Cache Creek in Capay Valley


Stretch: Bear Creek to Haswell or Rumsey
Difficulty: Class II+ (one portage, one class III)
Distance: 5.6 or 8.5 miles or more, 1 day
Flows: small rafts and kayaks 500 - 5000, IK minimum 450, raft minimum 800
Gauge: measured near take-out at Rumsey (RUM)
Gradient: 25 fpm average, less near end
Put-in: Bear Creek, where highway 16 leaves Cache canyon, 630'
Take-out: Haswell Boy Scout Camp parking, or somewhere in Rumsey, 400'
Shuttle: 9 miles (15 minutes) one-way
Maps: Delorme N Cal, AAA Sonoma and Mendocino, Topo
Season: Spring and early summer, dam release
Agency: BLM, private, guided Whitewater Rafting
Notes: © 1998-2016 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo, thanks to Randy Hodges

This is one of the most popular whitewater runs in California, owing to reliable summer flows and proximity to population centers. Many fun class II+ rapids are concentrated in a short distance. Water quality is improved by north fork releases from Indian Valley reservoir; the whole place seems greener since native Americans built a casino in Brooks.

Cache Creek has become big with the “short boat” set because it contains many good play spots. There are fewer rafters than on the South Fork American, so park-and-play kayakers don't mind pulling into an eddy and waiting for inner-tubers and self-guided commercial boaters to pass by. On summer weekends you see a large number of self-guided kayakers, mostly in 2-person inflatables. Related to this is an odd sight: a guide with a flag telling customers how to enter Mother Rapid.

The Cassady/Calhoun guidebook describes the standard summertime run from Yolo County regional park to Rumsey bridge. This misses several fun class II+ rapids just below the Bear Creek confluence, so many people put in where highway 16 climbs away from Cache Creek, despite the tight parking and carry down to the water.

The Cassady/Calhoun guidebook also describes a wilderness run, where boaters report frequent wildlife encounters, starting where the dammed North Fork crosses highway 20. For a description, see Wilderness Cache Creek on this website.

The Holbek/Stanley guidebook recommends Cache Creek as a rainy season run for its high flows and continuous rapids. There are more scenic choices available after recent rains, but you might enjoy the fast class III+ action of Cache Creek in flood stage.

For quiet-water paddling on nearby Clear Lake, see Konocti Water Trails.

Cache Creek CA

Wild turkeys forage for 101 proof liquor
Cache Creek CA

good Western Frog habitat
Cache Creek CA

Bald eagle captured on film

The pictures below were taken on the standard summertime run (Bear Creek to Rumsey) at flows around 750 cfs. Most Cache Creek rapids do not require scouting, but because of its unusual severity, first-timers should stop during the shuttle at the highway bridge that crosses from south to north bank, where you can get a good view of class III Mother Rapid. In 2016, the best line is still on the right side near shore of an island, a line that would be easier after a willow trim.

