Kaweah River North Fork Upper


Stretch: Granite Slide to National Park Boundary
Difficulty: Class IV+ with possible portages and some brush
Distance: 4.1 miles, 1 full day
Flows: kayaks 200 - 800 cfs
Gauge: estimate 33% of Terminus inflow (TRM)
Gradient: 122 fpm average, first mile 170 fpm
Put-in: by hiking above Burnt Point Creek, 2230'
Take-out: park boundary at Yucca Creek, 1700'
Shuttle: hike 4 miles with 800' climb on an old road
Maps: USFS Sequoia NF, AAA Sequoia, Topo
Season: spring, from snowmelt
Agency: USFS
Notes: Pioneer © 1997 Preston Holmes. Photos © 2008 Bill Tuthill.

If you don't mind hiking your boat in, you should not miss this classic springtime river trip. Full of granite slides and bedrock waterfalls, it lies entirely within the confines of Sequoia National Park. This is a seldom-visited corner of the park, so don't expect to see rangers or backpackers.

In the morning, leave your car at the Yucca Creek trailhead, and hike your boats four miles upstream to the put-in before temperatures climb too high. Most of the elevation gain is in the first mile, after which the old road descends a bit then mostly levels out.

For old photos and a useful guide to the upper run, see the Upper North Fork Kaweah by Preston Holmes. A bit of information about the upper run was added to the third edition of the Holbek/Stanley guidebook. Earlier editions described only the lower run.

You can combine the upper run with the lower North Fork run, most likely on a separate day. For a guide to the lower run, see the lower North Fork Kaweah, or the Holbek/Stanley guidebook.

After crossing Yucca Creek, the trail turns right, gradually ascending the right bank and a grassy meadow to an old gate. After this the trail reaches a saddle then descends gradually as the meadow turns to oak forest, where a roadbed becomes evident. Watch for poison oak along the old road, especially in shady areas. A clear passage was available everywhere in 2009.
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Carrying to put-in on the old road  Finally you start to see the river
Not long after you start seeing glimpses of the river, the old road descends a bit near a grassy slope where you hear loud whitewater. If you continue on the old road as it ascends a bit into the woods where the river is no longer visible, you have gone too far. We did so, but eventually found a poison-oak infested trail that descends diagonally upstream to a good put-in.
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Slide your boats down this grassy slope  The poison-oak put-in is very nice
If you hike too far and start here, wash off poison oak in the pool. Expect creekin' style action: about half a mile of continuous class II-III.
mile 0
Put-in Slide. Advisable routes start center and finish left. The Holbek/Stanley guidebook warns about rocks on the bottom right, but they appear to be covered at higher flows. You will probably want to carry your boats back up and run this one repeatedly.
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Wide view of the entrance to Put-in Slide  Wide view of the finish at Put-in Slide
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Sideways into the seam, not good  Made it through for the final boof
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Taking the final boof further downstream  Big eddy before the next scout
Both sides of this rapid look nasty, and although the center looks relatively safe, wicked cross currents in the pool above make it tricky to line up correctly.
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Paul's paddle says take it down the center  Brian lines it up for the ideal run
Relatively easy boogie water thru a semi-wooded area.
Get It Right. The river funnels into a narrow chute and drops over a bedrock waterfalls into a pool. Two big rooster-tails block the left, hence the name. Reportedly at very low flows, you want to get it left (not right) to avoid getting stuck on rocks.
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Funneling down into the chute  Avoiding the rooster-tail on the top left
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Distant yellow boat enters the slide  Avoiding the rooster-tail on the bottom left
Only a short pool separates Get It Right from Baby Niagara.
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Throwbag and pool below Get It Right  Entrance to Baby Niagara from above
Baby Niagara. The right side is a shelf and would make a good sneak route if it were not for the undercut cliff on the right side of the channel, which is less in-play at higher flows. The waterfalls on the left is steep and has significant recirculation, so get your speed up.
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Brendan in yellow boat above Baby Niagara  Paul has good speed on a perfect line
This could be Another Slide, or Otis' Slide in Preston's original writeup (out of order), or it could be undocumented in his writeup. Anyway, at this flow it is best to stay as far right as possible to avoid the wicked seam that flipped this kayak.
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The water is falling left into the seam  Impossible to stay upright in that seam
Hum Dinger, hazardous on the right where a rock plugs the channel. At moderate and high flows, a navigable trickle on the left side is the best alternative.
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Most water piles into the rock, some under  The slide is plenty wide to avoid the rock
Burnt Point Creek enters on the left.
Undercuts, class V-
At low flows, an undercut ledge on the top right encourages a short portage. At higher flows, an undercut rock on the bottom left can be sticky, so boaters can opt for the long but moderately easy portage on the right.
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Nate's boat is a speck at the top of rapid  Nate struggles to exit the hole halfway down
Immediately below Undercuts is a steep narrow drop into a pool, then a possible portage.
Rhinitis (Congested), class V-
This might be more approachable if a willow jungle (2009) did not make it so difficult to scout. You can portage quickly by dragging boats over rocks in a flood channel on the left.
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Rhinitis from the portage  Rhinitis from below
Relatively easy boogie water through a wooded area. Preston Holmes mentions Another Slide after this section, but it was not remarkable enough for me to photograph it.
Tiger Slide, AKA Slip'n'Slide. Most of the water enters a seam that goes diagonally from right to left, but with sufficient flow you can take a shortcut into the bottom of the diagonal seam. From a distance, the rock appears striped like a tiger.
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Zoom view showing rock stripes  Tiger Slide wide view
Heaven's Gate. A beautiful 10' falls that seems totally safe to run.
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Wide view of Heaven's Gate  Brendan poised at the lip of Heaven's Gate
Below Heaven's Gate, the river loses its slide and bedrock character and becomes a regular creek with occasional brush and class III rapids. Although some of the holes are big, boat scouting usually suffices.
Zig Zag, shortly below: a boulder maze usually run on the left.
Otis' Slide? This could be a spot where we had a swimmer.
Yuck! That is the actual name. Possibly scout right. A boulder blocks the channel with a body strainer on its right side. The left side is clear, if you can make the move past guard rocks. There wasn't enough light to take a picture when we got there, but Preston's writeup has a picture taken from the top right.
Rapids ease as you get glimpses of Yucca Creek canyon on the left.
Yucca Creek enters on the left. Shortly afterwards, take out at a rocky beach on the left, with a large grassy area above.
Thanks to adventure kayakers Brendan Curran, Nate Johnson, Brian Kennedy, and Paul Raffaeli for help with photos.

Shuttle Directions

To reach take-out and the starting point of your hike, drive east from Visalia on highway 198 past Terminus reservoir. In the town of Three Rivers, turn left onto North Fork Drive, cross the Kaweah river on a high bridge, and proceed uphill to the end of the road at Yucca Creek.


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