Eel River South Fork above Leggett


Stretch: Highway 101 (Ten Mile Creek) to Big Bend
Difficulty: Class IV with one portage at low flows
Distance: 16 miles, 1 or 2 days
Flows: rafts (1600) 1800 - 6000 cfs, kayaks 1500 - 8000, IK minimum 1200
Gauge: flow measured downstream at Leggett (LEG, or about 40% MRD)
Gradient: 41 fpm average, 100 fpm before confluence
Put-in: where Ten Mile Creek comes close to highway 101, 1460'
Take-out: Big Bend cabins and fishing access, 810'
Shuttle: 12 miles (20 minutes) one-way
Maps: Delorme Northern California, AAA Northern California, Topo
Season: winter and spring, from recent rain
Agency: private, BLM
Notes: © 1997 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

Note for 2006: Tenmile Creek has become highly willow-infested, perhaps due to summer rain and lack of winter floods in recent years. Consequently this trip is not recommended for rafts. Kayaks can squeeze thru most of the willow jungles, but several judicious portages might be in order. Rafts might have an easier time starting at Branscomb (see Cassady book) but the class IV rapid just above the confluence is also blocked by willows.

The South Fork of the Eel runs every winter, and cannot be recommended highly enough. Holbek/Stanley call it the “classic run in the Eel drainage” and they are right-on. This river, relatively warm because of its proximity to the coast, makes a good case for living in California. The run's only defect is the first 4 miles of flatwater on Ten Mile Creek, but after that comes a solid class III-IV run with one potential portage, and good rapids from start to finish. Scenery is stupendous, with second growth redwoods, deep mossy canyons, and green water.

The South Fork Eel is about as difficult as the Tuolumne below Lumsden, except that the Eel has one likely portage, flows aren't as predictable, and the canyon is more isolated.

For inflatable kayaks, 1200 cfs (at Leggett) seems optimum; carrying only about 25% of that flow, Ten Mile Creek is a bit bony, but after the confluence hydraulics become quite large. Rafts need higher flows, perhaps 1600 cfs minimum. Some hardshell kayakers think 2500 cfs is optimum. When the Leggett gauge fails to report, estimate 40% of the flow at Miranda flow. Here is a new forecast page for stage and cfs at Miranda. Boaters who enjoy camping might like to stay overnight on a forested bench at the confluence, waiting for the water to drop (check forecasts to make sure it won't rain).

Put-in along highway 101 where gauge used to be (now removed); look for gap in fence. Shuttle is only 20 minutes each way!
Class I-II rapids for the first 4 miles, except for a class III boulder maze here. Enter right and work left.
Rock spire on the right announces the first major rapid, Big Fella, a tight S turn on the far right against a boulder. This is the toughest rapid for rafts on Ten Mile Creek.
Rapids pick up; generally class IV to the confluence; the last two miles have a 100 fpm gradient.
Huge Rock in Middle, class IV. Similar to the one downstream, but with a larger rock obscuring the route, and not as difficult.
Big Rock in Middle, class IV+. Hardest rapid on Ten Mile Creek, because the big rock hides moves below; easiest route is on right, but left is mandatory at very low water.
South Fork Eel drops thru class IV+ Ten Mile Creek Rapid on the left, which you can carry up to run if you want. Beach and excellent campsite on the right.
Ten Mile Creek and South Fork Eel Ten Mile Creek and South Fork Eel
Flatwater paddling upper Ten Mile Creek Typical bony rapid above Eel confluence
Fun class III rapids begin.
Headwall 1, class IV. Enter right and negotiate big drops around an S-turn, past a big cliff on the right.
Twisty Maze of Passages, class IV. Big rocks on the left create an interesting technical challenge; an easy sneak route on the right around a gravel island becomes available above 1500 cfs.
Class III-IV rapids too numerous to remember, although one in there somewhere is impassable at very low water.
Headwall 2, class IV. At low flows this one is very rocky and deserves a quick look from the right bank.
Ten Mile Creek and South Fork Eel Ten Mile Creek and South Fork Eel
See the paddler's helmet in Headwall 2 There are calm sections between rapids
Double Drop Where Slots Don't Match, class V-VI. Portage is recommended at low water, when the best-looking chute appears wider from above than it actually is. At higher flows the left becomes runnable, if not blocked by a tree.
A new log is blocking the right side of Double Drop (1997), so especially at low water a portage is advisable. Three of four possible chutes now contain strainers (1998).
Ten Mile Creek and South Fork Eel Ten Mile Creek and South Fork Eel
Recognition: large boulders block the river This log extends across two exit chutes
Hole that Ate Chicago, class IV+. If you portage Double Drop, this is the hardest rapid on the run. Start on the far left or far right, slalom around rocks and holes, and choose either a left or right exit to avoid Chicago rock (hole above 3000 cfs).
Ten Mile Creek and South Fork Eel Ten Mile Creek and South Fork Eel
View from above as paddler avoids rocks Diagonally running the far left chute
Ten Mile Creek and South Fork Eel Ten Mile Creek and South Fork Eel
Flipped by a diagonal wave above a hole To heck with the boat, save yourself!
Canyon becomes very deep. Class III-IV rapids continue unabated. Some hydraulics are larger than anything in Chicago-eater.
Rattlesnake Creek enters on the right. Only 3 class III-IV rapids remain after this point.
Big Bend Lodge on the right bank. In 2010 the take-out fee was $10 per person, or $25 per vehicle, and shuttle service was available at the Lodge, both upriver and downriver. Cottages with hot showers and kitchens are available at reasonable rates, and include river access, a short carry up a gravel bar from the river. For reservations call 707-925-2440 or visit


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