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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
10 years ago
Minimum runnable flow is probably around 75 cfs, while maximum is probably around 200 cfs. If flows at the take-out appear nice and clean, flows in the steep sections may be overly exciting! Runnable flows will happen in wet winters during and after large rain storm series. Since the areas drained by this creek are populated, the water quality during high flow events is probably very poor.
Flow information is available from the army corp of engineers for Mill Creek. Historical records since 1995 can be found at an Army Corp Tulare Lake Basin page. Decide on a year to look at, then click on D for daily data. A graph will be displayed, but flows in Mill Creek are too small to show up. Click on "tabulated data" and look at the 5th column of data labeled, "Near Piedra, Flow cfs". Compare the flows with the rainfall amounts in the 7th column. After you have found some days with good flows, backtrack and look at the hourly data for those days to see how fast the creek rises and falls.
Permits are not required for this reach.
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