Stanislaus River North Fork near Arnold


Stretch: Sourgrass Campground to McKay's Point
Difficulty: Class IV+ (three class Vs), harder above 1500 cfs
Distance: 7.5 miles, 1 day
Flows: kayaks and small rafts 500 - 2000, IK minimum 300
Gauge: flow measured near Avery (NSA)
Gradient: 77 fpm average, 100 fpm after Big Trees bridge
Put-in: from parking are below Sourgrass Bridge, 3960'
Take-out: just above Utica Ditch Diversion Dam, 3380'
Shuttle: 18.5 miles (1 hour) one-way
Maps: USFS Stanislaus NF, AAA Lake Tahoe Region, Topo
Season: early summer and fall, from runoff and dam release
Agency: USFS, state park, guided Whitewater Rafting
Notes: © 1998, 2011 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

This run is a total classic, though it used to be more classic, before the New Year's 1997 flood washed out Sourgrass bridge and class V- rapid, and several fun rapids below. In their place is a long class V+ that still seems too dangerous to run. The remainder of rapids remain relatively unchanged.

Conveniently, transportation service is available from Irie Shuttles. Contact Rocky Bridges to make arrangments, or 209-795-4809.

Upstream is the 11.3 mile Hell's Kitchen run described in the Holbek/Stanley book, class V+ with 2 to 5 portages, starting near the confluence of Highland Creek. This section contains many waterfalls in a granite gorge. Water on this stretch is limited by Utica and Union Reservoirs, with Spicer Meadow Reservoir providing most of the flow.

Downstream the riverbed is dewatered by Utica Ditch Diversion Dam, and gradient increases to over 200 fpm in spots. This section has been run by expert kayakers, and many rubber ducky trips have been abandoned. One such trip is recounted in the Holbek/Stanley book; see the story Duckies to Hell by John Cassidy. Eventually the north fork is joined by the middle fork, becoming the main Stanislaus that flows past Camp-9 Powerhouse.

mile 0
Put in from the convenient parking area on river right downstream of Sourgrass Bridge, avoiding Sourgrass Falls, currently class V or V+ with nasty undercuts at the bottom. Kayakers can take several trails reaching the river below Sourgrass Falls, with possible seal launch. Rafters can find a wide trail at the downstream end of the parking area.
North Fork Stanislaus CA North Fork Stanislaus CA
Leftover landslide debris and new bridge  Sourgrass Falls from below
Beginner's Luck, class IV then possible portage
The first two bedrock drops are fun, but the third drop is rock-choked, so kayakers often portage around the boulder-bed on river left. At higher flows the third drop is runnable but holes below get big.
North Fork Stanislaus CA North Fork Stanislaus CA
Fun drops visible far upstream  Rock block, no good route at this flow
North Fork Stanislaus CA North Fork Stanislaus CA
Portaging irrigated boulder field on left  Post portage at last drop of Beginner's Luck
After several more drops in a scenic canyon, the gradient eases.
North Fork Stanislaus CA North Fork Stanislaus CA
First drop is just around the corner  Picturesque rapid further downstream
Board's Crossing, a private bridge connected to a dirt road leading north to Board's Crossing Road, your shuttle route to Sourgrass. Mild rapids continue for nearly another mile.
Wide Bedrock, class III, the first significant rapid in a while, runnable on the far left at low water, or elsewhere at higher flows.
The Slot, class IV, scout right
At low water the best route is on the right, but at higher flows, other routes open on the left side.
North Fork Stanislaus CA North Fork Stanislaus CA
Scouting the Slot from rocks above  Red kayak between two big drops
Although the gradient remains relatively steep, rapids are mostly class III or easily boat scouted.
The Thing, class IV
A sharp right-then-left turn is required to avoid The Thing, a large rock blocking your downstream view, and spouting ominously at high flows.
North Fork Stanislaus CA North Fork Stanislaus CA
Right-left move and The Thing from below  Scouting Upper Sequoia, Island in distance
Boulder Maze, class IV
Many tight moves among large boulders, making it difficult to see and communicate with your fellow boaters.
Island, class III+
A long island separates the river. The left channel is usually chosen.
Upper Sequoia, class IV, scout left
A technical boulder garden followed by a steep falls.
North Fork Stanislaus CA North Fork Stanislaus CA
First drop of Upper Sequoia  Second drop involves a ferry right
North Fork Stanislaus CA North Fork Stanislaus CA
Final drop of Upper Sequoia  Hydraulics are large even at low flows
Lower Sequoia, class IV, scout right
A turbulent chute with several big holes, ending under the bridge.
North Fork Stanislaus CA North Fork Stanislaus CA
Red kayak exiting the scouting eddy  Tailstand in the tricky diagonal hole!
Bridge over the river inside Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Alternate take-out to avoid class V rapids downstream, or if the dirt road to McKay's Point is closed.
Devil's Horn, class V-, scout left
The river drops over a rocky falls, and heavy whitewater continues past many large rocks. The best route is against the right wall, over a steep drop into a large hole.
North Fork Stanislaus River near Avery CA North Fork Stanislaus River near Avery CA
This boat chose to enter on the far right Spectators watch run of steep drop and hole
Goalposts, class IV+
A variety of routes, most involving a move between goalposts. At moderate flows, rocks divide the channel into left, center, and right channels. Right is the most turbulent down below. Many boaters elect to run the center goalpost.
The Waterfall, class V, scout left, possibly portage left
The river drops turbulently into several diagonal holes, then races into an almost vertical chute. This in itself wouldn't be so bad, but is followed by a long class IV boulder garden.

