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Difficulty IV
Length Miles
Gauge Tuolumne River Below Confluence with Cherry Creek
Flow Range 600 - 10000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 54 minutes ago 105 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 01/07/2018 6:21 pm

River Description

The Main Tuolumne River is a California classic, with nice scenery, exciting class 4 rapids, good side hikes and interesting historical sites. While the river can be done as a day trip, many take the time to enjoy the classic 18 mile stretch from Meral’s Pool to Ward’s Ferry above Don Pedro Reservoir as 2-3 day trip. Dependable flows are provided by Holm Powerhouse up on Cherry Creek. Hetch Hetchy Water and Power has developed a good relationship with the whitewater community and has agreements to provide dependable daytime flows through the summer to the extent possible.

Permits are Required from May 1 to October 15 of each year. Permits must be obtained from the Stanislaus National Forest, Groveland Ranger District, Tuolumne River. Day trip permits are usually easy to obtain in person and are free. Overnight permits can be reserved starting on January 1st. Weekday overnight permits can be easy to obtain also. Permits are free but there is a fee to reserve permits ahead of time. The reservation fee is $15 per 1st 10 people, and $2 per person over 10 people.  

The Groveland Ranger District office is on Highway 120, about a third of a mile east of Ferreti Road, the turnoff to Meral's Pool. Call (209) 962-7825.

Video highlighting  popular rapids and scenery. Shot in late April 2014 (after 2013 Rim Fire) by Matt Henry, All-Outdoors Whitewater Rafting

Getting There:  Groveland is on Highway 120, the northern route into Yosemite National Park. From Modesto or Manteca on Freeway 99, it is a little more than an hours drive up 120 to Groveland. 

Driving from the south up highway 99, turn north at Merced up J59 through Snelling to La Grange. Take highway 132 to Coulterville. In Coulterville, turn north onto 49 and continue to highway 120 at the bottom of the Priest Grade. Alternatively, turn onto Greeley Hill Road in Coulterville, then turn left after a few miles onto the Priest Coulterville road. This narrow road meets highway 120 at the top of the Priest Grade. 

Put in: From Goveland, drive east on highway 120 about 8 miles to Ferretti road at Casa Loma.   Turn left and drive 1 mile to the junction with the Lumsden Road (Forest Route 1N10)    Meral's Pool  is 5 miles down this narrow, twisty, rough, slow, dirt road.  Allow about 20 minutes driving time from Highway 120 down to Meral's Pool.  Lumsden Road is generally closed in the winter time. Call the ranger district to see when this road opens in the spring. There are several free campsites along the river in the vicinity of the put in. They have pit toilets but no potable water. 

When Lumsden road is closed, kayakers can hike down the SF Tuolumne road. It is a two or three mile hike but all down hill with some nice scenary. Talk to the rangers at the Forest Service station for directions and conditions.   The turn off for the road/trail is about .4 miles past the Buck Meadow Lodge.

Take out: Wards Ferry Road bridge crosses the upper end of New Don Pedro reservoir. Boaters will usually have to paddle a mile or two of flatwater on the lake. If the reservoir is low there can be nice rapids almost to the bridge. There is a trail on the upstream river right side of the bridge. Parking is limited, so cars get spread out on the shoulder along the road. Don't leave any valuables in the car.  Break ins sometimes happen. Allow about 20 minutes driving time each way from the river to Highway 120. 

Alternate Take out: A commercial towing service will tow rafters down the reservoir to Moccassin Point Marina, where derigging and unloading is much easier. Contact: Dave 209-962-4965] direct, or contact Tuolumne River shuttle service, [Darrell ] 209-559-4605 to reserve a time for hook up and pull out.

Other information sources:
Cassady & Calhoun, Holbek & Stanley, Martin
Whitewater Guidebook
Tuolumne River - National Forest page guide page
Paddle to the Sea; 2009 (blog)
Tuolumne River Shuttles (209-732-6165)

Cenozoic evolution of the Tuolumne  is an msWord doc of Terry Wright's wonderful book, 'Rocks and Rapids of the Tuolumne River; A guide to the Natural and Human History'.



Rapid Descriptions

South Fork Road trailhead

Class - N/A Mile - -2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

I think is the location of the trailhead to the SF Road.  (It has been awhile since I have personally hiked it.)   The SF Road does go down this drainage and then out onto the east facing ridge above the South Fork Tuolumne.   The route is marked as a trail on the topo map, and it is also visible for much of the distance in aerial photos.

Rock Garden

Class - IV Mile - 0.1

At low summer flows around 1300 cfs, many raft guides consider this the hardest rapid on the river because the river is wide and there are rocks everywhere.  Typically rafts enter on river right, then about the middle of the rapid work their way through boulders to the river left side.    Lots of rafts hang up in the middle of this rapid and all the other rafts at the top have to wait till the stuck raft gets clear. 

Kayakers can work their way down through any part of the rapid without a lot of difficulty.   Just eddy hop and pick your way.


Class - IV Mile - 0.4

This is a very long complicated rapid with a number of distinct levels.   At low flows both rafts and kayaks have to maneuver their way past numerous rocks and drop offs.  


