San Joaquin, S. Fork - Florence Lake to Mono Hot Springs

San Joaquin, S. Fork, California, US


Florence Lake to Mono Hot Springs

Usual Difficulty IV-V (for normal flows)
Length 6.9 Miles
Avg. Gradient 91 fpm
Max Gradient 170 fpm

SF San Joaquin Basin

SF San Joaquin Basin
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 06/08/03

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
So. San Joaquin Below Florence Lake
dream-112 350 - 1500 cfs IV-V 01h46m 32 cfs (too low)

River Description

Put-in at Florence: 7200'  google map.
Gauge below Hooper: 6980'
Take-out at Mono; 6560'  google map.

Average gradient, Florence to Mono = 91'/mile

Florence to Mono Hot Springs is a great run and not just because the scenery is about as good as it can get. The whitewater is continuous and challenging.

The run starts out meandering through a meadow for over a mile. It is very similar to floating through the meadows of Yosemite Valley. If the whole run were that way, even the most rabid whitewater buff might not mind, as the scenery is stunning. It is almost a pity when the meadow ends and the river drops away.

One's attention is quickly captured by the demands of whitewater churning downhill at a steady angle for as far as one can see. This first mile is only about 90' per mile but it seems incessant. A short slower section is a relief and a time for assessment. The next mile is steeper and seems to have no end with a gradient of about 130' per mile.

The first several miles are extremely continuous, with no pools and mostly tiny eddies. Instead of pools there are a couple of short sections of slower water after the first half mile or so. The gradient steadily steepens towards the confluence with Hooper Creek. Near this confluence there is a gauging station and a weir. The hardest part of the run is probably the last 1/2 mile or so down to this gauging weir. Scouting or portaging is fairly easy on fisherman trails on the river left side. There is also a dirt road an river right leading from Florence to the gauging station. At lower flows this section may be more defined with pools and larger eddies.

Below the gauging station the continuous nature eases somewhat but the gradient is actually 170' per mile. Somehow it seems a bit easier than the section above the gauge. At 750 cfs the rapids are still long and challenging, but in between there are sections of slower water and larger eddies.  This creates some breathing room. Approaching the end of the run, the river enters a low granite trench. Then, at Mono Hot Springs the river opens out into a meadow again.

Logs and jams in the river can be a problem at any time. During the 2003 flow study, kayakers were able to sneak past several log jams while rafts had to portage two spots because of logs. The two worst spots were above the gauging station.

Mono Hot Springs has campgrounds, a store, restaraunt, pack station, cabins and hot springs.

Below Mono Hot Springs the river is relatively mellow for almost 9 miles, but then it drops into a deep granite gorge. The topo map shows trail crossings at two points in the mellow section, but no easy exit past them. One might be able to continue down the South Fork at some perfect flow all the way to the middle fork, but then one would have to deal with a much higher flow in the middle fork canyon. In the past, the only people to travel through this section all the way to the middle fork do so by hiking and swimming at the very low flows that Edison is required to release to keep fish alive.   In 2008 a group of paddlers descended down Mono Creek to the SF San Joaquin, to the middle fork and on to Mammoth Pool.   See:  San Joaquin, S. Fork  Mono Hot Springs to Middle Fork, to Mammoth Pool

Driving Directions: From Fresno, take highway 168 to Huntington Lake,(1.5 - 2 hours), turn onto Kaiser Pass road to Mono Hot Springs, (40 minutes). Kaiser Pass road is narrow, windy and slow. Highway 168 is excellent and fast. Kaiser Pass road is also closed during the winter and tends to open in May or by memorial weekend. Call Sierra Nat. Forrest for road info. (559) 855-5360

John Gangemi writes:

