Difficulty III-IV
Length 6 Miles
Flow Range 100 - 2000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 13.8 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 02/13/2019 7:31 pm

River Description

The San Lorenzo is a pretty and very accessible river. While runnable for most of it's length, the three mile stretch from a mile downstream of the bridge into Henry Cowell State Park, to the takeout just north of the where Highway 9 crosses the train tracks, contains the most gradient.

From the Henry Cowell bridge, the first mile is primarily riffles and bushes, with little difficulty. Soon after losing sight of houses and trail access on river left, the gradient picks up. There is an alternate put-in here on river right, with access available from a large unmarked pull-out of concrete, and a steep trail down to the river.

From here, you cannot see or hear the road or any houses until you get down to Paradise Park, a mile or two up from the city of Santa Cruz. It's a narrow, redwood canyon with steep rock walls in some places to give a gorge feeling. The core three mile section has constant rapids with only small pools separating them. The size of the rapids increases, each bigger than the last, until you reach the falls, the largest drop.

An alternative put-in is available about 1-1.5 miles downstream of the Henry Cowell bridge, allowing you to avoid the flat moving water. Look for a large pull-out where a steep bike trail drops down to the road opposite the river. A steep trail drops straight down to the train tracks, and another trail to your right heads down to the river.

The December storms (2002) changed several rapids, most significantly the largest drop.

The first couple rapids are small and easily boat scouted. A moderately good play hole is on the right at the third ledge where the river is split.

Several more small rapids offer nice slalom practice, rock spins, and the occaisional boof. Always watch for wood.

After a few S-turns, the river passes through a narrow channel that forms an excellent hole for endless left-handed cartwheels from 140-250 cfs, and nice splatwheels down the side.

Up next is the second largest rapid, with several shoots at the bottom, all of which can be run.

Around the corner is the biggest drop. Scout (and carry) on the left. At flows up to 400 cfs, there is one channel down the middle, after an approach rapid. This used to form a boof, but the boof rock is gone, leaving a slot-drop that could provide some pin opportunities. The second drop has new rocks in it, so carefully choose the middle or right slots.

Above 500 cfs, a nice route down the right side opens up, and the hole on the bottom left gets worse. Above 800 you can sneak down the left, and above 1200 you can boof the large rock in the middle. Don't forget to look around at the steep rock formations as you pass through this steepest part of the gorge.

The next several rapids are fun, including a long slalom course with several routes, right being best at low water. The eddylines are excellent down here.

The river splits to go around a very short, narrow island, with most of the water going right. Soon after, the river makes a larger split. The left is normally log-choked, and half-way down the right, a trail meets the river. This is an alternative take-out to cut the bottom 3 miles off of the run. The trail leads up to the large parking area just north of Highway 9 crossing the train tracks.

The lower section contains more flat water and a few challenging 2+ rapids. Here the river moves quite far away from the road, providing the best wilderness atmosphere of the run. Watch for logs occaisionally blocking the entire channel.

As a note, fishermen can be very dense on this run (in both ways.) Catch and release is allowed only on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Holidays. Try to avoid the mornings on those days, because some can be quite defensive. Be very respectful, making as little movement as possible as passing by their spot, and possibly ask them where they would like you to pass.

Other Information Sources:
This run is also described in Cassady & Calhoun, Holbek & Stanley, Schwind
San Lorenzo Valley Water quality weekly report.
San Lorenzo Urban River Plan 2003 pdf document


Rapid Descriptions


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Kevin Tulley
2 years ago

Main gorge section is pretty good to go, just below it the wood and brush gets pretty bad, including several river wide logs, use extreme caution especially at higher flows. 1-9-18

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Zak Lieby
5 years ago

New strainer just above the waterfall. easy to duck under get out and back in on river left at 200cfs.

Gage Descriptions

You can get down this section as low as 70 cfs without getting out of your boat or knuckling (much), but there isn't much whitewater. Around 150 cfs it gets quite fun, and over 300 cfs it's worth the drive. Over 500 cfs, some sections start to get pushy and there are some decent holes. This continues as high as I've seen it. My highest run was somewhere over 2000 cfs, and most rocks in the streambed are out of sight, or forming some very large, keeper holes.


Directions Description


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Mark Buckley


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1190088 01/31/03 Mark Buckley n/a
1211131 02/13/19 Mark Buckley updated image position
1211130 02/13/19 Mark Buckley updated image position
1211132 02/13/19 Mark Buckley updated image position
1211133 02/13/19 Mark Buckley updated image position
1211134 02/13/19 Mark Buckley updated image position