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I heard about the Black River from a friend this summer and Ellie Graham and I decided to check it out via kayak after we read that it is a unit of the Nisqually Refuge. Here is the article I found online with more information: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/getaways/76170_black27.shtml. The river flows from Black Lake (just south of Olympia) southwards to the Chehalis River. I couldn’t figure out if we had to worry about currents or shuttles so we just took our chances. The PI article described the two possible put in points in Little Rock (emphasis on little) and we choose the southern most on at the 123rd bridge. It is only a few miles west of I-5 off of exit 95. Don’t make the mistake I did about focusing on the rest area ahead and thinking, “oh will just stop at the rest area first and then drive back north.” I spaced on the fact that one can’t reverse directions at a rest area. A scenic trip down to exit 88 and back north to exit 95 resulted.|
Our put in was very easy and had a bit of parking. The river itself is not unlike the Mercer Sloughs, only with rank vegetation and little to no development. It is essentially a long drainage for the pastures in the valley and the water is quite dark. We paddled to the south a ways, ducking under logs crossing the water until we couldn’t go any farther because of the current and obstructions. Up until this time, we really couldn’t tell which way the current was flowing, or at least I couldn’t because I was convinced it drained the north as a result of my faulty map reading the month before. Never the less, it was no problem turning around, particularly if you consider turning a sea kayak around in submerged grasses and overhanging blackberry bushes in a river equal in width the length of a kayak no problem. We stopped at a particularly lush crop of native blackberries that hung over the water and were able to gorge ourselves on very ripe berries that fell onto our spray skirts as we reached for them.
Back to the north past our put in point, the river changed dramatically. Where as to the south it was treed on both sides with discernible riverbank, to the north there were few trees and the vegetation was so thick we seldom spotted any edge. Note that I don’t say dry land. We estimated that the edge was a good 10’ back from where the vegetation overhung the water and then it was wet mucky swamp. There was no place, and I mean NO place to get out of the boats at any time until we hit the next bridge overpass at 110th another hour or so upstream. This is not a trip for the small of bladder! Getting out under the overpass is dicey at best. This location had a float attached to a boardwalk leading to the road a few feet north of the bridge, but it was not as good of put in as the first one. Okay for one canoe - not so good for kayaks. It was raining by this time, so we just nosed our boats into the lily pads under the bridge and ate our lunch. We paddled upstream some more, winding our way through narrow channels and wondering what was beyond each curve and bend. We turned around about the time the rain came down harder and the wind picked up from the south, which counteracted the slight bit of current we had for the return trip.
We had hoped to spot some interesting bird life, but other than a few ducks at a distance and a Sharp-shinned hawk chasing a Kingfisher, the bird quotient was very low. We did see some interesting plants and made plans to return in the spring for a more serious bird-watching foray. Next time I will bring my fly rod because there are cutthroat trout in the river and we saw some decent sized fish break the surface. We could see evidence that the water can get much higher, though I would guess that this is a wet season phenomenon. This trip is eminently doable by either kayak or canoe - just curtail your diuretics on the way down. You may have to work a bit to get a canoe over the two beaver dams that partially obstruct the river in low water. Ellie & I just got up some speed, flipped our rudders up, and ran our kayaks right over the top.