Feather, Middle Fork - 2) Devils Canyon: Nelson Point to Milsap Bridge

Feather, Middle Fork, California, US


2) Devils Canyon: Nelson Point to Milsap Bridge

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 32.7 Miles
Avg. Gradient 68 fpm

Paddle recovery, Portage, Devils Canyon

Paddle recovery, Portage, Devils Canyon
Photo of Unkown by Ian Buckley taken 05/16/04 @ 1200

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
cdec-MER 700 - 3000 cfs V 01h39m 2532 cfs (running)

River Description

The Devils Canyon run on the Middle Fork Feather is the undisputed king amongst moderate class V California overnight self support classics. The MF Feather was one of the original rivers designated Wild and Scenic after the enactment of the policy .

In October of 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act pronounced,
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes.
The entire Middle Fork downstream from the confluence of its tributary streams one kilometer south of Beckwourth is protected under the act, broken down as: Wild — 32.9 miles; Scenic — 9.7 miles; Recreational — 35.0 miles; Total — 77.6 miles.

The Run:
The run passes through 3 distinct canyons of very different geology, slowly increasing in both volume and difficulty. Most groups choose to do the run over 3 days, but a 2 day trip is quite possible, especially at higher flows. However given typically stable and warm California weather in late Spring and an abundance of spectacular camp sites on beaches or airy granite benches no one in general is in a hurry to get it finished. Day 1 is typically comprised of Class IV read and run boulder garden rapids in an open canyon setting, though at the end of the day rapids get easier they also tend to get quite shallow as they terminate in wide and steep gravel bars at lower flows. Most people agree that day 1 has only one class V rapid, a somewhat junky affair where the line is through an unlikely looking tight slot on the left of a rock fence, and merits a look for the first timer. Many campsite opportunities present themselves at the right time as the difficulties of day 1 are left behind, and in general an early afternoon start is sufficient to reach camping appropriate to stage for day 2. In theory another putin can be accessed towards the end of this section via a steep and rough 4x4 trail to Cleghorn Bar.

Day 2 generally starts for most groups a short distance above the start of Franklin Canyon, the entrance of which is marked by the passage of the Pacific Crest trail (alternate) footbridge overhead and a sudden and obvious closing in of walls and the return of class IV rapids. Soon afterwards the first major drop of the trip is encountered, Franklin Falls, a 10 foot waterfall with a shallow rock cluster just down stream and a mean looking hole. This should be scouted and possibly portaged left. Bedrock rapids in a spectacular tight gorge setting continue for several miles now, and camping is scarce until all the major difficulties of this canyon are overcome. One particularly boisterous rapid deep in here had to be sneaked hard right at most flows for many years due to a large and hard to spot log, however as of Spring 2006 the log is finally gone and the center meat line is open again. Another large rapid in the same area, Heart of Franklin, has an atypical abundance of sieves and driftwood strainers and is frequently the Franklin Gorge Sceneryscene of frantic paddling to catch a left hand eddy. As the canyon draws to a close the river drops into a serious of powerful rapids in rapid succession, turning first left then right into a short ominous looking vertical walled gorge some drops of which must be run at most flows. This rapid is named What Dreams Are Made Of, and a small beach river right just before it makes for adequate camping for groups making slow headway and struggling with daylight. Difficulties ease after this gorge and major rapids have easier water between. Some where in this section an old broken wooden dam built where there is a small central rocky island poses a hazard especially when run on river right. Generally scout and run or portage this one on the left, right side portage is only possible at lower flows. Camping starts to become available again, and groups typically choose to camp anywhere in this section of several miles between gorges or someway into Devils canyon where a few more beaches and one spectacular camp, The Diving Board, a granite shelf 40 feet above the river sometimes marked with Tibetan prayer flags can be found.

Day 3 generally starts in the vicinity of the Pacific Crest Trail footbridge at Hartman Bar, though camping here is not recommended due to litter, a lack of firewood, and the intrusion of hikers and the outside world. It soon begins to be obvious that a significant geological change is underway, and building granite walls and boulders signal the entrance to Devils Canyon proper. Many spicier rapids start to be encountered, amongst which are Slide, the product of an obvious slippage of the Canyon wall, Sieve, a portage around a major siphon at most moderate flows, and Eat The Meat, a meaty double drop with cliff on the right and bedrock shelf on the left that provides good spectating. Finally a burly and steep granite boulder garden rapid drops into a very large and still pool with huge looming granite cliffs on the left and this signals the mandatory portage which starts on the right from the head of the pool traversing steep forest on a well defined trail above the massive rapid bellow. Avoid dropping too low, too early, on the portage, and a little team work maybe required right at the end as exhausted boat porters try to lower there boats down the final awkward rock steps. Below here more spectacular granite canyon continues, with many more hard quality rapids and vertical walled sections. Eventually large granite slabs on river left with a waterfall trickling down herald the arrival of Helicopter, the well know must run class V rapid with meaty triple hole punch and airplane turn finale all set against a vertical cliff left and a field of granite sieves right. Difficulties are increasingly farther apart after this and wooded canyon scenery replaces cliff walls, however major rapids still lurk, finally ending with Grand Finale, the last class V, with its commiting long class IV lead in via small pools on the left followed by a powerful move to ferry out into the outwash of a hole to avoid being pushed into the cliff on the left. From here the river gradually tails off into class III scenery, and soon Milsap Bar bridge becomes visible just below the confluence with the NFMF Feather.
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-03-23 00:01:09


