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Cal Salmon River2021-09-21T13:43:21-07:00

Cal Salmon River Rafting Guidebook

The California Salmon (known to many as the Cal Salmon) is a tributary to the Klamath River in Northern California. The Cal Salmon is an undammed Wild & Scenic River, so you’ll have to keep in mind wildly fluctuating flows, especially during the rainy season. The waters of the Cal Salmon are some of the purest in Northern California, at lower flow, the water will often take on a beautiful aquamarine hue. This section of the river boasts two notorious Class V rapids, Cascade and Freight Train. As you might guess, there is excellent fishing here as well as powerful whitewater. The Cal Salmon cuts its way through a deep gorge, as it works its way to the Klamath River. Just a side note, this river is actually named the Salmon River, but to avoid confusion with the much larger Salmon River in Idaho, many boaters refer to this short, powerful river as the Cal Salmon.

About this guide

This guide outlines the most commonly run section of the Cal Salmon River. Keep in mind that many of the rapids have a number of different names. If you feel like we should update or add a name, please let us know.

River Info

The Cal Salmon offers excellent Class V whitewater, with multiple options for Put-Ins and Take-Outs along the way. This river is completely undammed, so the water is subject to rapid changes in flows depending on the weather, however, it means the water is some of purest in California. There is unrivaled fishing, scenery, and whitewater to be enjoyed.

Camping

There are campsites at both the Put-in and the Take-Out. These are managed by the Forest Service and are offered on a first-come-first-serve basis. There is a small fee for both campsites.

Safety

The Cal Salmon doesn’t have any mandatory portages, but when in doubt, scout. Freight Train and Cascade are both serious Class V rapids, with long swims being potential major hazards in both. As is common with many California rivers, there are many sieves and strainers to keep an eye out for.

Permits

Permits are not required for private boaters on the California Salmon River.

Shuttle Info

The California Salmon River has riverside access throughout the run, making for a relatively straightforward shuttle. One thing to keep in mind is road closures, as there may be snow in the earlier part of the season.

The Cal Salmon River is typically run between 800-5,000 CFS. At higher flows, be careful, as a lot of major rapids come in quick succession.

Cal Salmon River Flow
Gauge data provided by USGS

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Cal Salmon Comprehensive Guide

WARNING: Conditions change frequently and may make this guide useless. This guide is NOT a replacement for sound judgment. Go with someone with recent Cal Salmon experience.

Class II Rapid

Class II rapid or river feature.

Class III Rapid

Class III rapid or river feature.

Class IV Rapid

Class IV rapid or river feature.

Class VI Rapid

Class VI Rapid. Used only at Ruck-a-Chucky Falls.

Put-In / Take-Out

Used at the various Put-Ins & Take-Outs
throughout this stretch

Point of Interest

These include creeks, side hikes and historical markers.

Fun Zone

Well known surf waves, jump rock locations, and safe swim areas

Campgrounds

Riverside camping locations.

Nordheimer Run

Known as the Nordheimer Run, this stretch runs from the Nordheimer Camp River Access to Oak Bottom River Access. It features two large Class V rapids and many Class II-IV rapids throughout.

Length

Nordheimer Camp River Access to Oak Bottom Camp River Access is 12.4 miles.

Difficulty

Moderate to Expert.

Feet per Mile

Nordheimer Camp River Access to Oak Bottom Camp River Access is ~46 FPM

Shuttle Time

Nordheimer Camp River Access to Oak Bottom Camp River Access
is 1 hour round trip. Google Map directions.

Mile 0.0 – Nordheimer Camp River Access: River Left. The Put-in for this river is at the beach at Nordheimer Group Camp.

Mile 0.0 – Nordheimer Camp: River Left. At the Put-in, you can also camp, but you’ll have to get a reservation.

Mile 1.05 – Bloomer’s Falls Rapid: Class IV. The first major rapid of the trip comes within the first mile or so. Work left at the entrance, pushing through a lateral wave on the left. Current will be pushing toward the wall on the right at the bottom of this rapid.

Mile 1.17 – The Maze Rapid: Class IV. Downstream of Bloomer Falls is a section with many boulders. At higher flows, this can be tricky.

