Cowlitz & Cispus Rivers

Cispus River

The Cispus River begins in Lewis County, in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, located on a glacier valley in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The river flows in a southwesterly direction and takes on the waters of several important headwater tributaries such as Walupt Creek. The Adams Creek originating high on the slopes of Mount Adams enters the Cispus River a few miles down near Adams Fork Campground. A few miles down the North Fork Cispus enters the main branch about 20 miles from its headwaters. From here on, the Cispus River flows westerly, passing campgrounds and trails in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Two tributaries, Yellowjacket and Iron Creek, flow into the river from the south about midway though its course.

Cispus River FallsDave Garoutte
Cispus River With Tower RockDave Garoutte

Beyond here, the river passes beneath Tower Rock, a prominent quartz diorite monolith on the south side of the river. Soon after this the river leaves the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and enters the Weyerhaeuser Cowlitz Tree Farm. The Cispus River ends its course when it enters the Cowlitz River at Lake Scanewa, just upstream from Cowlitz Falls and Riffe Lake.

Cowlitz River

The Ohanapecosh River is the main headwater tributary of the Cowlitz River, which begins at the confluence of the Ohanapecosh River and the Clear Fork Cowlitz River. The Cowlitz is an impressive tributary of the Columbia River and it’s 2,586-square-mile drainage basin stretches from the Cascade range in eastern Lewis County to and the cities of Kelso and Longview. It’s main tributaries include the Ohanapecosh River, Lake Creek, Johnson Creek, Silver Creek, and the Cispus and Tilton Rivers. The Cowlitz was once the home of the Upper Cowlitz (Taidnapam) Indians.

Cowlitz River – Dave Garoutte

Up The Cowlitz RiverDave & Martha Garoutte


A large number of Upper Cowlitz lived in a village where the present town of Packwood stands. The Kiona family was a large portion of this community. Those living at Kiona Creek were known as the ceq’klama.

The Cowlitz boundary line above the Kiona area followed the ridgeline of the Sawtooth Range overlooking the Nisqually River.

According to legend, a “wrong” power inhabited the Nisqually River, which allowed only animals to swim across. During warfare between the tribes, this power became extremely evident, forcing the opposing enemies to remain on opposite shores. A hunter following a wounded animal would discontinue the search if the prey crossed the river.

Those who lived on the Cispus were known as the cispaclama.

Nesika was the home of Jim Yoke, a site now submerged under the waters of Riffe Lake. He maintained two homes, one where Coal Creek enters the Cowlitz, and the other located northwest of the present town of Packwood.

Jim, who was born about 1840 and died about 1943, was said to have practiced Indian medicine. He was an uncle to Mary Kiona.

La Wis Wis was a traditional place where Upper Cowlitz women collected cedar roots for their famous baskets. The lekla’lwit group of Cowlitz lived near this great camp site, which was a great fishing place. Here the milky glacial waters of the Ohanepecosh River, flowing from Mount Rainier, are confluent with the waters of the Clear Fork, flowing from the Great Rocks near Tilton Pass.

The prized cedar roots were less than an inch in diameter, and long with no knots.

Here at La Wis Wis also grows the alder that provided the red dyes for the cedar baskets. Medicines were also here, such as the Easter lily bulb that was used as an eyewash when mixed with the milk of a mother’s breast. Eyewash helped to heal the irritations of wind and smoke.

Here was also found the little fern that is good for asthma and the special little yellow violet that hides in the bush which, when the leaves are boiled and drunk, help to make for a big, nice, strong baby.

By Roy I. Rochon Wilson
Aug 31, 2012. The Chronicle.
Working on Mayfield Dam, 1956. Source: “The Tacoma Public Utilities Story, The First 100 Years Tacoma Public Utilities.
Submitted by – Tami (DeRossett) Moorcroft, Her Comments: This is a picture of the old bridge at Randle! The strange thing is that apparently when it was copied from the negative, it was turned the wrong way. They should be driving on the other side of the the road and the houses in the back should be on the other side. But this is probably Garland Ward – he carried the mail and he had the first car. I don’t know what year but note the horse and wagon behind him. – via Lewis County, WA History and Towns


La-Wis-Wis the Rose bride of Nekanhi.

