Eel River Middle Fork near Covelo


Stretch: Black Butte Confluence to Dos Rios
Difficulty: Class II then IV (one V)
Distance: 31 miles, 2 days
Flows: rafts 800 - 4000 cfs, kayaks 800 - 5000, IK minimum 750
Gauge: flow measured at Dos Rios (DOS)
Gradient: 19 fpm average, much steeper near end
Put-in: near confluence with Black Butte river, 1460'
Take-out: near confluence with main Eel at Dos Rios, 860'
Shuttle: 25 miles (45 minutes) one-way
Maps: USFS Mendocino NF, AAA Mendocino and Sonoma, Topo
Season: winter into early summer, rain and snowmelt
Agency: BLM, private
Notes: © 1997 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

This is a fine wilderness run, although somewhat schizophrenic. If public access were allowed on the dirt road that reaches the river near mile 23, the first half would make a relaxing family camping trip, while the second half would make a good advanced run. As it is, novice boaters might be too intimidated to try this run, whereas advanced boaters could possibly be bored by the first half. As Uncle Andy sez, “the first 24 miles are pretty - pretty flat and boring!”

With a large drainage including snowy mountains over 7000 feet, this river has a long season, often thru the end of May, sometimes into June. Perhaps because of logging in the headwaters, the water is silty brown immediately after a storm, but turns whitish green after several days. This is a good trip to select on a sunny spring weekend before the high Sierra season begins in earnest.

The flow at take-out is available on the web, and except after storms, is only slightly higher than the flow near put-in. Best flows for rafting and kayaking are 800-2000 cfs. Above these levels, Coal Mine Falls becomes more difficult to run or line.

Kayakers can do this run in a single day, with an early start, at flows down to 1000 cfs. You could camp out the night beforehand near where you put in. Alternatively, get a relaxed start and spend one night along the river, where good campsites abound. One popular overnight spot is Thatcher Creek.

Shuttles and accommodations are available from the Black Butte River Ranch (general store, cabins, and campground) near put-in, Contact Tom or Margie at 707-983-9438.

Put in at the USFS campground along the Black Butte River. If the flow there is too low, put in at the confluence.
Confluence with the Middle Fork Eel, which more than doubles the flow.
Williams Creek enters on the right, and the road leaves the river.
Fewer open hills as the river enters a more forested area. For the next several miles, the river flows thru three large but progressively tighter horseshoe bends.
Long class II+ rapid that disappears around a left turn.
Mill Creek enters on the right; private dirt road enters the canyon.
Forest turns to brush.
Beautiful rock-lined narrows.
Middle Fork Eel River CA Middle Fork Eel River CA
Note tree trunks high on banks Andy poses without helmet
Hayshed Creek enters on the left, making a good side hike.
Thatcher Creek enters on the left. Possible campsites.
Elk Creek enters on the left. Good campsites, but private property.
18 ?
Great campsite on river right. On the outside of a lefthand bend, there is a big sandy area with large rocks, and a small lake cut-off from the river.
A blue rock slide creates minor class II rapids to interrupt the calm. Green serpentine rock veins are visible as the river flows southwest.
The river turns right and flows northwest (into the wind).
In a field on the right, a private dirt road would make great access. Just below, the river arcs around the left side of a wide boulder bar.
Skinny Chutes, class IV-, scout left or right
Recognition: heavily eroded rocks on right bank. The river suddenly splits, with most of the water dropping into the lefthand channel. The current passes thru some constricted drops among big boulders, most easily run on the left side at moderate flows. At low flows it is hard to get a raft thru here.
Middle Fork Eel River CA Middle Fork Eel River CA Middle Fork Eel River CA
Entering route on left Bottom of first drop Below second drop
Salt Creek enters on the left.
Salt Creek rapid, class III
Prepare to land and scout, probably on the right bank below. The left bank is mucked up by remnants of a defunct coal mine.
Coal Mine Falls, class V-, scout right.
This rapid probably changes from year to year, especially after floods. In 1997 it could be easily lined on the right, or run starting from a small eddy on the right. Kayakers often carry the first drop on the left and then run the remaining two big drops. The first drop is the toughest, because of sharp drops, menacing holes, and undercuts. The second and third drops are a bit easier, and at moderately low flows, there is time and space to set up safety between the sections.
Middle Fork Eel River CA Middle Fork Eel River CA
The river seems to completely disappear among big boulders Scouting from the right reveals a route that skirts the big hole on river left
Middle Fork Eel River CA Middle Fork Eel River CA Middle Fork Eel River CA
Entering from right eddy Too close to rock cluster! Avoiding undercut on left
The river enters a deep canyon containing many class II+ rapids. This was the planned site of the controversial Dos Rios dam, which Governor Reagan cancelled, remarking, “we've already done enough to the Indians.”
Swallow Rock, class III+
The river turns right and swings sharply around a 150' monolith that is home to many birds. At the base is a rapid containing some powerful holes. This rapid is visible from the shuttle road.
Covelo road bridge overhead. A gravel and boulder bar below offers a good take-out, where a bad road climbs to the parking lot above.
To reach take-out, go east from highway 101 on Covelo road, and drive 16 miles to a bridge where the road crosses the middle fork. From a parking lot near the bridge, an old road leads down to a gravel bar on river left. With maintenance budgets what they are, it is unlikely you will be able to drive down to the river.

To reach put-in, cross the bridge, turn right, and continue on Covelo road to the Round Valley Indian reservation. One mile north of Covelo, turn right onto Mendocino Pass road (follow highway 162 signs) and continue about 10 miles to where the road crosses the middle fork. You can put in anywhere near the bridge. The USFS campsite is a right turn just past the bridge.


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