This is the most dynamic stretch of the river. The section TJ Meenach to Plese Flats is the most challenging and NW Whitewater Association recommends that it only be attempted by those with professional whitewater equipment with Class III, pushing Class IV boating expertise. Certain areas are particularly dangerous and should not be attempted without necessary expertise. It can be enjoyed at 1,000 cfs and up, but the lower the flows the more chance to get stuck on rocks.
Popular flows from TJ Meenach to Plese Flats are from 5,000 and 15,000 cfs. This section includes the Bowl & Pitcher (Class III) and Devils Toenail (Class III). Class III pushing Class IV rapids begin below the Wastewater Treatment Plant. THE NOVICE RAFTER/FLOATER SHOULD STAY AWAY. There are hazards at all water levels, including currents and flows that are very tricky. Instead of courting trouble if you are not a solid Class IIII–IV rafter, drive down to Riverside State Park and look at the Bowl & Pitcher from the world famous footbridge.
Water Street to TJ Meenach
Water Street to TJ Meenach features a number of Class II rapids.
The first rapid is about a mile down the river when the river, which sweeps right, is separated by an island. Below is the Sandifur Bridge, which provides Centennial Trail connectivity. Additionally, there are bridge piers that remain from the former Union Pacific High Bridge Park trestle. Stay clear of the piers, drowning and rescues have occurred where boats and canoes have wrapped (pinned to a pier).
The river from here on is a remarkable setting for an urban area with few signs of civilization along the shore. As you float below the mouth of Latah Creek on river left watch on river right as a few houses and then a trailer park (San Souci development) appear. This is the former site of Spokane’s classic Natatorium amusement park.
The former Ft. George Wright is high on the left across from San Souci. The wooden structure visible above is part of Spokane Falls Community College that now occupies the former military base.
You will pass under an old bridge that once carried water lines across the river and allowed soldiers to visit Nat Park. Ahead, high on the hill on river right Pettit Drive descends to near river level. This is the famed Doomsday Hill that runners climb as part of Spokane’s renowned Bloomsday run.
A kiosk is seen near the river and this represents a place called “3-Springs” where the Spokane Aquifer discharges anywhere from 300 to 700 cfs of water back into the river.
At TJ Meenach Bridge, INEXPERIENCED PADDLERS SHOULD EXIT THE RIVER to avoid the hazardous rapids that occur downstream from the City of Spokane Water Reclamation Facility. There is one additional point to get out, however, river right just below the treatment plant. This is marked by a brown sign and requires hiking up a hill to informal loading/unloading area that has no parking.
The warning sign on the pipeline bridge – “Hazardous Rapids Ahead” – should certainly be heeded.
TJ Meenach to Plese Flats
This section of the Spokane River provides both spectacular scenery and rapids. But to the novice it can be treacherous and sometimes deadly.
Once on the water at “see level,” the approximately seven miles of river in this section instantly transforms one from the hustle of a metropolitan area of a half-million people to the seeming solitude of a Northwest wilderness.
River users access this river reach just downstream from the T.J. Meenach Bridge. The first 3-4 miles are either flat of class I rapids.
Of note along the way, just below the college property for Spokane Falls and Mukagowa Fort Wright will be the pump station on river left that provides water to Fairchild Air Force Base.
As the river ahead makes a sharp turn to the right the backwater formed is what many river users call “The Big Eddy,” a large lake at low water that takes real effort to row out of. On river right after the Big Eddy is one of Spokane’s Frisbee golf courses, built on the grounds of the former convalescent center.
The river will then curve to the left again with Class I rapids at most lower water levels (under 20,000 cfs) as you approach the water treatment plant on river right.
As the plant comes into view one of this things you will notice is the flow of water coming back into the river down a concrete slide. This is the fully treated water that returns to the river from the treatment plant and has a notable chemical odor.
At the end of the plant is a suspension bridge that carries a natural gas pipeline. On the bridge is the “Dangerous Rapids Ahead” sign that signifies the Bowl & Pitcher and Devils Toenail. To the right is also the last legal exit for paddlers – and equipment – not capable of running powerful rapids that can push a Class IV designation. This is marked by a brown sign and requires hiking up a hill to informal loading/unloading area that has no parking.
