San Joaquin, S. Fork, California, US
Bridge over Piute Creek to Florence Lake
||V (for normal flows)
Bridge over the South Fork near Take-out
Bridge over the South Fork near Take-outPhoto by Trevor Haagenson taken 06/15/04
The South Fork San Joaquin basin is an amazingly beautiful area that is worth visiting even if you
don't kayak. To paddle this section either take the ferry across the reservoir or paddle your
kayak, then hike 9 miles on good trail to Piute Creek (8050 ft elevation) or any point in between,
launch onto the river and paddle 7 1/2 miles back to Florence lake (7328 ft. elevation).
The last 2.5 miles from Blayney Meadows to Florence is reported to be excellent class 4 & 5 and the
best whitewater on this section of the south fork. From Piute Creek to Blayney is reported to be
mostly class 2 with one portage around a gorge. Piute Creek itself is reported to be continuous
class 4 & 5 in the 1/4 mile below the bridge to the SF confluence. See Trevor's trip report, posted
Driving Directions: From Fresno, take highway 168 to Huntington Lake,(1.5 - 2 hours), turn onto
Kaiser Pass road to Florence reservoir, (60 minutes). Highway 168 is excellent and fast. Kaiser
Pass road is narrow, windy and slow. 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
Holbek and Stanley guidebook
The owners of the Muir Trail Ranch
- provide a ferry
service across Florence Reservoir every few hours during the day. The ranch, located at Blaney
Meadows approximately 5 miles upstream from Florence offers lodging and meals with advance
reservations only and during the peak season only for those staying a full week at a time.
On the way to Florence reservoir, Mono Hot Springs
offers meals, lodging or camping and access to hot springs along the river.
Other options are available further down the hill at Huntington Lake and at Shaver Lake. Gasoline
is available at Shaver Lake and at Huntington Lake.
Other Reaches in the area:
SF San Joaquin: Florence to Mono
Mono Creek below Vermillion
Dinkey Creek: Cherry Bomb Falls
NF Kings above
Trip Report: South Fork San Joaquin June 5th 2004, by Trevor Haagenson
The South Fork of the San Joaquin above Florence Lake is a spectacular High Sierra run. It makes an
excellent day trip and as noted by Holbeck/Stanley has natural flow, runs every year and Ã¢ÂÂis
great, go do it!Ã¢ÂÂ We did the entire section from the Piute Creek Bridge to Florence Lake. This
involved a total of about 5 miles of flat water, 8 miles of hiking, and 8 miles of whitewater. This
is a big day by any standard. Another Highly Recommended option is to do only the last 2.5 miles of
the South Fork. This section contains almost all the whitewater and some of the best scenery and is
described under the section SHORT AND SWEET.
It should be noted that the Holbeck/Stanley book does an excellent job of describing the logistics
of the trip. Additionally the times they give for the paddle across the lake, the hike to put-in on
Piute Creek as well as the description they give for identifying the MANDATORY portage are all very
We started across the lake at about 9:00am on June 5th 2004. We arrived at the outlet to the South
Fork at 9:45 and spent a few minuets resting and taking photos of the scenic and significant last
drop. This drop and the portion of the river visible upstream provide an excellent place to judge
the flow. We estimated about 1500cfs. (The calculated Natural River flow at Millerton was 4,300 cfs
on this date. Ed.) I would guess that the last two and a half mile gorge would still be worth doing
with half this much. Additionally it would be possible to do this run with much more water maybe
3000cfs although the gorge would probably be much more difficult. As it were the eddies were often
small and right against the walls of the mini gorge. Our run through this section was greatly
expedited by the fact we had hiked up and scouted much of this section the day before.