Picture yourself paddling in a world of smooth Sierra granite. The Florence to Mono Hot Springs run puts you smack in the middle of the high Sierra with spectacular granite peaks and domes of granite. The put-in at Jackass Meadow starts at 7200 ft. The first mile with a 40' gradient allows you to enjoy the scenery as you meander through Jackass Meadow. You won't have much time to look at the scenery in the next couple miles as the San Joaquin drops precipitously with steady steep gradients. Eventually the gradient tapers off, allowing you to start relaxing again with views of Bear Dome. The continuous section culminates with a left hand corner taking you over Hooper Diversion. The non-stop action has you dodging holes, avoiding the occasional log and for those comfortable in Class IV+ creeks grinning ear to ear. Everything is runnable. You might want a creek boat on your first run to learn the lines but you'll likely gravitate to a play boat to capitalize on the infinite playable holes and waves. To top it off, the run ends at Mono Hot Springs so you can finish with a hot soak.

American Whitewater and San Joaquin Paddlers are working hard to establish a predictable schedule of whitewater flows on this run. Southern California Edison (SCE) divert water out of the S. Fk. San Joaquin at Florence Dam for hydro generation. Water rarely spills into this run. American Whitewater and San Joaquin Paddlers are involved in the relicensing of this and seven other hydro projects in the San Joaquin drainage. American Whitewater and San Joaquin Paddlers conducted a whitewater flow study June 8th on Florence to Mono Hot Springs reach. The team of nine kayakers and two paddle rafts boated 750 cfs. This flow padded most of the rocks with soft pillows although the lack of eddies in the continuous Class IV+ section had the rafts running blind. Your membership and donations help support American Whitewater's efforts to restore flows to this reach.

Directions: Driving to this area is as much fun as paddling the whitewater. Florence Reservoir is exactly 99 miles from Fresno, California. Take Highway 168 out of Fresno to Shaver. Highway 168 turns into Tollhouse Rd. Follow signs to Huntington Lake. Once you've arrived at Huntington Lake, check to see that you have plenty of fuel for your car, because Rancheria Marina is the last place to get it (closes at 7 pm).

At the junction of SR 168 and the Kaiser Pass Road is the Eastwood Ranger Station if you need info. Drive up the nice two-lane road for about 5 miles, and you'll come to the one-lane portion. Relax, it's only another 12 miles to Mono Hot Springs Resort. It is a rather narrow and winding, but paved road that takes approximately 40 minutes to drive (No steep cliffs!). On the way, you'll pass the last Ranger outpost, the High Sierra station. A mile past that is the turnoff to Mono Hot Springs and Edison Lake. Just after crossing the bridge over the river, you will turn left into the Mono Hot Springs Resort. There are campgrounds along the river and dispersed camping near the trailhead for Doris Lake. Travel time from Fresno takes 2 to 3 hours.

Amenities: The paddling is fantastic but don't travel here with the single focus of whitewater paddling because you'll regret you did not bring your other toys. This area is an outdoor playground offering great mountain biking, rock climbing, fishing, hiking, soaking and dispersed camping. In all your activaties, please tread lightly so we can protect this granite sanctuary for future generations.

Gasoline is available at Huntington Lake at rancheria marina, at Shaver at several locations. Gas is not available after you turn onto Kaiser Pass Rd., at Mono, Florence or Edison. Make sure you have plenty. Restaraunts and some groceries are available at Mono, Vermillion Valley Resort and Florence. Information is available at the Sierra National Forest office in Prather. Phone (559) 855-5360

ABC channel 30 weather cam at Huntington Lake.


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2011-06-07 06:49:16


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
1.0Start of RapidsIV
2.5Hooper gauging WeirIV+

Rapid Descriptions

Start of Rapids (Class IV, Mile 1.0)

After a scenic float through a meadow, the river runs next to the granite cliffs of Jackass Dike.   Once the river starts dropping, it does not stop.

Hooper gauging Weir (Class IV+, Mile 2.5)

A steep continuous rapid curves gradually to the right, piles up against a cliff on the right then bounces left and drops over a 6 to 8 foot high dam.    At 750 cfs in 2003 all boaters ran the weir, but it looked sticky in spots.  Good eddies await below the weir. 

Many boaters will want to scout this whole section.

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