Riverside State Park’s Bowl & Pitcher campground is on river right. As you float past the tents and RVs, you’ll become the focus of people pointing, dogs barking and kids wondering. You’ll also likely get people asking you if they can hitch a ride with you.
As the river begins another right-hand bend, the Bowl & Pitcher lies ahead and is preceded by a Class II+ rapid that can have big waves that converge from various angles. Currents will push you far left as you make the turn to the right…and the bigger the water the further it will send you.
Ahead, you’ll see the footbridge across the river and you MUST begin a hard pull back to the right side because NO WAY do you want to be ANYWHERE left. Even center be aware that just ahead of the bridge there forms a potentially HUGE trough wave that can flip you. Worse, hitting that wave at high flows can push you into the boulder sieve on river left. Serious injury, possible death and nasty media reports could be the end result.
DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE the pull of the water in the Bowl & Pitcher at flows above 5,000 cfs. To get a better perspective if you have never run this rapid, stop by and take a look from the foot bridge and see how the river is forced through a channel about half what it is a quarter-mile upstream.
But you also need to be wary of the big keeper hole (above about 5,000 cfs) that develops on river right just above the bridge. You’ll see the water pillow up over a big rock that forms this hole. Again, currents want to take you there too.
So the safe route at bigger flows is splitting the difference and finding a tongue just to the left of the hole, and the right of the trough wave.
This run angles you towards the left side and some lateral waves that crash off the rocks at higher flows. They WILL flip you under the right (or wrong) circumstances.
OK, the question many ask: Why is this called the Bowl & Pitcher? You will likely not have the opportunity to look but the “bowl” of the Bowl & Pitcher is a big hunk of basalt along the shore on the left. And the pitcher lies ahead on the left, a tall basalt column with what looks like a handle attached.
Pick your way past a number of basalt formations in the river; one is towards the right under the natural viewing area high above. Watch out as the wave that is created has flipped boats before. As the river bends right and widens again, a large ledge wave and possible squirrely hydraulics form.
For the next mile or so there are a variety of fun waves and high on the bluff is the mausoleum of Fairmont Memorial Gardens cemetery.
As the river bends left a red sign on river left will appear warning of the Devils Toenail just ahead. If you have NEVER run the river, be sure to take time to fully scout the ‘Toenail” as regulars call it. And take the time to slide down the steep trail to see it up close. This is certainly a solid Class III+ and potentially Class IV rapid.
A closer look will tell you if the big rock just right off the “toenail” rock in the center of the river is a hole or not.
We’re not even going to suggest running anything but the right side here, because the right is a handful enough with BIG waves and crazy hydraulics – and that rock that forms a BIGGER hole that WILL flip you.
As for the left side, that’s what makes this arguably a Class IV rapid. It is the ONLY way through the ‘Toenail” for rafts below about 3,500 cfs. As the river drops, usually in July, you’ll see the raft-ripping little hunks of sharp basalt that can shred a $1,000 raft floor in an instant.
To eventually learn when and how to run the left, join the Northwest Whitewater Association (www.northwestwhitewater.org) and we can try to work you up to it.
While some may run a skinny slot just to the left of the ’Toenail rock, it’s a “gnat’s ass” difference between crashing into the rock, or being sucked into the significant pour-over and HUGE keeper hole at flows above 10,000 cfs. It’s just not worth the risk unless you are a VERY experienced boater.
Let’s figure you successfully navigate what can be big drops. You’re almost done. Almost.
Just ahead will be one more set of big waves and a hole or two at some flows. And about another eighth of a mile ahead just about river center will be a hole that is referred to as Cyclops. It forms above about 10,000 cfs and can sneak up on you because the water above the rock does not pillow up. It’s another hole that can – and likely will – flip you if you are not paying attention.
On the right you’ll soon see the Spokane Rifle Club. Sometimes you might hear it too with members shooting any number of different caliber firearms. It tends to be safe passage, but sometimes – very rarely – some shotgun pellets have harmlessly sprinkled into the river.
The river bends left and empties into the slackwater behind 9-Mile Dam. The current will often take you along to the takeout at Plese Flats about a half-mile on river right. The takeout is on the north end of the park. At high flows it’s pretty easy to pull a big boat out to the parking area. At flows down around 4,000 or so the cement that was poorly poured during construction is rough and dangerous to pull a boat over. And the drop off is significant, so keep the PDF buckled until you are in the parking lot.