Salmon North Fork above Sawyers Bar
This is one of the best class III-IV runs in California, although it is a long way from population centers, and has a relatively short season. The Idaho-like continuous rapids are mostly class III individually, but add up to class IV because there are no pools, or only short pools, in between. Pristine water, mostly intact forests along the river, and snowcapped peaks in the distance add up to a scenic extravaganza.
Even in the 3rd edition, Holbek warns of a portage around a wooden bridge hanging down in the river, but this bridge has either been removed or has washed away, so there are no portages necessary on this run.
Excellent camping is available at put-in, and also along the 2 mile dirt road from the main highway, but the forest shade and cool temperatures because of high elevation might not give your gear much chance to dry out. In May, it is unlikely that you will freeze your patuchi off, as did Lars Holbek. Sometimes there is enough snow to keep this run running into June.
Because these 7.8 miles can be boated in about 2 hours, you might want to combine this run with something else. You can hike your boats upstream five miles to the confluence of two creeks that create the north fork Salmon. Rapids are reportedly continuous class III+, similar to those below Idlewild.
Downstream of Sawyer's Bar are more than 2 miles of easy class II rapids to a confluence with the Little North Fork, where begins the lower run described by Holbek. We did this lower run in 1996, and didn't like it very much. It contains a lot of boring class II in the middle, and some bad class V rapids near the end; moreover, clearcuts and ugly mining debris are often visible.
To reach put-in, drive from Etna over an often-snowy pass towards Somes Bar. The highway follows a creek to its confluence with the north fork Salmon. Just after a concrete bridge, turn north onto a dirt road and proceed 2 miles to a USFS campground with very fine outhouse near the pack bridge.
To reach take-out from there, return to the main highway and drive west for six miles to the small town of Sawyers Bar. Just past the narrowest part of town with USFS dormitories, turn onto a dirt road towards the river, and possibly drive across a high-water channel to the gravel bar highpoint near the river.
Map of Rivers