Mile 1.67 – Lewis Creek Falls Rapid: Class IV. A hundred yards or so south of Lewis Creek lies Lewis Creek Falls. There is current pushing towards the left-hand side, and you’ll want to work to stay off the left-hand side.

Mile 1.68 – Lewis Creek Confluence: River Left. Lewis Creek enters the Cal Salmon from the left-hand side and creates Lewis Creek Falls rapid.

Mile 2.14 – Morehouse Creek Confluence: River Right. Morehouse Creek enters the Cal Salmon from the right side.

Mile 2.32 – Airplane Turn: Class IV. There are several large boulders at the entrance of this rapid. There are routes to the far left and a narrow chute down the middle. Many boaters will go left of a large “Airplane Rock” in the center.

Mile 3.82 – Portuguese Creek Rapid: Class III. Read-and-run Class III action, with some boulders choking the main channel.

Mile 3.83 – Portuguese Creek Confluence: River Right. Portuguese Creek enters the Cal Salmon from the right-hand side.

Mile 4.28 – Cascade / Steelhead Falls: Class V. Scout left. This is a complicated rapid. At higher flows, there is a right sneak – all the way against the right wall. Most boaters will run left, but there is a surfy hole at the bottom. Learn more about Cascade.

Mile 4.69 – Cataract Rapid: Class IV. Downstream of Cascade is a similarly boulder-ridden rapid. Can be scouted on the left-hand side. Many boaters will stay right, as there is a little chute on the far right.

Mile 5.4 – Whirling Dervish: Class IV. Whirling Dervish Rapid is a two-part rapid. The first part is straightforward, requiring a move right away from a wall on the left. Below this, the current will push hard towards a rock on the right – you must stay left here. Below here, another drop awaits, again with current pushing straight into a boulder.

Mile 5.54 – Grant Creek Confluence: River Left. Grant Creek enters the Cal Salmon from the left-hand side.

Mile 5.83 – Last Chance: Class IV. Scout right. Many boaters will enter right. There are many rocks throughout this rapid. At the bottom of this rapid, you will want to move left to set up for Freight Train. There is a small pool below Last Chance, but you will not have much time before Freight Train.

Mile 5.92 – Freight Train: Class V. Just downstream of Last Chance. This rapid is often entered on the left-hand side, avoiding boulders throughout. Toward the bottom is a steep drop through some sievy boulders. At the exit, the river is constricted through a narrow passage, with weird current. Learn more about Freight Train.

Mile 6.5 – Butler Creek River Access: River Left. The Cal Salmon River can be accessed on the left side at the Butler Creek River Access. Be ready to run Butler Creek Ledge Rapid immediately downstream.

Mile 6.59 – Butler Creek Ledge Rapid: Class IV. This is a long rapid, with numerous big drops and boulders. Keep it slow in here. This is a tough rapid to scout, as it is in a big gorge.

Mile 7.5 – Duncan Creek Confluence: River Left. Duncan Creek enters the Cal Salmon River from the left-hand side.

Mile 8.7 – Marble / Gaping Maw: Class IV. Recommended scout on the left side. Gaping Maw is a long boulder garden with many tricky lines. There are entrances right and left, varying in difficulty.

Mile 8.84 – Tom Payne Creek Confluence: River Right. Tom Payne Creek enters the river from the right-hand side.

Mile 9.9 – Wooley Creek Confluence: River Right. Wooley Creek enters the Cal Salmon from the right-hand side. This tributary to the Cal Salmon is well-known for its fishing. There is access at the take-out, with a trail to this creek.

Mile 9.93 – Wooley Creek Rapid: Class II. Small rapid just downstream of Wooley Creek. It’s the last whitewater you’ll see before the take-out.

Mile 10.32 – Salmon River Road Bridge: The Salmon River Road Bridge crosses over the Cal Salmon River.

Mile 12.39 – Somes Creek Confluence: River Left. Across the river from the take-out, Somes Creek enters the Cal Salmon.

Mile 12.4 – Oak Bottom River Access Take-Out: River Right. There is a small gravel road leading up from the right-hand side of the river just across from Somes Creek. No fees are required here.

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