Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge


Stretch: Cedar Flat bridge to Hawkins Bar bridge
Difficulty: Class IV+ (with 4 class V rapids)
Distance: 10 miles, 1 day
Flows: rafts (500) 800 - 2000, kayaks 500 - 5000 [sic], IK minimum 300
Gauge: measured at Cedar Flat (USGS site)
Gradient: 46 fpm average, 90/110 fpm at steepest
Put-in: Cedar Flat river access near highway 299 bridge, 980'
Take-out: bridge connecting Salyer with Hawkins Bar, 590'
Shuttle: 10 miles (15 minutes) one-way
Maps: USFS Trinity NF, AAA North California, PDF map, Topo
Season: late summer, from dam release and snowmelt
Agency: USFS, municipal
Notes: © 1998, 2001 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

At low flows in late summer, Burnt Ranch Gorge makes an excellent kayak run. Although this is an expert run, there aren't all that many tough rapids, because the gorge itself is rather short. Below 450 cfs many of the undercuts and tunnels are out of play, and you can run this stretch with minimal hazard to life and limb, provided you can execute a seal launch below Lower Burnt Ranch Falls. However the river seldom falls below 450 cfs, now that dam operations are being managed to enhance fish populations. Perhaps 500 to 600 cfs is the best you can do. Be sure to scout carefully and set safety where needed.

In September 1971, after the first successful kayak run of Burnt Ranch Gorge by Mike Schneller, his father Mel Schneller, and guidebook author Dick Schwind, Mel suffered a heart attack and died near take-out, no doubt as a result of all the strenuous portages. Although this gave the stretch a bad reputation, expert kayakers soon learned to minimize portaging. By 1982 even rafters had run all the rapids, and Whitewater Voyages initiated commercial rafting in 1983.

Put in the Cedar Flat river access upriver from where highway 299 crosses a bridge from river right to left. Fun rapids begin under the highway bridge.
China Slide municipal dump, an alternate but not recommended put-in.
China Slide rapid, class IV-
Just after a left bend comes this shallow and rocky drop, usually run on the right at high flows, or on the left at low flows.
False Pearly Gates, just class III.
Pearly Gates, AKA Auto End-on, class IV+, scout right
The river drops more than 2 meters over rocks and boulders. Below 1000 cfs this one is dangerous for hardshells, which can hit the underwater rocks end-on; broken ankle evacuations are common here. Beneath the big boulder blocking the right side, there are some dangerous-looking underwater tunnels, seemingly avoidable.
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

The bedrock walls steepen ahead
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

Kayaker dropping over the Pearly Gates
Afterwards, the river mellows out considerably for about a mile as it flows thru Box Canyon.
Tight Squeeze, class IV, scout left
The river drops several meters in stages between large boulders, and the gradient steepens to 90 fpm, then 110 fpm at Burnt Ranch Falls. This rapid is more feared by rafters than by kayakers because at low flows only the very-narrow right side is runnable.
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

Greg in the final drop of Tight Squeeze
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

One of the unnamed class IV rapids
Unnamed class IV rapid, probably scout left
Unnamed class IV rapid, probably scout right
Upper Burnt Ranch Falls, class V-, scout left
The river drops over several small falls, then over a taller falls, below which some of the flow goes thru a tunnel along the right bank. When this tunnel is in play, be sure to set safety here. Assuming you stay upright in the taller falls, you must ferry left and make a precise entry into The Jaws, a steep foamy drop between big boulders.
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

Above entrance to The Jaws
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

Larry blows his entrance into The Jaws!

Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

David Elliott in The Jaws

Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

Fortunately a large recovery pool exists below
Middle Burnt Ranch Falls, class V, scout left
The river drops over several meter-high falls, surges against a cliff on the right, and drops steeply into a huge falls. Although this drop is probably not any more dangerous than Upper Burnt Ranch, many boaters choose to drag their boats over the shallow boulder garden drop on the left, because it is hard to set safety for a run on far river right.
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

Entering Middle Burnt Ranch Falls
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

Chase in Middle Burnt Ranch Falls
Lower Burnt Ranch Falls, class V, scout or line left
A curling right turn followed by a long and turbulent drop over many underwater boulders. It is very difficult to keep an IK upright here, and the bruising swim is made more dangerous by the possibility of foot entrapment. Kayakers could hit their heads while Eskimo rolling. After a rockslide in the early 1980s this one became easier to run (class V instead of V+) but more difficult to portage (there used to be an easy portage on the right). Currently the best portage method (2001) is to execute a seal launch from the left cliff below the rapid.
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

Boris in crux #1 of Lower Burnt Ranch
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

Chase in crux #2 of Lower Burnt Ranch
Hennessy Falls, class IV, scout left
After a long pool, a boulder garden maze contains a right-left zigzag that is difficult to discern without scouting.
Origami, class IV+, scout or portage left
A long and complicated boulder slalom leads to a crux at the end. At high flows some large holes lurk in the crux of this rapid, and at low flows all good routes are obstructed by holes or rocks. An advisable sneak route on the left side is usually available at all but lowest flows. Although this one doesn't seem like a class V, it often causes carnage because of its technical difficulty. You might want to run the long lead-in and portage just the crux.
Table Rock, class IV-, class V above 1000 cfs
A chute feeds into an undercut flat rock. Slower current at low water makes the ferry move easy, but at higher flows you should consider portaging on the left.
New River enters thru a very narrow gorge on the right, making an excellent side hike or lunch stop.
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

Sneaking left at the end of Origami
Trinity River Burnt Ranch Gorge CA

Gray's Falls dwarfs a blue boat and kayaker
Gray's Falls, class V-, scout left
Most of the the current moves left thru a rock and boulder maze, before turning sharp left and tumbling over a steep boulder bar, then turning right against a partially undercut cliff on the left. Except at high flows, the boulder bar could cause kayak pins, or possibly body entrapment for swimmers. At low flows, the far-far left offers a relatively unobstructed kayak route (autumn 2001). At high flows, you should choose the rightmost exit to avoid getting slammed into the somewhat-undercut cliff on the left bank. If you don't like the looks of the exposed boulders, consider running the initial section (class III) and dragging your boats over rocks in the final drop to reduce risk.
Class II rapids to take-out. It is possible to carry your boats up the hiking trail to Gray's Falls campground, although you would probably expend fewer calories floating three miles to take-out. Sometimes people carry inflatables down this trail for a short easy float to Hawkins Bar.
Salyer bridge high overhead; a trail climbs the right bank.
Take out at the large and scenic gravel bar on river left, where 4WD vehicles can drive right down to the river. A well-graded dirt road leads down to this designated river access point starting across highway 299 from the Hawkins Bar general store.

To reach put-in, drive west from Redding on highway 299 about 89 miles to the Cedar Flat river access. If you cross a bridge to the left bank of the Trinity river and start climbing uphill, you have gone too far.

To reach take-out from there, continue west on highway 299 to the Hawkins Bar general store. Just across the highway, a dirt road starts along a line of trees and descends to the river over USFS land.


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