52 Getaways 2019: Autumn
On most rivers the remnants of the rapids disappear entirely in late summer, and rafting companies close their doors for the reminder of the year. On the Tieton River in Yakima Valley, however, September’s low water levels mark the opening of the Tieton dam and a guarantee of renewed rapids for a few weeks in the fall.
The 319-foot-high dam was built in 1925 and was the world’s highest earthfill dam at the time. It remains one of six dams in the Yakima Valley Project that provides water for many of the 1,000 fruit and vegetable varietals that grow in the valley. When it is opened each September, rafters take advantage of the whitewater conditions.
One of the highest-quality and highest-rated rafting companies with a September Tieton River route is the Osprey Rafting Co. It was founded in the early 90s in a Leavenworth backyard for Wenatchee River routes and has since built up to about six float types and 10 routes including the Tieton, and they offer paddle boarding trips and a Fourth of July river float as well.
Each Osprey rafting trip lasts about four hours from gearing up to getting back into your car. In preparation for the Tieton, be sure to leave behind anything that should not get wet or lost (like non-waterproof watches, electronics and rings) and to bring water shoes, a water bottle, sunglasses with a retainer strap, a towel and plenty of sunscreen. Osprey provides the rest: wetsuits, paddles, helmets, life jackets and safety instructions.
Once the prep is finished, everyone climbs into an 8-person raft for the main event. Every raft is led by an experienced guide. As 10-50 people take part in each trip, it can become a real party. On the 12-mile stretch of the Tieton, the Class III rapids mean medium waves with 3- to 5-foot drops and maximum excitement with very little danger. Coupled with the basalt cliffs towering above the river and Eastern Washington’s sunny September days, the trip is an outstanding half-day adventure.
After time on the river, the experience continues back on land with a classic American barbeque. Burgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, drinks and more are all ready for the rafters. You can also change, see photos of your trip, and on some Saturday afternoons, enjoy live music while you eat.
Lining up with the hops harvest, the offseason rafting is easy to pair with events celebrating the Yakima Valley hops season and fresh brews. Choose to stay in Yakima at a downtown hotel or to camp for free at a forest service campground as close as 5 minutes from the rafting launch point. When you book, ask Osprey about their “Stay and Play” packages that include the rafting trip and discounts and deals with local hotels and eateries.
Osprey operates this route in September only, twice daily on weekends and once daily on Fridays and Mondays. Custom trips and private groups may book for Tuesdays-Thursdays. During the second and third weekends of September, the river is at its best for rafting.
The Tieton route is suitable for children 12 and older. (For family floats, book a summer rafting trip with Osprey on the Wenatchee River.) The launch point for the September Tieton River trip is on Highway 12, about 12 miles west of the junction with Highway 410. For more information and to book your trip, go to ospreyrafting.com. For more about Yakima, go to visityakima.com.