Float the Sauk in winter to see wildlife on remote river

“So, the safety talk. First off, stay out of the water. It’s cold,” Brian Pernick told us.

We laughed. Behind Pernick, chunks of ice swirled endlessly in an eddy in the Sauk River. There was no chance any of us would be taking a dip.

After a more serious talk, in which he explained what to do on the tiny chance that we did end up in the river, we clambered into the boat and were off.

Pernick is co-owner and guide for Adventure Cascades, the only river-rafting company based in Darrington. Pernick owns the company along with his sister, Sarah Pernick.

They offer scenic and whitewater trips on the Sauk and Suiattle rivers. They run more trips on those two rivers than any other company.

This is scenic float trip season. Winter may sound like a strange time to go out on the river. But in fact, it’s an excellent time.

“I really like the solitude, you don’t see a lot of people out there,” Brian Pernick said. “I really like to get out on the river in the winter just to see how alive it is and how active the wildlife is.”

The day we went ice made gorgeous sculptures along the banks and anywhere tree branches dipped into the water. As we drifted slowly downstream, Pernick talked about the river, named all the nearby mountains and pointed out a frozen waterfall.

Normally, he said, it would be invisible from the river. But with cold temperatures it had frozen making for an impressive site. And even though it was cold, the birds were extremely active. Pernick pointed them out, identifying them and telling us a bit about them.

The Sauk River offers excellent bird-watching. Many eagles spend the winter along the river. Pernick points out that while the river doesn’t have the intense concentration of eagles you’ll find on the Skagit, it has another advantage. The Sauk also doesn’t have a heavy concentration of people. On a Skagit River float trip, you’re likely to see many other rafters, and you’ll spend most of your time right along the highway.

On the Sauk, you’re unlikely to see another boat and the vast majority of the trip is far from the road. The river feels wild and remote.

On our trip, we saw a few dozen eagles, some quite close, either flying nearby or staring down at us from the trees.

We also saw dozens of dippers, a fascinating little songbird that looks like a small gray robin. Despite looking like it has no business in the water, this bird dives for its food. It catches aquatic insects by swimming or walking along the bottom.

Harlequin ducks, mergansers, otters, beavers and deer can all be seen along the river. All five species of salmon can also be found there, though not all at the same time of course. Pernick has even seen two bears.

The Sauk is a beautiful, free-flowing river. Each year it’s reshaped by high waters, making floating the river interesting for the guides and the passengers. The channel is dynamic, with small channels leaving and rejoining the main flow.

Adventure Cascades scenic float trips usually cover about 10 miles of the river and take about four hours. You’ll stop for lunch and enjoy a fire on the beach with hot soup and drinks.

And when you’re done, you’ll have an intimate view of the river you really can’t get any other way.

Adventure Cascades

Adventure Cascades offer scenic float trips year-round from their home base in Darrington. They can take groups up to 18 people. Kids as young as 6 are welcome. For more information, go to www.adventurecascades.com or call 360-393-6815.

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