Nekanhi, the great spirit of the upper air ruled supreme over the mountains. He tended his herd of wild goats on the rugged steeps of the Goat Rocks. Now Nekanhi was deeply in love with La-Wis-Wis a valley maiden who had promised to be his wife when the last of the red leaves fell.

La-Wis-Wis was a lovely slender nymph, graceful and sweet as the white roses on the bosom of the great white mountain.

Golden were the strands of La-Wis-Wis hair, where the warm sun played the day long and blue were her eyes, dark as the gentian and fringed with a misty cloud and red were her lips as the sumac berries.

La-Wis-Wis was so lovely, innocent and sweet that thousands of butterflies flew about her head to sip from the shell of water which she carried to her flower friends.

In the lower stretches of the valley of Paradise, where it sweeps down into the Cowlitz Canyon, Nekanhi made for her a bower of pure white roses.

There on summer days when the whole world was in bloom, he came to her and whispered secrets of the wind, the clouds and the towering mountains and all forgetful of his flock of wild goats, he lingered at the edge of Paradise valley.

In exact contrast to the lovely La-Wis-Wis there lived in the same valley a wicked hideous creature called Memalek, whose fingers were the claws of the cougar, and whose garments, the skin of a savage wolf that she fastened about her with the tails of venomous snakes.

For all that was good and beautiful about La-Wis-Wis, Memalek hated accordingly. Every day she watched for a chance to avenge her jealousy as a hunter watches for his prey.

While Nekanhi herded his goats on the pinnacles, Memalek smiled in contempt and called all her poisonous snakes, lizards and hideous vipers and went to the rose bower of the golden haired fairy queen La-Wis-Wis who, unconscious of evil, innocent and lovelier than ever, slept on her white blanket.

The guardian roses, innocent and sweet as she, and not having a single thorn, were awake and on guard against the evil Memalek and her regiment of poisonous vipers. When they were about to force their way into the bower of the sleeping La-Wis-Wis to poison and strike her, Nekanhi performed a miracle.

Although far away on the mountain, he sensed danger and with his great creative power, he transformed each white rose into a red one and armed each and every one of them with countless spears.

Astounded by the sudden profusion of blood red roses and pierced by the many pointed weapons, the snakes and vipers with Memalek, their leader beaten, crawled back to the dark dens in the depth of the Cowlitz Canyon.

La-Wis-Wis was saved by her loved one who hurried to her with a tender song on his lips and a deeper love in his heart.

Because he knew La-Wis-Wis was frail and needed protection, some of her roses he armed with thorns that they might fight for his golden haired nymph, La-Wis-Wis, who still sleeps in the Valley of Paradise at the foot of the Mountain that was God. And whose butterfly friends still flit here and there about the flower beds of the valleys searching fruitlessly for the shell of water to quench their thirst.

Places To Visit On The Rivers

La Wis Wis Campground (USFS): From Packwood, Washington travel four miles east on US Highway 12 and arrive at the campground on your left.

Iron Creek CampGround (USFS): From Highway 12 in Randle, turn onto WA-131 S for 2.7 miles, continue on NDF 25 for 6.8 miles. Campground will be on left.

Taidnapam Park: From Randle Head west on US-12 W (10.2 miles, Turn left onto Glenoma Rd, Turn right to stay on Glenoma Rd. 1.7 miles, Turn left onto Champion Haul Rd. 2.8 miles, Park will be on the Right. At the river will be the famous 108 fishing Bridge.

Lake Scanewa: Originally known as Cowlitz Falls Reservoir, this 610-acre impoundment is located about 10 crow miles southwest of Randle. Turn on Savio Road west of Randle, turn south onto Kiona Road for 1.9 miles, then turn west (right) onto Falls Road for 3.6 miles to a turnoff for the day use area. For the campground, skip the turn onto Falls Road and continue on Kiona Road, which turns into Peters Road.