Thing to Do

Hanford: Paddle the Hanford Reach

Color photograph of a kayaker on a major river
Kayaking is one of the best ways to explore the Hanford Reach.


The Hanford Reach in Washington is the last free-flowing, non-tidal portion of the Columbia River remaining in the United States. It is an excellent place to see wildlife and the decommissioned nuclear reactor facilities of the Hanford Site from a distance. The Manhattan Project established the Hanford Site on the banks of the Columbia River because the nuclear reactors needed a large supply of cold water to cool them. 

The Hanford Reach is home to a critical fall Chinook Salmon run, and 10-foot (3.05 m) sturgeon still patrol the deep waters. A summertime boater is all but guaranteed to see scores of white pelicans, great egrets, great blue herons, and mule deer. Elk are frequently seen on the south shore, and if you search the trees closely, porcupines may be found. A fall trip, just as the salmon are done spawning, brings dozens of coyotes to the shoreline to feed on salmon carcasses, and bald eagles begin to move into the area for the winter. Spring and fall are great times to see migrating neotropical birds. 

This Hanford Reach paddling trip takes you from the Vernita Bridge to the White Bluffs Boat Launch. You will float below the towering White Bluffs and see the cocooned nuclear reactors and other remnants of the Hanford Site’s plutonium production infrastructure.  

Visitation Tips

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation is closed to public access. You may not exit your watercraft and enter the reservation.  

Boating Tips

Launch from the north shore just to the west of Vernita Bridge. Although on the Hanford Reach National Monument, this area is managed by the Washington Department of Wildlife, and you will need a Washington State Parks Discover Pass to park here.  

The entire trip is Class I, which is defined as “. . . easy, smooth water; light riffles; clear passages; occasional sand banks; and gentle curves.” However, strong winds can create sizeable waves, and currents can be strong and swirling, depending on water levels. Coyote Rapids is only Class II and can be avoided by almost 100 yards (91.44 m). The rapid is proximately 19 miles (30.58 km) from Vernita Bridge to the White Bluffs Boat Launch.  

The trip typically takes 4-6 hours, but this can vary dramatically due to winds and water levels. Be sure to check the weather and water flows before heading out. A moderate trip would have flows of 80,000 to 120,000 cubic feet per second (2265 to 3398 cubic meters per second), although all flow levels are boatable. Note that both shorelines are closed above the high-water mark until you reach the White Bluffs Boat Launch. 

Safety Tips

Be prepared to be outside for multiple hours. Bring plenty of food and water. Bring sunscreen and wear a hat and sunglasses. Rocks are silt covered and extremely slippery. Wear snug-fitting footwear with good traction. The river is fed by bottom flows out of massive reservoirs and is very cold even on the hottest days. Bring multiple layers of clothing for changing weather conditions.  

Getting There

From Richland, take WA-240 W for 29 miles (46.6 km), continue onto WA-24 E for 5.4 miles (8.7 km) to the Vernita Bridge, and turn left at the intersection with WA-243. The unimproved boat launch will be on the left. To run the shuttle, follow WA-243 back to the intersection with WA-24, turn left unto WA-24, continue for 19 miles (30.5 km) and turn right at the marked sign for the Hanford Reach National Monument. Follow signs for the White Bluffs Boat Launch for 5.7 miles (9.2 km) until you reach a parking lot near the Columbia River. 

4-6 Hours
Pets Allowed
Entrance fees may apply, see Fees & Passes information.
Benton County, Washington
Spring, Summer, Fall
Time of Day
Accessibility Information

Kayaking a wild river requires careful attention to detail and the ability to read the river. Though this is a relatively easy paddling trip, visitors should use safety devices and assistive technology to improve safety. For more information, visit the website of the Hanford Reach National Monument | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ( or call them at 509-546-8300.

Manhattan Project National Historical Park

Last updated: March 17, 2022