Salmon River into Klamath (Cal Salmon)


Stretch: Nordheimer campground to below Wooley Creek
Difficulty: class IV+ (3 class V rapids), harder at higher flows
Distance: 10.2 miles, 1 day
Flows: rafts (600) 800 - 4000 cfs, kayaks 500 - 5000 cfs, IK minimum 450
Gauge: measured downstream of Wooley Creek at Somes Bar (USGS site)
Gradient: 54 fpm average, steeper in gorge
Put-in: USFS campground at Nordheimer Creek, 1120'
Take-out: just downstream from Wooley Creek, 560'
Shuttle: 10.2 miles (20 minutes) one-way
Maps: USFS Klamath NF, AAA Northern California, Topo
Season: spring into early summer, from snowmelt
Agency: USFS, guided Whitewater Rafting
Photos: scanned by Kevin Lewis,

This is a classic must-do run for advanced rafters and hardshell kayakers with an unfailing roll. At low flows it also a good inflatable kayak run. Inflatable kayakers who are comfortable in big water often run this stretch without mishap, and Chris Ursich reports good inflatable kayaking at around 350 cfs. The Holbek/Stanley book says flow range is 500-5000 cfs with 1500 optimum and harder rapids above 2000 cfs. The Cassady/Calhoun book says flow range for rafts is 600-4000 cfs.

Gayle Wilson made two excellent whitewater videos on this river, The Slammin' Salmon and Whitewater Bloopers, both of which are highly recommended. The lesson of these videos is that the Salmon can kick your butt, especially at higher flows. In 1982 a commercial rafting passenger drowned during a long high-water swim. For a while, 3000 cfs became the accepted maximum flow for rafts, although Cassady/Calhoun's 3rd edition now says 4000 cfs, and Holbek/Stanley have always said 5000 cfs.

For skilled rafters, the Cassady/Calhoun guidebook description is enough to get you down this section of river. To learn the rapids and the best routes, you might want to book a commercial trip with an outfitter who knows the river. Private boating groups often make a pilgrimage to the Salmon over Memorial Day.

Some boaters continue this run down thru the Ikes section of the Klamath. In fact, that is usually the only time anybody runs the Ikes. The adventure involves 4.5 miles of class II on the Salmon below Wooley Creek, then some big water starting at the Klamath eddy line. Only .7 mile below the confluence, boaters encounter Little Ike (III-), Big Ike (IV), and Super Ike (III+), all within .3 mile. Lesser but still good rapids continue to Dolan Bar 4.5 miles further.

Upstream of Nordheimer Creek is an excellent 10.3 mile class III run starting at Methodist Creek and continuing past Forks of Salmon. This is an alternative when flows are high, and is a good IK run. Below Methodist Creek, the Salmon offers tight rapids in a narrow gorge, then opens up a bit, where you encounter some fun steep drops. The Salmon flow approximately doubles at the North Fork confluence, with only class II rapids down to Nordheimer campground.

Cal Salmon River into Klamath CA
Bloomer Falls from below
Cal Salmon River into Klamath CA
Rock garden below Bloomer Falls
Cal Salmon River into Klamath CA
Above Morehouse Creek
Cal Salmon River into Klamath CA
Cat does tailstand in Airplane Turn
Cal Salmon River into Klamath CA
Above the narrow right chute of Cascade
Cal Salmon River into Klamath CA
Cat burying bow at the bottom of Cascade
Cal Salmon River into Klamath CA
Kayak taking center line in Cascade
Cal Salmon River into Klamath CA
Fortunately the hole is not very sticky
Cal Salmon River into Klamath CA
Cat entering left side of Cascade
Cal Salmon River into Klamath CA
Achilles Heel from below

A good combination trip is to run the Cal Salmon on Saturday, dine at the Indian Creek Cafe in Happy Camp, then motor over to run the Scott on Sunday. This makes one of the best whitewater weekends in California.

To find nearby food and lodging, type Somes Bar into the box and click Search.

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