Mill Creek (Fresno County) - Squaw Valley (Highway 180) to Wonder Valley

Mill Creek (Fresno County), California, US


Squaw Valley (Highway 180) to Wonder Valley

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 6 Miles
Avg. Gradient 118 fpm
Max Gradient 230 fpm

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
cdec-PDR 75 - 400 cfs V 04h39m 29 cfs (too low)

River Description

Mill Creek is a tiny, low elevation foothill creek that has sections of super classic bedrock falls and rapids.   


This creek will be kayakable only in the winter after big rainstorms or a steady series of storms.  During dryer winters it will not get high enough for boating.  The very top of its drainage is a bit over 5,000 feet near Big Stump in Kings Canyon National Park, but most of its drainage is low elevation foothills with oak woodlands and lots of houses.  Water quality will likely be poor and it will certainly be muddy or cloudy.     

Getting there:
From Fresno, take highway 180 east, into the foothills, through Squaw Valley, then down past a fire station to the bridge over Mill Creek.   Driving time is about 45 minutes from Fresno.

Put in:   Local paddlers have worked out permission from land owners to launch where the Highway 180 crosses the creek, but it may not apply to everyone.   On some occasions kayakers have been prevented from launching here, by other land owners or by officers from fish and game.   Elevation is about 1390 feet.
Take-out: Backtrack on highway 180 towards Squaw Valley, then turn right (north) on Elwood rd. to Wonder Valley. On entering Wonder Valley, look for the creek on your right, then take the first road right and park near the bridge that crosses the creek.   Elevation is about 900 feet.

For the first quarter mile after the creek leaves the highway, it is shallow and braided, with several barbed wire fences across it.  Soon however, the creek turns north and starts dropping into a deep canyon between Bald Mt. and Dalton Mt. (named after the famous 1890's Dalton Gang of bank and train robbers). The first large falls is intimidating as it can only be scouted or portaged high on river left and there is no easy way to set up safety for anybody running the rapid. There is also a nasty room of doom alcove, with a recirculating eddy hidden underneath the left wall at the base of the falls. Scouting or portage at subsequent drops is more reasonable. Many of the drops in this section are outstanding and very big.

At the halfway point the creek turns west, opens up, flattens out, braids and becomes infested with reeds. I found floating and scraping through little tunnels in the weeds very exciting in a strange way but subsequent boaters seem to find walking on the cow trails next to the creek easier and perhaps faster in many parts of this section.


  Paul Martzen

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2009-09-02 17:28:15

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.7Committing FallsV
1.2Long SlideIV
1.440 Foot FallsVIWaterfall
9.6Flow Gauge - Army CorpN/A

Rapid Descriptions

Committing Falls (Class V, Mile 0.7)

It is possible to scout this section from high on the left side cliff top, and you could even portage the whole section up there but it will be arduous.   There is also no way to set safety for the first boater through.


Several junky drops lead to a short pool.  The exit is a pourover into a pothole on a 90 degree turn to the left.  Without sufficient speed you will get caught and flipped in the recirculation, before flushing.   A narrow flume leads to a 15 foot sliding waterfall.   Be on the right side of the falls heading right.   The left side feeds a room of doom alcove under the left wall.  Boats or people who go into this eddy will have to be pulled out with ropes.


The first boater through can get out on river right with some difficulty and set safety for the rest of the party.

Long Slide (Class IV, Mile 1.2)

This is the longest slide on the run.   It is almost a hundred meters long.  Probably the most pure fun drop on the whole run.

40 Foot Falls (Class VI, Mile 1.4)

This is a two tiered waterfall, that will be a portage on river left at most flows and for most people.  Rick Smith ran it but suggests that the best flow to run this drop is not the best flow for the rest of the creek.


My vague reccollection is of a tight junky upper drop landing in a very narrow pool (a couple feet wide) then dropping clean another 30 feet to a big deep pool. 


The portage involved scrambling up then over and along cliffs on the left.   

Flow Gauge - Army Corp (Class N/A, Mile 9.6)

The Army Corp of Engineers manage this gauge along with Pine Flat dam and reservoir.   Flow information is available on the Pine Flat reservoir info page.  

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
May 19 2008 (3900 days ago)
x (1)
We had a team of 8 people in excellent shape hike this stream and 8 of 8 people were slightly
injured due to slips and falls. The rock canyon is slippery smooth with a ridiculous amount of
Lumbriculus variegatus (California Blackworm). This makes the slippery rocks more slippery. In the
gorge mandatory drops of up to 15' are common and some places cannot be back tracked without the
aid of climbing rope set up before jumping into pools. Largest holes have diving platforms of up to
60-80 feet and bottoms are a minimum of 25' deep. We were diving from 35 feet and swimming downward
and never hit bottom. Water life includes fish, turtles, and lots of insects. You will not want to
go to this stream after the month of May because the water flow weakens and pools become stagnant
and algae infested.