The rock and tree
in the upper right
of the first photo
are the same
as on the left side
of the second photo.

North Fork Stanislaus River near Avery CA

North Fork Stanislaus River near Avery CA

Another boat entering above the falls
Two-person raft running The Waterfall
Breathless, class IV+
A very long boulder garden requires so much constant maneuvering that you will be out of breath at the bottom, at this altitude. This is a forested area, so watch for down trees in this section.
Take out on the right above the diversion dam at McKay's Point, or run the dam, probably on the right side.

Shuttle Directions

To reach take-out, drive east from Angel's Camp about 18 miles to Avery. Leave highway 4, bearing right on Moran Road. Proceed 1.1 mile to Love Creek Road, turn right, and cross a creek. Continue 4 miles to a Y intersection near some houses. Take the right fork of the Y, which switchbacks immediately and climbs .4 mile to a 4-way intersection on a ridge. Go straight on road 5N35, which drops steeply .6 mile to the river. You might need to open a gate on this road, and in muddy conditions, 4WD or chains are recommended.

To reach an alternate take-out downstream, drive highway 4 east until Avery, turn right on Moran Rd, drive to stop sign. From stop sign, go 1.1 miles, turn right on Love Creek Rd. Drive another 1.6 miles to Doud's Rd and turn right again. After 0.3 miles, at the top of the hill, turn left where a sign says 5 miles to NF Stan. After 4.5 miles the road crosses the NF. On the way to the NF you may come to an unlocked gate, in which case please close it again after you pass through. At the first dirt road you come to, 1.4 miles after crossing the North Fork, turn left and drive 1.6 miles down to the second turn-out (0.2 miles before the road ends). A short trail leads down to the take-out beach, which is river left very near the top of McKay's reservoir. This road is suitable for low-clearance sedans, though even so you may scrape a little going over bumps near the end.

To reach put-in from there, return to Moran Road, but turn right (uphill). This detours around Arnold and leads you in a several miles to highway 4, where you turn right and drive (past Calaveras Big Trees State Park) 4.4 miles to Board's Crossing Road. Turn right. After about 2.5 miles, where a dirt road to Board's Crossing bears right, this paved road becomes 5N02 to Sourgrass Campground. Bear left and continue 3 more miles to Sourgrass Campground.

To find nearby food and lodging, type Arnold CA into the box and click Search.

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