Rubicon - Ellicott Bridge to Oxbow Reservoir (Ralston PH)

Rubicon, California, US


Ellicott Bridge to Oxbow Reservoir (Ralston PH)

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 21 Miles
Avg. Gradient 110 fpm
Max Gradient 150 fpm

Common Portage #2

Common Portage #2
Photo by Dave Steindorf taken 06/04/06 @ 800 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Rubicon At Ellicott Bridge
dream-072 400 - 2000 cfs V 00h40m 425 cfs (running)
Rough estimate of range Gauge is at the put in.

River Description


The Rubicon is a World Class Overnight Wilderness Run. It only runs in high water years when Hell Hole dam spills water (AW currently in negotiations w/ PCWA Relicensing).   This doesn’t happen often so when it does, prioritize it -- it’s worth it. There is a bit of warm up but then the action doesn’t stop until the take-out, 20 miles of wilderness later.
Miles upon miles of countless IV+/V multi-move boulder gardens, interspersed with some quality bedrock. Most all of the rapids are long and continuous but most can be boat scouted and do have decent recovery pools.
If you would be comfortable leading yourself down 49-bridgeport on the S Yuba at or Middle Fork Feather for the very first time (No one showing you the lines) at similar difficulty flows, you should like the Rubicon. It is a notch easier than SF Merced.
Average gradient of 108 FPM, Max of 150 -- Surprisingly and pleasantly consistent.
A solid crew of class V boaters should budget ~6-8 hours of moving time on the water. 
Flows: (see guage description for great detail)
The Rubicon seldom has boatable flows because there are several different reservoirs belonging to different projects that each take water out of the Rubicon basin and send it to the SF or MF American rivers.
As estimated at takeout:
600-1000: V-. Optimum flows for V- boaters = 800
1000-1500: V. Optimum flows for V boaters =1100
1500+: V+
Note 1: Two significant tributaries (Pilot Creek and Longs Creek) join the Rubicon ~4-5 miles upstream of the takeout and can significantly add to flow in the early season. 
Note 2: There is a stick gauge up stream of the Elcotts bridge (Put-in). Find the obvious eddy from the dirt road on river right. 3.25 = ~350 cfs. 4.7 = ~950 cfs. Accretion will add to this flow (see note 1)
5 common portages. (all distances VERY rough estimates)
1.     First island drop ~mi3 (class V sneak possible on the right)
2.     Ledge hole and undercut right wall w/ class V lead in ~mi6
3.     Slide hole 300m below
4.     Ledge hole w/ Class V lead in ~mi8 (sneak possible on the right >900 cfs).
5.     Class V Boulder jumble ~mi8.5
6.     Slide hole ~mi14.
2 other holes of note: These are runable but claim their fair share of unsuspecting victims as they aren’t obvious
1.     ~mi 2.5. ~1/4 mile below a rapid that was likely your first scout. River narrows and bends to the left. Scout from small eddy on the left.
2.     ~1/4 mile above the take out. You’ll see the diversion tube coming down the hill. River bends to the left and there will be a flatish bedrock shoulder on the right.
Takeout: From highway 80 in Auburn, take Auburn Ravine road to Foresthill road. After 17 miles turn onto Mosquito Ridge road and go another 12 miles to Oxbow reservoir. Driving time could be nearly an hour.
Put-in: 26.5 total miles from Take-out paved the entire length. Continue past the take out on French Meadows Road up steep switch backs. After ~14.5 miles from take out, take the only paved Fork to the right (slightly down hill and quickly crosses Long Creek). After ~2 additional miles, this road joins another major road (veer right). Continue ~10 miles to the Put-in.


Other Information Sources:  
CA-Creeks: Rubicon
Placer County Water Agency
Hell Hole Reservoir- Wikipedia
Hell Hole Dam Failure photos
Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD)
FishSniffer article by Dan Bachar
Upper American River Foundation
American River Watershed Group

FERC Information:   
Hell Hole Dam is part of Placer County Water Agency's "Middle Fork American River Project, FERC Project #2079.   The FERC license for this project expires in 2013.
Project Relicensing Homepage

Licensing Process Schedule
Recreation Technical Study Reports
Draft Instream Flow Report

Permit Information

No permit needed.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2011-07-06 19:49:36

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Ellicotts BridgeN/APutin
16.4Pilot Creek ConfluenceN/AAccess
18.0Long Canyon Creek confluenceN/A
18.6Foot BridgeN/AAccess
21.1Take OutN/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Ellicotts Bridge (Class N/A)

This is the usual put in spot.    PCWA now has a flow gauge at this bridge, but it is not yet online.   Boaters could also put in 8.6 river miles upstream at the dam.

Pilot Creek Confluence (Class N/A, Mile 16.4)

Pilot creek enters from the left and may have a good flow in the winter and early spring. 

Topo maps show a trail coming a short ways from a road down to the Rubicon here.   This could provide access for a short 4.7 mile boating trip from Pilot Creek to Ralston.

Long Canyon Creek confluence (Class N/A, Mile 18.0)

Long Canyon Creek comes in from the right and can bring increased flow, especially in the winter.

Take Out (Class N/A, Mile 21.1)

The road comes close to the river just upstream of a powerhouse. 

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
May 12 2011 (2812 days ago)
Paul MartzenDetails
Flow Report from PCWA - May 11, 2011 Flows were fluctuating between 300 & 350 cfs at Ellicott
Bridge, but are around 220 on May 11. Flows just above Ralston Afterbay are about 550 cfs. Hell
Hole Dam is expected to spill in mid June.

Associated News

June 14, 2011