Feather River Middle Fork Wild & Scenic
This is one of the finest wilderness river trips in California, with canyon scenery rivaling the granitic Forks of the Kern, and forest cover reminiscent of Oregon before clear-cutting. The rapids are similar in difficulty to those on Cherry Creek - Tuolumne, but spread out over three days and 30 miles, rather than all within 9 miles.
There are three class V canyons separated by easier rapids. The first (unnamed) canyon is a volcanic eastern slope affair with wide open rock gardens and vertical boulder piles. Franklin Canyon is metamorphic bedrock with extremely steep rapids, including 12' Franklin Falls. Devil Canyon is a precipitous granite canyon punctuated by class VI Granite Dome Falls, followed by many class V boulder slaloms.
The Cassady/Calhoun guidebook describes this run mile-by-mile in great detail. As the years go by, more and more rapids acquire names, so their newer editions reflect the new names. The Holbek/Stanley guidebook reports bony conditions at 500 cfs and huge hydraulics at 3000 cfs, saying the optimum for hardshell kayaks is 2000 cfs. That would be way too high for inflatable kayaks, and even rafters are sometimes intimidated by flows that high.
Three-day raft trips on descending flows starting at 1000 - 1500 cfs are ideal, for example towards the end of snowmelt, or during a cooling trend. The half kilometer mandatory portage around Granite Dome Falls is very difficult with rafts and overnight gear, however. It would make the portage easier to do this run at low flows using inflatable kayaks to carry overnight gear. However reports are that the upper river is very bony at low flows. Perhaps the best plan would be to start at Cleghorn Bar, where a 4WD road reaches or comes very close to the river. It might be possible to run the remaining rapids with as little as 500 cfs. Please report back!
With two good bow paddlers, I rowed this river many years ago. Both of my paddlers (you know who you are) fell out and swam Franklin Falls! One of them had trouble sitting down for a few days after that. Our group had one flip and one wrap on that trip, and portaged twice, the first being an easy boat-lift over a rock jumble. The most strenuous part was re-inflating our rafts below Granite Dome Falls. For some reason, maybe practice, the rapids in Devil Canyon seemed easy, although hardshell kayakers report otherwise.
Map of Rivers