Water you waiting for?
Rapidly check out the nearby hot spots for whitewater activities
Nipping at the heels of this winter’s amazing snow fall is an epic late-spring melt, bringing with it an early surge of high water and a long wet season to follow. According to the Department of Water Resources, drainages across the state are boosted by snowpacks ranging from 150 to 200 percent of average.
Conveniently, Chico’s position in the heart of Northern California places it within close proximity to some of the best rapids in the state. A two-hour drive in any direction will deposit you at the put-in for any number of runs ranging from mild Class II to gnarly Class V (a.k.a. “the gnar gnar").
Whitewater boating begins at Class II consisting of small waves, holes and other river features.
Butte Creek offers a great beginner’s stretch no more than 15 minutes from town. The run starts at the steel bridge on Centerville Road and ends at the Covered Bridge on Honey Run Road about five miles below. For the most part the run is pretty mellow. Despite the buzzards floating off the bluffs above, nothing too ominous lurks along the creek.
Threading your way through the canyon, the key things to look out for on this stretch are strainers, or trees hanging out across the channel. Water flushes through them but people don’t. Also, be wary of the occasional nude sunbathers, as they might interfere with your ability to see straight.
If you’re in a kayak, be heads-up to the shallow spots throughout the creek and avoid bumping the noggin. Rafts might have a little trouble scraping by in a few spots but should be OK. With high water predicted on the stream all summer long, this run should be doable well into July and August.
The Upper Sacramento River, set amidst the confluence of the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges, winds far below the noise and traffic of Interstate 5. Beginning at the base of Mount Shasta and running all the way into Shasta Reservoir, the river offers a number of stretches of whitewater ranging from Class III to Class V.
Characterized by larger waves, stronger holes and more well-defined river features, a classic Class III run flows from Sims Road to Pollard Flats. Three words for you: White Fluffy Bunny. It sounds innocent enough but packs a mean punch. The Bunny is best run on the left, but all other rapids on this stretch are pretty straightforward.
Moving water is constant on this run, demanding that kayakers be quick on their roll and rafters attentive to swimmers. Keep an eye out for eddies and use them to your advantage.
The Middle Fork of the American River is one of California’s few designated Wild and Scenic rivers. This 17-mile run—about halfway between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe—makes for one long day or a great overnighter. Once on the water, there are no roads, buildings or businesses in sight.
The highlight of the run undoubtedly comes in the first couple of miles when the river passes through a man-made tunnel in the rock. Preceded by Last Chance, the Tunnel Chute is a stout Class IV rapid and also a relic from the Gold Rush days. Miners blasted the hole to divert water from a lazy bend in the river. The result was one of the largest gold discoveries in the history of California and an awe inspiring thrill ride.
Several creeks flow into the Middle Fork, making for sweet side hikes to secluded swimming holes. Most of the Class IV rapids have one must-make move with mild to severe consequences for messing up. There is one Class IV portage on this stretch. Due to high water conditions, this run most likely won’t open up until July.
The Feather River Canyon up Highway 70 boasts some of the choicest and most amazing whitewater boating in the state. There are a half-dozen or so stretches of runnable river ranging from Class II to solid Class V.
Due to an intricately constructed eyesore of a dam system on the North Fork Feather River, recreational whitewater releases have become available only in the past couple of years, making this a relatively untapped boating mecca. Thanks to the work of American Whitewater and local kayaker Dave Steindorf, there are five scheduled release weekends June through October. The releases fall on the fourth weekend of the month; June’s is Sunday only (on the 28th), but all others are both days.
Sunday’s releases flow along the Rock Creek stretch, featuring the steep and technical Class V Tobin run. Running less than two miles, the granite choked waterway is both challenging and consequential. This run demands top-notch boaters to execute top-notch moves. Characterized by undercut boulders, tight slots and steep pool drops, this run is not to be taken lightly.
You can get detailed descriptions of any of the runs above—including how to get there and what to expect on the water—by checking out www.cacreeks.com or picking up a copy of A Guide to the Best Whitewater in the State of California by Lars Holbek and Chuck Stanley, heralded as the bible of the river community across the state. Flow information can be found at www.dreamflows.com.
A number of commercial outfitters guide river trips throughout Northern California, including some of the stretches listed above. A simple Google search will provide much more information than needed.
Typically the season runs from May through September, or a little longer in high-water years. Being that this is a high-water year, the early summer will be laden with swifter currents, stronger features and longer swims.
More water does not equal more danger; it just requires that people come to the river with the proper mind-set, knowledge and safety equipment.