We commenced hiking at 10:10. The trail begins by crossing a footbridge to the North side of the
river then continues up and away from the river for about a mile and a half. The trail then levels
off and descends slightly to meet the river at the west side of Blarney Meadows at about mile 2.5
(this is before you reach the turn off onto the private land at Muir Trail Ranch). In the future I
would put in here as described in the SHORT AND SWEET description below. We continued hiking past
Blayney Meadow through meadows of wildflowers and ever-present mosquitoes. Above Blayney Meadows
the trail joins the John Muir Trail and is mostly out of sight of the river until reaching the
bridge on Piute Creek. This section of is very scenic with great views into the high country. We
arrived at put in at 2:45 totally spent. Knowing we had about 8 miles of whitewater ahead we took a
long break. It looked like there was some great boating further upstream on Piute Creek but we were
too tired to check it out.
We put in on Piute Creek at 3:15 on a section of very busy continuous class IV-V. There were
numerous river wide holes and no eddies. I immediately proceeded to roll four times splitting open
my elbow through me dry top. After a non-stop quarter mile Piute Creek dumps into the relatively
placid South Fork. The next few miles were characterized by low gradient riffles that did not
require scouting. As warned by the guidebook we were on constant look out for the mini-gorge with
the inviting class III lead-in. It can be identified by a sharp bend to the left and a granite mini
gorge (I believe this was the first granite bed rock encountered on the run). Do not run the
inviting lead-in drops or you will be forced to eddy directly above a ten footer into a death hole.
We portaged on ledges fairly high on river right. It took about ten minuets. Following the portage
is a short section of class II leading to Blayney Meadows.
We stopped about a half mile above the Meadows and searched for a hot spring on river left. After
about half an hour of bush whacking we were unable to locate it and continued down stream. I am
told it is quite nice if you can find it. The paddle through Blayney Meadows is very scenic. The
river meanders though the meadow and we were often paddling right between trees. We passed over two
or three barbed wire fences. I believe we had to get out of boats once when we followed a channel
that lead into a logjam. This scenery is marred only by the buildings of the Muir Trail Ranch.
As you exit the meadow the gradient picks up and the fun really begins. The Last two and a half
miles from here to the lake contain essentially all the good whitewater on the run. The river flows
though a spectacular water carved granite mini-gorge set in a large glaciated valley. The river
through this section is Continuous Class IV/V interspersed with a few distinct drops. The rapids
are almost exclusively low angle bedrock affairs creating exceptionally sticky holes. I took one of
the longest surfs of my life in a hole I was unsuccessful in punching. Many of the drops are boat
scoutable but we had hiked along most of this section the day before which allowed us to make rapid
progress. In one section we were fighting though a wave train while looking directly into the sun
and we were nearly clotheslined by a one inch steel cable stretched across the river a chest
height. We both rolled just in time to slip by unscathed. The last drop on the river is a
spectacular low angle falls that passes under the footbridge and ends right in the lake. At about
12 feet tall it is the largest on the run and lots of fun. Finish by paddling back across the lake
or hiking back up and doing it again!
SHORT AND SWEET:
The West end of Blayney Meadow at about Mile 2.5 would be an excellent place to put-in. If you
put-in here you only have to hike between two and three miles. This took us about an hour and a
half with a few short breaks. All the good whitewater between the Piute Creek Bridge and Florence
Lake with the exception of the quarter mile on Piute Creek is in this last two and a half mile
section. I believe that it would be more fun to do this section twice than to do the run as we did
it and as described by Holbeck/Stanley. If you want to see the scenery upstream it would be more
fun without a boat on your shoulder.
Florence Lake is Located about 90 miles North-East of Fresno. From Highway 99 make your way to HWY
168 East toward Shaver Lake. Continue Past Shaver following the signs to Huntington Lake. From the
North East Side of Huntington Lake drive over Kaiser Pass and Follow the signs to Florence Lake.
Allow three hours from Fresno. While in the area check out Mono Hot Springs and the South Fork
below Florence Lake (we had planned to do this section but SCE shut off the water the day before we
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Last Updated: 2007-01-23 19:30:58