(Update 8/2/12: the north end of the ‘Secret Slough’ is blocked by two very large logs, no passage all the way through. This is a side slough that is north of the put in place near Milltown.)
I love kayaking in the Skagit River, especially the braided South Fork(s). A nice easy put in is at Milltown: drive south on I-5 to the Conway exit, about 5 miles, drive west toward Stanwood. In about 2 miles you arrive at Milltown, actually the Milltown road. You now turn right, go over the tracks and there you are. There is a little boat launch or you can drive along the dike for a bit and find two other put in places. This is a public place and requires no fee or permit.
The river here is more bayou like, muddy, grass and overhanging trees, piles left from old logging boom tie-ups. You most likely will not see any others on the river, if you do it will be fishermen or duck hunters. Duck hunters only in the fall.
The Skagit River flows strong or not, you be the judge about your own abilities. It does not always flow right to left. If the river is low and the tide is coming , the salt water pushes up the river so it is ‘flowing’ left to right, yes up hill! Here is where your good luck and good planning come in to provide a nice kayaking experience. If the river is not running too high, and the tide will be coming in in 2 to 4 hours, you can paddle up Tom Moore slough for about 1.5 miles, then turn left, down stream into Steamboat Slough.
(An interesting feature is the old railroad log dump left from the activities of the English Logging Company, working east of here up in the hills from about 1900 to 1932. The piles, cables and pieces of rail are what is left for about 1/3 mile along the right side of Tom Moore and continues upriver along Steamboat Slough. For more information see Logging Railroads in Skagit County, by Dennis Blake Thompson.)
You ride the river current down stream in Steamboat for about 2 miles, when you see the duck hunting camps on the left, turn left and you will be back in Tom Moore Slough. Here is where the tide is your friend. If the tide is now coming in, you will ride the incoming tide back to your put in place! The theory is that the hard part of the trip is done at the beginning, when you are tired, the tide helps you out. A south wind is also welcome, which is the prevailing wind here.
You can check the tides by using the Stanwood, Stillaguamish River tide table. You want to have the tide coming in when you are coming back up Tom Moore Slough from Steamboat Slough.
A nice stop after this trip is in Conway at the Conway Pub, located just north up the road in Beautiful Downtown Conway.
(An interesting side trip is when you put in Tom Moore and start upstream, look for an old pile bridge spanning a side slough on the left. Paddle under this and into the ‘Secret Slough,’ my name, this is a real bayou feeling. It comes back out into Tom Moore after about 1/3 mile.)
’til next time,
Highland Garden House, 501 E. Highland Ave., Mount Vernon, WA 98273