Looking for Class 1 or 2 Rivers in California

Hi all,

Does anyone know of any class 1 and 2 rivers in California that can be canoed or kayaked? I’m originally from Missouri, just left Seattle, and now living in Long Beach. In MO, we called this style of paddling “floating” (but not tubing). It took me forever to find rivers in Washington that were calmer waters because the focus was more on whitewater, and not really much in between. When I did find them in WA, they were amazing, but it lacked the infrastructure like Missouri, where we had tons of outfitters setup for this specific type of activity.

Now that I’m living in CA, I obviously realize finding such a river means looking from Central CA up to NorCal. In Washington, many of the rivers that started out as higher class whitewater eventually turned into nice lazy rivers you could float for 5-15 miles with slow moving water, gravel bars, and swimming holes. I’m looking for the same thing here.

Does anyone know of any rivers like this? I guess I should specify too that I would want something in the wilderness, but enough civilization to have put in and take out points along a road, bridge, or boat ramp and some cell service. I keep trying to replicate the beautiful Current River and Buffalo back from where I grew up.



Hi Nathan,
There are a couple of candidates.
The most obvious is the Sacramento River below Redding. Over a 100 miles and you can camp on the islands or public land.
The Yuba flows into the Sac.
The lower Klamath R
The Russian R
The Eel R but it has a short season.
Some runs on the Trinity R.
The Feather R.
You need to do some reading of guide books for specific information.
Most of these rivers have seasons when they are suitable, usually the spring.
The Sacramento R stands out because it is the largest river in the state and maintains its flow all year. The summer is hot. The spring is full of bugs and ticks. The fall is perfect.

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In addition to the Sacremento, the lower American River has lots of class I paddling. It goes through some populated areas but on the river you feel pretty much separated from civilization except in the urban areas. Lots of California rivers will be crowded with tubers etc in summer best to go spring and fall. The Colorado river has miles and miles of floatable areas, I’m not sure how areas like Black Canyon coming out of Lake Mead are doing during the drought. Check out Topcock Gorge for a first time paddling trip. Go in the Winter or Spring or Fall. Also you are living next to the Pacific Ocean with infinite paddling experiences available. I would look into changing your perspective and you can find wonderful calm places to paddle in protected bays.

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So while the Smith River has some stretches with ww there are also flatwater stretches. Unfortunately, my timing was off for water levels. If you want to float past the redwood forests Spring or early summer might be the time of year. There are some commercial outfitters that rent boats and if you did want to try a little ww they have guided tours.

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The lower Colorado River has some great paddling. I have been from Blythe to Yuma. Not suitable in summer. There can be a lot of power boat traffic, some reaches of the river have concrete riprap. Some places camping is not allowed in Wildlife Refuges. We went in Feb. I loved the wild donkeys, coyote choir, owl serenades, and otters swimming by at night. Do your research.

When you find one, I’d love to join you. Been wanting to do that for years!

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