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
12.1Cleghorn BarAccess
14.6Butte Bar FootbridgeAccess
15.0Franklin Falls5.0Waterfall Photo
17.1Stag PointAccess
19.4What Dreams Are Made Of5.0
20.9S TurnIV+
22.3Hartman Bar FootbridgeAccess
26.7Eat The Meat5.0
27.5Hanson BarAccess
28.7PortagePortage Photo
31.2Grand Finale5.0Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Cleghorn Bar
A high clearance 4x4 trail comes down the South canyon wall to a riverside camp. Possible low water putin or emergency access/egress. See this website for more details.

Butte Bar Footbridge
Pacific Crest Trail Footbridge crosses river, foot path access to canyon rim North and South. Possible emergency access/egress. See this website for more details.

Franklin Falls (Class 5.0, Mile 15.0)

Franklin Falls, Middle Fork Feather

Franklin Falls, Middle Fork Feather
Photo of Kevin & Lana Lewis by Glen McNeely taken 05/13/01 @ 1500cfs

Franklin Falls is a 10 foot waterfall with a shallow rock cluster just down stream and a mean looking hole. There is an eddy river left some distance upstream that should be caught to scout this drop, class IV water continues to the lip and a small eddy right just above can be caught but is not a good scouting or portage option. The drop can be portaged left with a seal launch of a high bed rock shelf.

Stag Point
A prominent river feature, Stag Point is a sharp right hand bend in the river with large beach with bedrock and pebbles right and cascading creek entering river left. Topo's show 4x4 access river left downstream of the creek here though this has not been visually confirmed from the river. Possible emergency access/egress? See this website for more details.

What Dreams Are Made Of (Class 5.0, Mile 19.4)
What Dreams Are Made Of is located as the river bends sharply left then right entering a short but fierce looking gorge with tall vertical walls river left. Initial bolder garden moves allow an eddy and beach to be attained river right at the apex of the first bend and the next larger drops can be scouted from here. Having run these drops, eddy left to scout the remaining right turn rapid. At high water this sequence is very pushy with large holes and scouting becomes harder. At lower water the beach on the top right makes for adequate camping.

S Turn (Class IV+, Mile 20.9)
Small cliff faces loom right and left and the river make a sharp right hand then immediate left hand turn. A small rocky island close to the left shore divides the current at the entrance to the rapid and can be negotiated either side depending on flow. A large hole can lurk in the main drop and again the line is dependent on flow. At higher flows this rapid has a more radical appearance pillowing dramatically on the cliff at the outside of the left hand turn.

Hartman Bar Footbridge
The Pacific Crest Trail footbridge crosses the river at Hartman Bar and there is well developed but heavily littered camping here. Emergency access/egress possible both North and South. See this website for more details.

Eat The Meat (Class 5.0, Mile 26.7)
Eat The Meat is a short punchy double drop with vertical cliff right and flat bedrock area left which offers an easy portage and good spectating.

Hanson Bar
Somewhere river left at the end of a long green water stretch and approaching a right turn and rapid lie's Hanson Bar trail. This trail taken heading downstream goes to the canyon rim and heading upstream countours somewhere above but close to the river until the former site of  Kennedy cabin, some 0.7 miles upstream of Eat The Meat from where it again ascends to the canyon rim. This is a possible emergency access/egress point. See this website for more details.


Paddle recovery, Portage, Devils Canyon

Paddle recovery, Portage, Devils Canyon
Photo of Unkown by Ian Buckley taken 05/16/04 @ 1200

The Portage starts immediately after a large rapid (that some may also portage). A large still pool and huge river left cliffs announce its arrival and a well trodden trail commences on the right at the top end of the pool, traversing up through the forest.  Resist the temptation to descend too early as the trail becomes less defined, and finally scramble down granite ledges to a perch over looking the last drop of the portage. The Portage rapid has been run at low water but is a very serious proposition.

Helicopter (Class 5.0, Mile 29.8)
Helicopter is a boisterous must run rapid where the river channel constricts, dropping steeply between a large vertical cliff on the left and a field of sieved out boulders on the right. Giant 500 foot granite slabs to the left, sometimes with a cascading waterfall appear just before it. A small beach and scramble above on the left affords a scouting opportunity. Three rowdy holes must be punched before a right turning airplane turn finale.

Grand Finale (Class 5.0, Mile 31.2)

Grand Finale

Grand Finale
Photo of Keith Kishiyama by Ian Buckley taken 05/16/04 @ 1200

Grand Finale, the last large rapid has a committing long class IV lead in via small pools on the left followed by a powerful move to ferry out into the outwash of a hole to avoid being pushed into the cliff on the left. It can be portaged easily on the right but only if you stop before entering it. Those who run the left entry moves will have to run the main drop.

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Wild and Scenic 50th logo

In 2018 we celebrate this Wild and Scenic River and work to protect more rivers as part of the 50th Anniversary celebration of Wild and Scenic Rivers. Learn More.