is California's standard intermediate run that many
boaters run repeatedly and never outgrow. Annoying
user fees can deplete beer money fast. Crowds are
a huge problem on weekends during the summer. The
whitewater is mostly class II+ with ten class IIIs,
two class III+ rapids, and one class IV- that repeat
customers never scout. Most commercial outfitters
run the lower half on Saturday, and the more difficult
upper half on Sunday. They always seem to launch just
as you're coming thru.
the other hand, there are lots of fun but not life-threatening
rapids on this river, which can be run almost any
day of the year (you'll need a drysuit in winter).
In late September or early October, the poison oak
leaves turn red and provide nice autumn color.
the length of 20.5 miles sounds long, it can be boated
easily in one day, except when days are short in the
middle of winter. By
getting an early start from Chili Bar, you can snag
a good parking spot, get a jump on rafters running
the upper half, lag behind rafters running the lower
half, eat a quick lunch, and hopefully reach take-out
Here is our ride down the South Fork ...
reach put-in, continue uphill 5-6 miles
on Salmon Falls Rd, to the hamlet of Pilot Hill,
turning right on the Salmon Falls Cutoff. Then turn
right on highway 49, proceed 5-6 miles thru the town
of Coloma, and continue uphill again towards Placerville.
At a Mexican restaurant, turn sharp left at the junction
of Highway 193, and descend steeply (in low gear)
to the river. Cross the bridge and turn left into
the Chili Bar Resort, which charges fees for
both parking and put-in. Early morning parking is
possible on a wide gravel bar.
in near or under the Chili Bar bridge, preferably
before 9:00. Chili Bar Hole provides good
surfing at levels around 2000 cfs, but is rocky
at lower flows. Downstream are several easy rapids,
two involving large rocks. A trail follows an old
mining road on the right bank.
Mile, AKA Meatgrinder (class III+). A
small diversion canal removes water on the left,
and a large rock is visible there, just left of
center. This is a long rapid (over 1/4 mile, that
can cause a bruising or swim if you capsize near
the top. At low flows, the lead-in rapid can be
run either left or far right. Either way, you need
to maneuver back to the center, entering the main
rapid about 10 meters from the large rock, slanting
left-to-right thru a slot between submerged rocks.
This is an easy move, but failing to make it can
have severe consequences, because the biggest waves
and holes are still ahead. After this, keep your
bow into the waves as the current funnels you towards Rhino rock on the right. After Rhino rock,
wave size decreases, and you can eddy out on the
left, or finish the rapid along the right. Good
playspots exist near center.
Box, AKA Racehorse Bend (class III-).
The river curves left among boulders, then runs
into an uptilted slate cliff on the right, with
sharp submerged rocks along the cliff. The safest
exit is towards center. Big eddy below on the left.
AKA Traffic Light (class II+). Choose either
a small hole on the right, or a ledge drop on the
left. Big but easily avoidable holes at higher water
(class III above 3500 cfs). Maya is a popular
kayak surfing spot, often with long lines.
Garden (class II). A maze of small boulders
that can help you improve boat control. At lowest
flows (under 900 cfs) it is best run on the far
left, but most of the time you can go anywhere.
Queen (class II+). Several willow-covered islands
create a multiplicity of routes. The most common
is right almost all the way, cutting left to avoid
a shallow-trap at the end of that channel. This
route passes some nice surfing waves near the second
island. The most fun route is left over a one-foot
falls (not for rafts under 1700 cfs), then center
thru a very narrow slot between islands. The far
left channel is boring.
Threat (class III). The river enters a boulder
garden, then turns right into a deep hole along
a rock outcropping on the left. The hole makes good
advanced surfing, and is flippiest on the left,
but can be mostly avoided by skirting right. Popular
with hardshell kayakers and bodyboarders, surfing
contests are often held here.
Threat (class II+). Almost immediately, the
river drops again thru a slot along a rock outcropping
on the right. Good swimmer's rapid with a large
eddy below, making it easy to reach the rock outcropping
for repeated swims.
Threat (class II-III depending). Make of this
one what you will. The center is easy and unobstructed,
but there are large holes on the far left halfway
down, and on the far right near the bottom. Running
both holes is an advanced maneuver.
Narrows (class II+). The river slaloms right
to left, and enters a channel on the far left with
many barely-submerged rocks. Rafts often get stuck
here. Kayak routes exist to the right.
(class II+). The river enters a miniature gorge
in bedrock, with pleasant waves and rapids. Major
squirreliness towards the end.
Rapid (class II). A boulder bar rapid with big
waves, this is a good place to practice throwbag
techniques from the right bank. The Coloma quiet
zone begins just below (no yelling, no water
and cabins on left bank, good for 2-day trips
AKA Troublemaker (class IV-), scout left.
The river enters a boulder garden, followed by a
falls, with an S channel on the far left. The rapid's
name describes your route well. At lower flows,
the true path is narrow indeed. If you shade right,
a large diagonal wave tends to flip kayaks. If you
go far left, you end up in an eddy that is hard
to exit. Precise placement into the gut of the hole
surfs you next to a big rock on the left below,
then thru a steep channel along Gunsight rock, where
rafts often end up wrapped. Advanced boaters might
want to eddy left, then ferry across the hole, exiting
to the right of Gunsight rock. In any case,
the swim isn't too bad, but keep your feet up.
campground on right, then a steel bridge. River
access should be legal, but is prohibited and enforced
by the County. Put in at this campground for the
longest possible class II run.
