Coffee Creek above Clair Engle reservoir


Stretch: North Fork Confluence to Highway 3 Bridge
Difficulty: class III-IV, absolutely continuous
Distance: 9 miles, 1 day
Flows: kayaks 300 - 1000 cfs (or more), IK minimum 250
Gauge: none, as estimated at take-out
Gradient: 120 fpm average, steeper at beginning, easier at end
Put-in: East Fork or USFS Campground at North Fork, 3520'
Take-out: Highway 3 bridge near town of Coffee Creek, 2440'
Shuttle: 9 miles (25 minutes) one-way, winding paved road
Maps: USFS Shasta NF, AAA Northern California, Topo
Season: spring, from long-lasting snowmelt
Agency: USFS, private
Notes: © 2000 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

To my knowledge, Coffee Creek (and the West Walker) are the only runnable nine mile rapids in California. Without the inevitable log jams, this would be like a day of back-to-back Olympic luge rides! Despite the excitement and good scenery however, I'm not sure this run makes it to the classic category. The (single!) boulder-bar rapid is somewhat monotonous, and the road and houses detract from the edge-of-wilderness feel. Below the USFS boundary, “No Trespassing” signs are everywhere. All the same, it's hard to resist running a nine mile rapid.

Interesting head-cam video by Wes with good music (by Juno Reactor) here at YouTube.

Above our highest recommended put-in at the north fork confluence, rapids are class V and sometimes log-choked, less so recently (2008). One rapid in the final mile has a very hazardous sieve, so watch out. Below the north fork, steep class III begins immediately, and there are some class IV passages.

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Coffee canyon from near north fork A put-in just above the east fork

Rapids ease a bit just above the east fork, an alternate put-in. Below there, you might want to stop and scout several blind corners, especially at high flows. Log jams are an ever-present hazard.

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Lining one of the ever-present logjams Scouting an unusually steep section

Two rapids are bonafide perennial class IV: the first is pictured above; the second occurs at a rare bedrock-induced right bend, down near town. The riverbed gradually widens, and gradient eases shortly above the take-out bridge. Endeavor to avoid taking out before the bridge, because much of the land is private and posted with “No Trespassing” signs. However at one spot shortly below the bedrock-induced right bend, the road comes close to the creek, and we were not hassled taking out there.

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The creek splits around a gravel island A good take-out at the highway 3 bridge

To reach take-out, drive north on highway 3 from highway 299 at Weaverville (if coming from Redding, going thru Lewiston is a shortcut). At the head of Clair Engle Reservoir, park near Coffee Creek. There is a public right-of-way under the highway bridge.

To reach put-in from there, turn left after the bridge, proceed thru the hamlet of Coffee Creek, and continue uphill to either the north fork or east fork confluence.


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