mile 0
Although parking is tight, it is possible to put in just below the Bear Creek confluence, called the Rusty Truck put-in owing to an abandoned truck decomposing there (2001). Do not block the gate, because commercial outfitters sometimes use it to drive down to the beach. You will have to carry boats downhill.
Against the Wall, class II
Immediately below put-in, this rapid formerly piled boats into a cliff, but has recently moved left away from the wall.
County Line, class II+ or III-
At a left-side boulder bar, the river drops and curves left next to trees on the right bank. There is a big hole at a tight left turn near the bottom. This rapid is adjacent to the county line sign on Hwy 16.
Yolo County upper site, alternate put-in with a good beach, $6 fee with plenty of parking and a well-maintained outhouse.
Cache Creek CA Cache Creek CA
Against the Wall, below Bear Creek  River-wide ledge below Yolo upper site
Class II section ending in a fun river-wide ledge that makes a great play spot, even for rafts. The Yolo County Middle Site camp is on the left here. Below that, the river bends left and splits around an island where most of the water goes right. There is a big (but not nasty) hole on the left under a low tree near the bottom of the island.
Another class II ledge drop that is much harder on the left (II+) around some mid-stream boulders, with good play potential.
Campground Rapid, class II+ or III-
Blind S-turn, where willows block the view, and there are some rather large diagonal holes. This seems to cause much carnage: as much as Mother Rapid because nobody scouts it. A rock on the top right of the main drop moved in winter 2001 so the drop is not nearly as clean as it used to be. This is a rather long rapid.
Yolo County Campground on the left, alternate put-in
Cache Creek CA Cache Creek CA
Easier lower portion of Campground Rapid  Boulder bar (wrap!) below campground
The Wave, class II
Right below the campground swimming beach is a great park-and-play destination for short-boat surfers. There are two playable waves where uptilted bedrock strata emerge. After a short break, there is a big chute at a right turn.
Interesting diagonal-rock rapids near the highway; not difficult.
Taft's Tumble, class II
A short drop over the strata shortly above the low-water bridge. It has some holes in it, and can cause carnage, but not like County Line or Campground rapids.
Hazard! Low-water concrete bridge, portage left
In summertime a float-rope marks the dangerous area above the bridge underflow tunnels. Getting boats out is easy, but the put-in area is somewhat constricted.
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Condemned low-water bridge from upstream  S-Curve (Joe's Nemesis) from downstream
S-Curve, AKA Joe's Nemesis, class II+ or III-
The left side contains a steep drop followed by a sharp right turn with holes against a wrap-rock sticking out from the left bank. At higher flows only, the right side is somewhat of a sneak route, dropping steeply over a boulder bar. After the two routes meet, you are confronted with a wrap rock and boulder dodging for another 200 meters or so. Some boaters have problems if they get messed up at the top. This is the second hardest rapid on this run. The left route is more technical than Mother Rapid, but waves are not as big.
Cache Creek CA These two photos
© 2016 Larry Hazen
Cache Creek CA
Gary, Jonetta, Chelsea in S-Curve  Canoeist sans canoe behind kayakers
Many fun class II drops (containing sleeper rocks at lower flow), but nothing particularly challenging.
Highway 16 bridge. If you forgot to scout during the shuttle, it is easier to climb up to the bridge from the right shore. There is a scouting or portage trail along the left bank; at one point it requires stepping in the water.
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Dani poised at brink of the big hole  In swiftwater below after successful run
Mother Rapid, AKA Rowboat, class III
The most straightforward route starts on the right side of the large channel that flows left around a low willow-covered island. From river level this route is blind because willow trees block your view, so first-timers should look at the rapid from the bridge above. After the large left channel curves past some underwater rocks, it plunges into a big hole. At low flows, the minimal right channel rejoins. Swift but less severe whitewater continues for quite a distance below.
Cache Creek CA These two photos
© 2011 Larry Hazen
Cache Creek CA
Steve entering the big hole  Larry and Laurie getting splashed
Haswell Boy Scout Camp on right, with plenty of free parking and an old stone building of historic interest (but no plaque). It would be nice to take out below the next rapid, but access is poor.
Island Split, AKA Rock Garden, class II+
The left side is a straightforward drop over a steep boulder bar. The right side is an interesting narrow chute, although somewhat difficult to enter, even at optimum flows, being guarded by rocks.
Cache Creek CA Cache Creek CA
Boulder drop side of Island Split rapid  Good solitude in the area above Rumsey
Bulldozered diversion dam moves water to the right. Below is a good class II+ rapid with turbulence and rocks along a cliff on the left.
Commercial take-out on right, with lawn and volleyball nets, a great take-out except it is private property.
This is a good section for bird watching. Boaters commonly see blue herons and white egrets.
Rumsey Bridge, with interesting double concrete-arch construction. Access was restored in spring 2012 with landowner cooperation, thanks to the efforts of Shawn O'Brien, Lee Schmelter, and many others. The California Conservation Corps built wide steps next to the bridge. Please avoid parking on the downstream side of the road near the bridge. If parking spots on the upstream side of the road are full, you can park along highway 16 near the Rumsey post office. When taking out, stay on the walkway upstream of the bridge.
Below Rumsey Bridge is a 7 mile class I-II run down to Guinda. Take out at the double-span steel bridge at a regional park, reached on Road 57 toward the south edge of town. Reportedly, it is another 12 miles of class I, with one significant rapid, to the Capay diversion dam where much water gets diverted for irrigation. If all flow gauges are misreporting, but please not otherwise, you could call Yolo County Flood Control at 530-662-0266 to ask about flows.

Shuttle Directions

To access all runs on Cache Creek, take I-80 to Vacaville, then I-505 north. (Boaters arriving directly from the west can take either highway 16 or 20.) About 11 miles after crossing Putah Creek, take the Woodland-Esparto exit and turn west onto highway 16. Stay on this bendy road thru Esparto, Capay, past the Brooks casino, a ways to Guinda, then to the small town of Rumsey. The total distance is about 21 miles. Another 2.1 miles further upstream on highway 16 is Haswell Boy Scout Camp, visible as a stone building in a large flat area with plenty of parking. This is the most popular take-out.

To reach put-in, continue upstream 6 miles on highway 16 to Yolo County Park. Shortly upstream of the main park entrance are several turn-out areas with plenty of free parking and good access down to the creek. Parking at the Bear Creek confluence is tight, and access is poor except for outfitters, who have a key to the locked gate.

Note: in 2009 the road to Buck Island was closed, and in 2010 CalTrans condemned the low-water bridge, so Buck Island put-in is not feasible until the bridge is rebuilt. Previously with a high clearance vehicle, you could start where commercial trips liked to put in, at Buck Island. This adds some great rapids above Bear Creek. To get there, cross the low-water bridge at mile 2.7 of this run. After about 3 miles of steep uphill driving to a summit, turn right on Rayhouse Road. Continue north along Langs Peak ridge, then descend steeply to Cache Creek, reached after about 4 more miles. This put-in adds 4.4 miles to the standard run.

For shuttle directions to the 18.7 mile run upstream of Bear Creek, see the Wilderness Cache Creek writeup.

To find nearby food and lodging, type Capay Valley into the box and click Search.

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