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California; Salmon River

Salmon River

Forks of Salmon to Somes Bar
California's Salmon River, a major tributary of the Klamath, rises in the Salmon-Trinity Alps Primitive Area, one of the most isolated regions in the state. Here, icy melt from Sawtooth, the only glacier in California's Coast Range, combines with abundant rain and snowmelt to produce a surge of runoff each winter and spring. Water gathers into two major tributaries, the North and South Forks of the Salmon, which join at the hamlet of Forks of Salmon.1

The "Cal Salmon" -- so called to distinguish it from the larger and better-known Salmon River in Idaho -- is one of the finest whitewater rivers in the West. Though boaters occasionally tackle sections of the small, steep North and South Forks, the Cal Salmon's most popular run is below their confluence, where strong flows and a steep gradient combine to produce powerful whitewater.

The heart of the run described here is the beautiful Salmon River gorge. Boaters will discover an intimate, steep-walled canyon where sparkling green waters splash through an exhilarating series of Class IV and V rapids separated by deep, quiet pools. A road through the canyon is usually unobtrusive and provides several alternate accesses for shorter runs. Less experienced boaters can float the first and last parts of the full 19-mile run, above and below the gorge.

Heavy precipitation -- 80" a year on average -- produces lush forests along the Cal Salmon and feeds brilliant side creeks that often drop down spectacular cascades into the river. Keep in mind that Somes Bar is only 30 miles from the Pacific and that even in June, storms can move in quickly. Boaters should be prepared for cold water and possible cold weather.

The run can be extended by putting in at Methodist Creek on the South Fork, six miles above Forks of Salmon, and by continuing past the take-out down the Ikes section of the Klamath to an access near Orleans. Additional upstream runs are possible on both the North and South Forks of the Salmon, with steep gradients, difficult whitewater and relatively short seasons. (For details on the upstream runs, refer to the guidebook by Holbek and Stanley listed above.)

1 The Salmon, its North and South Forks, and Wooley Creek are all part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Difficulty: V; II+ above mile 4.3 and below mile 14.
Length: 19 miles. Longer and shorter runs possible.
Gradient: 31 ft./mi.
Put-in: Forks of Salmon (1,200').
Take-out: Somes Bar (610').
Drainage Area and Average Annual Discharge: 750 sq. mi. and 1,330,000 af.
Peak Recorded Flow: 133,000 cfs (Dec. 22, 1964).
Season: April - June. Heavy rains produce runnable flows through much of the winter and spring, then comes a short snowmelt season in late spring and early summer.
Recommended Levels: 600 - 3,000 cfs.
Flow Information: DWR tape, (916) 653-9647; flow at Somes Bar.
Permits: Not presently required.
Managing Agency: Klamath NF, 1312 Fairlane Road, Yreka, CA 96097; (916) 842-6131.
Commercial Raft Trips: Yes. For a list of outfitters, contact the Forest Service.
Land Ownership: Mostly private first 3 miles, almost all National Forest thereafter.
Scenery: Excellent. Heavily forested canyon.
Solitude: Very good. The road is usually high above the river.
Wilderness: No.
Water: Clear and cold. Purify before drinking.
Camping: Few sites in the gorge (miles 5 - 14). There is road access at Butler Creek (mile 10.5), so some groups leave boats there and camp elsewhere.
Side Hikes: Some nice trails, especially up Wooley Creek.
Side Excursions: Ishi Pishi Falls, a long Class VI cataract on the Klamath just upstream from the confluence with the Salmon.

Guides and References:

  • Cassady & Calhoun, California Whitewater: A Guide to the Rivers.
  • Holbek & Stanley, A Guide to the Best Whitewater in the State of California. Includes upstream runs on North and South Forks.
  • Maps:

  • USGS 7.5': Forks of Salmon, Orleans Mtn, Somes Bar.
  • USFS: Klamath NF.
  • AAA: Northwestern California.

Logistics: Somes Bar is on Highway 96 at the confluence of the Klamath and Salmon. Please see Western Whitewater, page 376, for details.

Excerpted from Western Whitewater from the Rockies to the Pacific
Copyright 1994 Jim Cassady, Bill Cross, and Fryar Calhoun. Reproduced in cooperation with Fryar Calhoun.


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