A top boating destination

Looking for 2 weeks of solid boating, running anything from Grade III to V and never paddling the same section of river twice? California has it all- snow melt rivers, rain fed rivers, pool drop, big boulder gardens, tight creeks, bigger volume. Combine this with all the advantages of a developed country and cheap flights, fuel, food, camp sites and motels- and its no wonder its rated as one of the Worlds top boating destinations.

Which rivers?

CA must have been designed with boaters in mind. Central California contains numerous snow melt rivers that conveniently run east-west from the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the Pacific, bisected by the major north-south interstate highways. Northern California contains numerous rain fed rivers. To give you an idea of whats possible, our itinerary worked out as follows:

1. American NF: Chamberlains Falls
2. American NF: Chamberlains Falls
3. Yuba SF: Edwards-Purdons/ Purdons-Route 49/ 49-Bridgeport
4. Yuba SF: 49-Bridgeport
Bear River

The Bear River.

5. American NF: Giants Gap
6. Webber Creek
American SF
7. Trinity: Burnt Ranch Gorge
8. New River

Mark on the New River gorge.

9. Cal Salmon
10. Salmon SF
11. Clear Creek
12. Sacramento: Box Canyon
13. Lavazolla Creek
Pauley Creek
Downie Creek
North Fork Yuba, Rossasco Canyon
14. Tuolomne: Cherry Creek

The Tuolumne.

15. Merced: El Portal

In other words, we spent most of our time on rivers due east of San Francisco, detouring to Northern CA during the middle of the trip (days 7-12). Highlights included the Yuba SF, Burnt Ranch Gorge on the Trinity, Clear Creek and Cherry Creek on the Tuolomne. If we were going later, in May, wed head south after the American and Yuba and paddle the Kings, San Joachin and Kern, especially the Forks of the Kern and the infamous Dry Meadow Creek, which runs into the Kern.

When to go

The opposite of what you might expect- Easter for the northern rain/ snow fed rivers; early May for the snow melt southern rivers, where the mountains are higher. The Tuolomne is dam release and should run at optimum levels right through the Spring.

Getting there

Fly to San Francisco. We flew with British Airways who flew us there direct from Heathrow for 279 return. We forewarned them that we might turn up with some plastic boxes- and had no trouble at all at either end getting on four boats free of charge. The luggage allowance was very generous- 2 pieces each weighing 32 kgs. The limit on dimensions is 260mm (combining length, width and height) which river running boats slightly exceed but they dont seem to mind. Mark flew with Air France and was fleeced for $110 heading home.

Getting about

We booked hire vehicles in advance over the internet through Alamo. All the major operators are based at a large facility just around the corner from the airport. We paid 925 for an off road style vehicle (equivalent to a Chevy Blazer) and a regular saloon car (equivalent to a Cavalier) for two weeks. This worked out at about 180 each. The Blazers have flimsy roof racks- take out foam off cuts to put between the bars and roof of the car. Insist on a 4 wheel drive- many of the shuttles are rough. It is worth considering hiring two Blazers- check out the price difference and decide for yourself.

Where to stay

We took tents. There are numerous camp sites. Most of them are geared towards mobile homes (RVs) and are therefore basic, with simple WCs cubicles but no showers. Camping charges are per pitch and worked out with 5 of us at about 1-2 per night each. Every 3-4 days we treated ourselves to a motel, (and a shower and shave!), with 5 of us squeezing into a room with two double beds (cosy!). This was particularly welcome after long drives. This worked out at around 12-15 each per night.

Where to eat

We didnt bother cooking, the diners and fast food joints are cheap and absolutely everywhere. Taco Bell is good if youre running out of money and Subway good for take away lunches. Indecisive people will find the bewilderingly complex menu choices a problem!

Other activities

CA is the home of outdoor pursuits- you can do it all- surfing (check out the break at Golden Gate Bridge), ski-ing at Lake Tahoe, hiking and climbing in the National Parks and Marin County, immediately to the north of Golden Gate Bridge, is the birthplace of mountain biking.


Most of us were insured through Activcard as Im sure many readers are. 2 weeks in the USA on full cover (activity level 3- white water) costs about 60. I have multi trip cover which covers me for as many trips as I want for the year- so long as no one trip abroad lasts for more than 31 days. Full cover including USA costs 120 at the moment- good value. Check out

The cost

We each spent about 900 all in, including flights, car hire, insurance and food.

Finding out more

The best guidebook, despite our libellous comments, is Lars Holbecks guide to Californian White Water. We know from experience however, that obtaining a copy in advance via the internet isnt that easy. We cadged copies from friends. You can get copies at the kayak shop in Auburn on Route 80, conveniently located about one hour east of Sacramento, shortly before you get to the American River.

You should be able to pick up road atlases from filling station shops. We took out with us two excellent large atlases- covering northern and southern CA. The scale is something like 1: 120,000 and detailed enough to keep track of the most obscure of shuttle tracks.

The American White Water Association (AWA) provides extremely comprehensive up to date information on water levels on its web site,, which we accessed regularly during our trip. Getting access to the internet in CA is not however, as easy as you might think. If you cant find an internet caf, check out the local libraries, which provide free access albeit it, it seems, only in the afternoons, and Kinkos, the US equivalent of Presto Print. Its also worth checking out the gossip on, an American web site. Also try:

Chris Wheeler paddled with Mark Rainsley, Simon Wiles, Jay Sigbrandt and Andy Roo Evans.

Somehow the nice Japanese gentleman who took this completely missed the mile-long Golden Gate bridge behind us.

Mark and Simon would like to thank Perception for their continued support and their shiny new Java creek boats.

Many more photos from our trip.

Chris 'Magic Knees' Wheeler This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.