This photo needs editing.
Difficulty V
Length 21 Miles
Gauge Rubicon At Ellicott Bridge
Flow Range 400 - 2000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 66 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 07/06/2011 7:49 pm

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

Rapid Descriptions

Ellicotts Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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 - 16.36
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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

Foot Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 18.6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Take Out

Class - N/A Mile - 21.1
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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


default user thumbnail
Paul Martzen
9 years ago

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.

Gage Descriptions

There is considerable confusion about the boatable range in this reach.  Given the small number of paddle trips and the lack of accurate flow information in the past, that confusion is to be expected.    As flow information is provided, boaters will be able to explore the high and low ends of the boatable range.    Some estimates of low, optimum and high flows were compiled in the PCWA licensing process. 

Range              Optimum
400 to 1200     500-700
400 to 3000     700-1,500


As of 2010 there is no online flow gauge information available for this reach.  AW volunteers keep in contact with the dam operators and lobby them to report flows during spill periods.    AW is working with PCWA to get real time flow information online from gauges below the dam and at Ellicotts Bridge.   We also hope to get flow information for Rubicon above Ralston Afterbay.     With this information boaters will be able to utilize boatable flows from rain and side streams as well as spill from Hell Hole Reservoir.  

Hell Hole daily storage is reported online.  Presently, there are no gates on the spillway, so spill begins to occur when storage is above 207,500 acre/feet.   Spill gets into boatable range when storage is around 208,500 acre/feet.   PCWA has plans to add bladder gates in the spillway which would increase reservoir capacity to 215,000 acer/feet.
Loon Lake Hourly Storage and Elevation is also reported online.  This reservoir will spill when storage is above 76,500 acre/feet.  Spill will travel down Gerle Creek to the SF Rubicon and on to the main Rubicon above Ellicot Bridge. 

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. 

USGS-schematic of Rubicon & MF American pdf 

Flows in the upper Rubicon drainage are diverted at Rubicon Reservoir, to Buck Island Reservoir, to Loon Lake Reservoir.   The water is eventually sent through Robbs Peak Powerplant into the SF American drainage.   Rubicon Reservoir and Buck Island Reservoir are capable of diverting up to 1,000 cfs to Loon Reservoir.  The South Fork Rubicon River has a diversion dam upstream of Gerle Creek that sends flows to the Robbs Peak Powerplant.   Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) operates these reservoirs.  FERC project #2101.
Upper American River Project schematic. pdf

Hell Hole Reservoir  captures any flow remaining in the Rubicon and sends most of it over to the MF American.  With a capacity of 207,000 acre feet, Hell Hole is a fairly large reservoir.  It not only captures Rubicon flows but also receives flows from French Meadows Reservoir on the MF American River through the French Meadows powerplant.  Flows are sent back to the MF American through a tunnel to the Middle Fork Powerplant.   Hell Hole is part of a PCWA project, FERC project #2079.

Three small tributaries below Hell Hole reservoir are also diverted.  North and South forks of Long Creek are both diverted by PG&E to the Middle Fork Powerplant tunnel.   It also appears that some water is diverted from the SF Rubicon into Pilot Creek to Stumpy Meadows Lake, then diverted to Georgetown Irrigation district.  Up to 60 cfs can be diverted from Pilot Creek below Stumpy Meadows Lake.  It is unclear how much flow can be diverted from the SF Rubicon into Pilot Creek, or if this diversion is still in operation. 

Historical records are available for many locations within the Rubicon basin.
Rubicon below Hell Hole Dam   Spills 3 or 4 years out of 10.
Middle Fork Powerhouse  Receives water from Hell Hole.  Maximum capacity about 950 cfs.
French Meadows Powerplant  delivers up to 400 cfs from MF American to Hell Hole reservoir. 
Middle Fork American below French Meadow dam  shows how often French Meadow spills.

South Fork Rubicon below Gerle Creek  Diversion of up to 1,440 cfs.  High flows occur seldom.  They appear and dissappear so quickly that it appears very difficult to utilize them.

Rubicon above Rubicon Reservoir    very poor records
Rubicon below Rubicon Reservoir     measures minimum releases only.  Spillway flows are not measured.
Little Rubicon below Buck Island Dam   measures minimum releases only.  Spillway flows are not measured.
Buck-Loon diversion tunnel   Capacity approximately 1,000 cfs.
Robbs Peak Powerhouse   Receives all diverted flows from upper reservoirs.   Maximum capacity about 1,200 cfs.
Pilot Creek below Diversion shows annual peak flows.   Daily flow information is available in the USGS Annual Water Data Reports such as the 2006 report pdf   Pilot Creek can add big flows but it enters the Rubicon near the very end of this reach.   Flows in this tributary can be surprisingly high compared to the SF Rubicon.

NF Long Creek  Daily records below the diversion for some periods only.  High flows do not seem to be recorded.
SF Long Creek Daily records below the diversion for some periods only.  High flows do not seem to be recorded.


Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

No Accident Reports



article main photo

Paul D. Martzen

Middle Fork American, Pit River, Tuolumne flow updates

Several utilities periodically report flows to us for river segments that do not have online gauges.   They sometimes make estimates of upcoming flows based on predicted weather conditions.   We will try to update that information to this news article when we receive the new information.   

Middle Fork American River
Blw French Meadows:  220 cfs
Duncan Creek blw Diversion: 165
Abv Middle Fork Interbay:  500 cfs
Blw Middle Fork Interbay:  525 cfs (estimate)
Abv Ralston Afterbay:  600 cfs

Rubicon River
Hell Hole Elevation: 4631.68 ft
Ellicotts:  1610 cfs
Abv Ralston Afterbay:  1990 cfs

North Fork of the Middle Fork American:   540 cfs


Chris Tulley


Paul Martzen


Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1200332 07/06/11 Chris Tulley update from first hand experience from boating 7/6/11
1197800 06/11/10 Paul Martzen Added flow links, adjusted put in & take out
1198743 11/22/10 Paul Martzen Gauge links and Relicensing links
1197804 06/11/10 Paul Martzen minor updates
1198744 11/22/10 Paul Martzen
1197801 06/11/10 Paul Martzen Fixing incorrect info
1199019 12/10/10 Paul Martzen added rapids
1200363 07/06/11 Chris Tulley update from first hand experience from boating 7/6/11
1190065 02/11/02 n/a n/a