Lake, a long stretch with slow-moving current.
Take-out is prohibited; put-in access for non-commercial
groups only, when doing the Coloma to Lotus run
Scary (class II-). This was formerly a class
III rapid on the right shortly above the Highway
49 bridge, until high water detoured the river leftward
during the winter of 1982.
bridge for Highway 49. River access should be
legal, but at times has been prohibited and enforced
by the County.
Park. This is the best stopping and starting
point for breaking up this run into two sections.
Daily parking fees and overnight parking not allowed.
Ledge. At low flows this makes a good surfing
hole on the left, or can be avoided to the right.
Lotus, the nicest camping area in this vicinity.
Usually full on summer weekends, so make reservations
well in advance. Grass and tall sycamores make this
a pleasant put-in spot.
Barking Dogs Honking Geese (class II+) Named after Camp Lotus neighbors. The river curves right and funnels into a nice hole, then turns left and proceeds past a huge rock-hole on the right.
Divider (class II+). A rock island divides the
flow. The most fun route is to the right of the
island, then left below. Believe it or not, commercial
rafts often get wrapped here.
Rapid (class II+). A long rock garden, very
bony at low flows (under 1100 cfs). The best route
is just to the left of a low brushy island, then
slaloming around rocks until the slanting left-to-right
Rapid (class II). Decaying estate on the left,
willow bar on the right. Greenwood Creek enters
on the right below, marking the end of the quiet
zone. This would make an excellent take-out
for the Coloma to Lotus run.
Lake, a long stretch with slow-moving current,
mercifully ended by...
Car Rapid (class II) and other unnamed class
II rapids. This is perhaps the best "wilderness''
camping spot on this river, with sandy beaches,
oak trees, and few mosquitos. Class II and II+
rapids continue without too much flatwater.
Many rock formations in this area contain Indian
Rock (class III). Entrance to the Gorge, occurs
after the third sighting of the Lollipop tree on top of a distant hill. Good time to put on your
paddling jacket! The river bends left around a gravel
bar, then flows along a cliff on the left. Rafts
are often accidentally parked on a submerged boulder
along a house-sized rock on the right, but they
can be avoided with a quick left slalom. Go right
of Fowler's Rock, the tall cabin-sized boulder
ahead, then pick a good slot (near center) in the
diagonal boulder fence below.
Haystack Canyon (class II+). Big standing waves
in a narrow section of gorge. Not particularly difficult.
Hat (class III-). After a flat spot with cows
and cowpies on both banks, the river drops steeply
into some big standing waves. This rapid continues
unabated into the one below. If you plan to sneak Starr's Cesspool, stay right; otherwise work
Cesspool (class III+), formerly Satan's Cesspool.
Photographers are usually stationed at several spots
nearby. An underwater rock cluster causes a hole
and a large curling wave at low or moderate flows.
The safest way to kayak this rapid is to eddy out
left just above the main drop, then choose the proper
exit ramp near the left bank. If you swim, get back
in the boat fast, or swim into the lefthand eddy
below, to avoid getting bruised in Son of Cesspool just ahead. A narrow rocky slot is available to
the right of the central island, and could be the
best choice for beginners, since the eddy above
the curling wave is too small to catch easily.
of Cesspool, AKA Dead Man's Drop (class III).
The best route, whether boating or swimming, is
just to the right of a submerged rock in the center,
but without smashing into the righthand wall. If
you're swimming and can't make the lefthand eddy
with your boat in tow, let go of your boat, because
the swim to the left of the submerged rock will
probably kick your butt good. Hopefully some strangers
or your boating companions will retrieve your boat.
(class III). After a short calm stretch, the
river charges over some diagonal bedrock ledges,
along the left wall, then around a cabin-sized rock
on the right. To avoid swimming, always stay perpendicular
to the diagonal drops.
Haystack Canyon (class II+). Big standing waves
in a narrow section of gorge. A bit more difficult
than the upper one.
Rock (class III). Most of the current smashes
into a rock on the right, then pours into a large
flippy hole. Because the swim below is shallow and
rocky, consider sneaking this rapid by ferrying
left continuously from the outset (class II+).
(class III-). Big standing waves with rocks
and holes along the banks.
Bar (class III). After a small boulder garden,
most of the current drops right over a boulder bar
into a fast channel along the right bank. A diagonal
hole at the bottom is best run on the left, but
you can ham it up for photographers by running further
right, where a flip is possible. Named for a hospital
tent set up during the gold rush.
Room (class III-). When the reservoir is down,
the hole at the bottom is a miniature version of Hospital Bar. But when the reservoir is full,
it is class II at most.
(class II-III depending). At the top of a wide
gravel bar, the river bends left into a fast chute.
Late in the summer, boaters get surprised as this
rapid uncovers. You can sneak it on the right, or
run over the big center rock into a hole, if you're
(class II+ or underwater). A diagonal rock fence
from left to lower right provides several route
out just before or shortly after Salmon Falls
bridge, depending on where you parked. Port-a-potties
available in both places.
reach take-out, go east on highway 50 and
turn north on El Dorado Hills Blvd, just after cresting
the first hill. After 4-5 miles, cross Green Valley
Rd, and go straight onto Salmon Falls Rd, which winds
5-6 miles downhill along Folsom Reservoir to Salmon Falls Bridge. There are several fee
parking lots, one on the left before the bridge.