Darin McQuoid Blog Reviews Tutorials River Directory

A guide to stepping it up in California, what runs to do and in what order, starting at class IV and finishing with the big classics. A reader submitted this idea and I instantly loved it, thanks Drake for the great idea!  

First off a few general suggestions. Playboat as much as possible at your local playspot. This will improve your balance and help you get your roll dialed in. Second, paddle big water. Many people don’t paddle big water, because it’s well, big, and intimidating. Kayaking big water will teach you to deal with strong currents, big waves, curlers and holes, but if you do it on the right river, all in a friendly situation. Paddling something like the Middle Kings you have to deal with the same features, but often in unfriendly situations. I believe it’s better to learn how to deal with them earlier, where the consequence is minimal.

As a rule of thumb, rolling is to be avoided at all costs while creeking. Rolling in big water is not a big deal, but swimming is to be avoided at all costs. I think too many people start creeking too early and don’t develop enough balance and bracing skills.

I can’t say I’ve done every run in the state, and really only a smattering of the class IV, but in my experience these are my recommendations. Other opinions are welcome too, just leave a comment or email me.

To keep this list short enough that I will actually finish it, I will keep descriptions to a minimum, but with links to write-ups. I decided to leave out runs “worth doing once” because I believe (almost) every run is worth doing once. Variety is a good thing while learning to boat because you will learn a lot about scouting and how the character of a run can vary with geologically. Runs with one asterisk are worth doing a few times. Runs with two asterisks are training ground classics and should be done as much as possible, these are the gems that are both fun to paddle as often as you can, and have features that help the skill set build.

Just because you can get down a run does not mean you are ready to move on. You want to run the ** runs until you feel comfortable, eventually avoiding sneaks and styling the main lines, and running it at higher flows unless noted. Eventually you should be able to lead someone else (who doesn’t know it) down the run, that’s when you have it dialed in.

No matter what the class, it’s all about this feeling!

Cal-Salmon – Butler Flat to Brannon’s Bar ** Lots of free camping and warm spring weather.

A Wet State
The Salmon River

Sacramento – Box Canyon ** Cold water but lots of action.

A Wet State
Box Canyon of the Sacramento
California Creeks

South Fork Yuba – Edwards to Purdons ** Just wish the run and season was longer!

A Wet State
California Creeks

McCloud River – Lower ** Awesome at 1,500.

A Wet State
The Lower McCloud
California Creeks

Merced River – Below El Portal ** Daniel Brasuel recommends it below 2,000.

A Wet State 
California Creeks

South Fork American – Kyburz ** The one time I ran it I didn’t get out of my boat, but it was fun, Indian Falls was rather exciting, best to put in below it. More challenging than the above. 

A Wet State
California Creeks

Middle Yuba – Our House run ** If you can find water in it. One * at low flows.

A Wet State

North Fork Moklumne: Tiger Creek **

A Wet State

North Fork Smith River ** Great scenery, lots of rapids but a long shuttle takes away some joy..

A Wet State
North Fork Smith River
California Creeks

North Fork American – Chamberlains * Long shuttle, short run.

A Wet State
California Creeks

Smith River: South Fork and Middle Fork Gorges * Short runs but with big flow windows and a long season. Close to the coast so relatively warm in the winter. Class IV at lower flows.

South Fork:
A Wet State
South Fork Smith River

Middle Fork:
A Wet State
Middle Fork Smith River
California Creeks

Pit River – Reach IV * Dam release in the summer.

A Wet State
The Pit River
California Creeks

Feather River – North Fork * Lobin, dam release in the summer.

A Wet State

Next: IV+ with some -V