Bear River near Colfax


Stretch: Ben Taylor Road to Combie reservoir
Difficulty: Class II with some class II+
Distance: 8 or 10 miles, 1 day
Flows: kayaks 400 - 2000, IK minimum 250
Gauge: NID-supplied flow at highway 174 (Dreamflows)
Gradient: 25 fpm, fairly continuous
Put-in: end of Ben Taylor Road, 1800'
Take-out: Combie Reservoir near Combie Road, 1600'
Shuttle: 25 miles (35 minutes) one-way
Maps: Delorme N California, AAA Lake Tahoe Region, Topo
Season: March possibly into June, snowmelt and diversion
Agency: county, private
Notes: © 1998 Bill Tuthill, photos © 2017 Larry Hazen.

This is an excellent beginner run thru medium-elevation forest and scenic gorges, with swiftly moving water but no big rapids. Because of diversions from the South Fork Yuba, the Bear River contains more water than its gentle canyon would indicate. If you get permission to take out on private land near the top of Combie reservoir (along China Flat Road), this is an 8 mile run. If you paddle to Combie reservoir boat ramp, add 2 miles.

Camping is possible at Placer County Park along the river around mile 3, for a nominal fee. Sites fill up fast on weekends.

The Bear has many promising sections with good gradient upstream of Rollins reservoir, but these sections are often dewatered by hydro diversions. There is a short class V run starting at the highway 174 bridge. It contains several severe entrapment hazards, but has reliable flow into autumn, so many local paddlers find it appealing. Most of the time these expert paddlers take out at Ben Taylor road. If you put in on Combie Reservoir and portage the dam, you'll find a class IV (?) run with occasional entrapment hazards. Downstream of highway 49, the Bear plummets thru a poison oak infested class V canyon that even stalwart Lars Holbek called a portagefest.

mile 0
Put in along a swift section of river on the far side of some willows. A blackberry-lined trail, possibly gated, leads down to the river, following hairpin turns of the old road.
Most rapids are swift and shallow, dropping around small boulders lodged in gravel bars. Some rapids are obscured by willow trees in certain years.
Chicago Park Ditch comes in on the right, after a horseshoe bend in the river.
Bear River CA Bear River CA
Inflatable canoe in a nice section  Paul Eilers, Dave Hellerstein, and others
Signs of Placer County Park become visible, and remain so for almost a mile.
Bear River CA Bear River CA
Steve Menicucci, Suzie Q, Lyrinda Snyderman  Matt Cleary in a rocky drop
The river enters a miniature gorge. Gravel and boulder bar rapids change to bedrock rapids.
Bear River CA Bear River CA
Matt in a nice forested section  Entrance to the miniature gorge
Diagonal (class II+). A fast-paced section of river culminates in a diagonal drop that can flip boats entering sideways.
Bear River CA Bear River CA
Distinctive rock in the gorge  Higher flows make for silty water
Dog Bar Bridge. Gravel beach on right is a popular spot for local sunbathers to hang out. No parking signs near the bridge, mostly ignored by locals; parking is possible further uphill on the north.
Unnamed (class II+). Rocks in riverbed necessitate maneuvering.
Unnamed (class II+). Rocks in riverbed necessitate maneuvering.
Slack water of Combie reservoir begins. A gravel mining operation near the head of the reservoir on the left, operating weekdays only, used to be a sneaky take-out, but access has been made tougher in recent years. Further down, Van Giessen Resort, Charles Martin's recommended take-out on private land, is long gone. China Flat on the right is a possible take-out, with permission.
Combie reservoir boat ramp on right. Follow the nearby inlet. Be discreet, since you will be crossing private property, which fortunately lacks No Trespassing signs. If you don't keep a low profile, it is possible that the landowner could be forced to deny reservoir access, and boaters would lose this access point.

To reach take-out, go north from Auburn on highway 49 about 10 miles. Several miles after crossing the Bear River, at Higgins Corner, turn right onto Combie Road. In about 1 mile, bear right where Magnolia Road bears left, and descend to the end of the paved road north of Combie reservoir. Forget about the boat ramp shown on some maps - it is private. Park inconspicuously in a makeshift parking area next to a field, and take out in debris-clogged shallows at the end of an inlet.

To reach put-in, retrace your route and turn right on Magnolia Road. Proceed five miles and turn right on Dog Bar Road. Descend to the river, cross the narrow bridge (an alternate take-out), climb back out of the canyon, and turn left onto Placer Hills Road. Milk Ranch Road turns left downhill after 1.1 mile, leading to Placer County Park camp, and rejoins the shuttle route (now called Tokayama Way) in another 1.2 mile. At the stop sign, turn left on Ben Taylor Road, pass the Colfax high school, and bear left at an unmarked intersection where the road changes to gravel and dirt. Descend thru thick forest to the river, crossing the Bear River canal, and park near a spring at the final right hairpin turn.

An easier shuttle would be to turn left (not right) on Dog Bar Road, proceeding 4 miles to a right turn at Taylor Crossing Road. This approach might necessitate bumping boats down Chicago Park Ditch, if the summer bridge is out. The northern put-in has not been tested.


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