Northern California canoe trips

I’m looking for places to do a multi-day canoe trip in Northern California, similar to the ones I did in Maine when I was younger. According to this thread, California doesn’t have much of the type of rivers I am used to from the east coast, but there were some suggestions for possible stretches of Class I - II.

Does anyone have any experience or recommendations with any of the following:

Eel River, Fort Seward to Eel Rock. 18 miles of class I - II, set in the Humboldt redwoods.
South Fork Eel River to Rio Dell. 22 miles of class I - II.
Trinity River, Lewiston to Pigeon Point. 37 miles of class I - II, with some possible class II+ stretches further downstream.
East fork of Carson River, Markleeville to Gardnerville, NV. 20 miles of class II+.
Sacramento River between Redding and Red Bluff. 54 miles, but mostly just riffles.

It seems like there might also be some possibilities along Cache Creek or Russian River, but it’s not clear how long the canoe-able stretches are. The stuff that’s available might be too hard or too easy.

Any thoughts appreciated…

For us CA folk who haven;t paddled Maine, could you describe the type of experience you get there? And are you taking a family cruiser canoe with lots of camping gear, or a whitewater canoe with air bags?

Adding to what was said in the prior post, the Sacramento has riffles and such all the way to at least Chico. After that, it becomes less wildish river and more diked-in waterways. There is an almost-annual race from Redding to Chico which says it is 100 miles. Map shows where the riffles/rapids are. https://www.californiariverquest.com/race-info/courses-maps/ The flow varies with water releases. Outside of rainy season, it would be when the farmers and other downstream users need it. I recall seeing some videos on Youtube from people who have paddled it, so that could be good beta also.

Cate an Jeff of Liquid Fusion Kayaking paddle the Eel annually in kayaks, so might be able to give you some beta. https://liquidfusionkayak.com/

People do paddle the Russian River in canoes. Fair amount of access issues - rich people with riverfront properties not allowing anyone to land on their properties.

I think Cache Creek is rain dependent and more kayaking material than canoe.

From what I remember from biking near Markleeville, the Carson is a smallish river, so not one that comes to mind as a good canoe location (but I could be wrong).

In Maine we had a lot of rivers with a mix of flat water and small rapids that could be handled by relatively inexperienced paddlers. More than riffles, required some reading of the river and attention, occasional scouting. But unlikely to capsize you if you’re remaining alert.

The impression I get from the previous post is that California rivers drop from the Sierras to the flatlands, so they are either terrifying or lazy. Also, in Maine the water got warm :slight_smile:

In answer to your other question: family canoe with camping gear.

Maine has several rivers that offer week long or more trips. Not including the 350 miles of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail . All have campsites. Some portaging is often required particularly along the NFCT so the whole house is not carried. Serious drops have portages so where there is class 3 there is a portage There is a long history of log drives and canoe travel.

I see mention of rafting in CA a lot( only done on daytrips here on the Penobscot and Kennebec and Dead) so I think the CA vibe is different

Adam1, in general I think you are on track with thinking that Maine paddling is different than CA. A few years ago I wanted to paddle an easier stretch (class II) of the Smith river, unfortunately water levels didn’t cooperate. Sometimes looking at the descriptions of commercial tour operators is useful when you are unfamiliar with an area and trying to decide where to go. Here’s a link:

Hi Adam,
Good question. I like the Sacramento River a lot especially in the fall when it is cooler. Redding to Red Bluff is a great run for more experienced paddlers. Watch out with security especially around Redding. Pay for someone to watch your car. I have paddled many stretches of the Sac down to Colusa. The upper run has the best wilderness character. Lots of wildlife around. Good campsites, especially on islands. Ticks and other insects are bad in spring. I took 42 ticks off my dog once after a May trip. The king salmon swim under your boat in the fall.

Never paddled the Eel R because it has a short season.

The Trinity R is spectacular with lots of wildlife and wonderful forests. It has some more technical rapids. There are bears around. The hardest river I have paddled in a canoe except the John Day R in OR in flood. Willow Creek to Weitchapec. Only one Class 3, we lined it.

The East Fork of the Carson R is my backyard run. I have done it many times in a raft. Cold water because the snowmelt is good late Mar to maybe Memorial Day. Early June maybe. There is a lot of gradient, few places to recover. I have only done the Carson in a raft. /Watch the flow carefully. It is doable in the June maybe July in a canoe

Feather R is good. The lower Klamath R, the last 35 miles to the ocean. I have rafted the middle part below I-5 to Happy Camp. Lots of 2+ and 3s.

Thanks, this is incredibly helpful. It sounds like most of these trips might require more experience than we have. Trinity sounds incredible, but not good for novices. Do you have any recommendations for people looking to get some rapids in, but nothing too technical? What kind of conditions should we expect on Feather River and Lower Klamath?

Given all the recent insanity, this would have to be a fall trip, or maybe next year.

Lower Feather or the Sacramento well below Red Bluff would be the place to start.