It is a really tricky rapid that tends to wrap rafts or at least get them very stuck. It is characterized by a long, easy entrance and current that drives into some rocks called "the Jacks." At low water, the classic run is down the right side and then entereing a tricky chute down the middle. Most wraps occur when rafts eddy out on the right just above the tricky chute. The eddy is very tough to leave and they end up wrapped above the chute. At higher water(about 3,000 cfs and above), the middle becomes much more exciting with holes and big waves. At these flows, there is a nice cheat line on the far right. The kayaking lines are pretty much the same and there are probably 5 or 6 fun lines for competent, adventurous kayakers.

Sunderland's Chute

Class - IV Mile - 0.8

The river makes a sharp turn to the right, then picks up speed as it flows in a fairly straight line against the right side wall.   The top half of the rapid is fairly open with numerous rocks forming eddies.  At low summer flows, boaters can eddy hop down a ways till the river drops down a steep narrow chute.    Several big holes wait at the bottom of the chute, occupying the center and right.    The typical route is down the center of the chute then power left before the bottom. 


This rapid is named for Dick Sunderland, an early California river running pioneer.

Hackamack's Hole

Class - IV Mile - 1
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A busy rapid with a large rock in the center of the river near the bottom that creates a large hole at high flows. 


This rapid is named for Bob Hackamack, who is still active in protecting the wild and scenic Tuolumne river. 

Ram's Head

Class - IV Mile - 1.4

Another very long rapid that narrows as it goes.  A big rock occupies the center waves near the bottom of the rapid.   At high flows this rock forms a big hole which requires a lot of work to avoid. 


Class - IV Mile - 4.3

Large boulders block much of the river, especially at low flows.  Scout from river left.  A narrow channel remains between the left cliff wall and a very large boulder.   It is a cliff formed hallway.  Kayakers have to stay straight, but it is really tight for rafts.  Oarboats have to make sure their oars do not hang up on the walls. 

A center route is good at higher flows, but is shallow and tricky at low summer flows. 

Clavey Falls

Class - 5.0 Mile - 5.4

The first of two drops in this staircase rapid are the biggest. An 8-foot sem-verticald rop on the right, called "The Falls" takes boats into a foaming current that pushes them toward the left wall. The second drop is guarded by a boat-crunching hole across the left half of the river. There is a left-side run that avoids the Falls but also leads to the big hole. Portage on the right, Set safety downstream. The most dangerous part of this rapid is "Dinosaur Rock" at the bottom of the rapid. Few people rarely walk down to scout it and many boats hit it. It is fairly easy to wrap or flip on this rock at flows above 2,000 cfs. Even if you miss the rock to the left, there is a steep eddy line that will flip a raft or throw a few paddlers out. Kayakers that float over this line may end up in a tricky eddy behind the rock. There have been two deaths on this rapid, both above 8,000 cfs and both kayakers. Kayaks that paddle over the top of Dinosaur end up getting caught in a part of the rock that split off on the back side. This would be horrible place to swim, but it's worse in a kayak, because a kayak can easily pin here.

Clavey Hole

Class - 5.0 Mile - 5.41

The picture was taken at a low flow of 1250 cfs. The hole is just downstream of Clavey Falls and virtually unavoidable -- a boat-cruncher. After the high water year of 2005, some rocks shifted below the hole, which changed it's character. At low water, this used to be a steep 2-3 foot drop into a sticky hole. Now, that feature is pretty much gone and instead it's a tricky manuever between boulders and the potential to wrap a boat has increased. The hole is most fierce at higher flows when it's steep and surges unpredictably. It's possible to avoid the hole completely, but then you're set up to run right into Dinosaur Rock, so most people hit the edge of the hole. At high water, Clavey Hole is still as fierce as ever.

Gray's Grindstone

Class - IV Mile - 9.5
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This rapid is probably the most fun on the Tuolumne. It's about half a mile long full of rocks, holes, and waves. At lower water(below 1500 cfs), it's a zigzag between rocks and over drops. At about 2500 cfs, a big hole appears at the entrance on the right. You can skirt this hole by running a technical left route. At flows above 4000 cfs, this hole can easily flip rafts which would lead to a long swim.

Thread the Needle

Class - III Mile - 11

There is an easy route on river left at all flows.  A more exciting center route goes between the two huge boulders, but can not be recommended. The center boulder appears to be undercut and the current pushes directly into it. 


On my first trip down the T, I and another novice kayaker followed one of our leaders through the narrow slot and vertical drop on the far river right.   At the bottom he turned, saw us behind him and cried out, "My god, you were not supposed to follow me through there!"   It always seemed like the way to go ever since.   Pmartzen


Class - IV Mile - 12.6
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A large boulder bar / boulder field on the left pushes the channel over against the right wall.  The river has cut two channels across the top of the boulder field, but the main channel is the furthest right.  The rapid drops steeply to the right, then curves steadily back to the left. 

Hells Kitchen

Class - IV Mile - 13.1
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Big Creek is visible directly ahead on river left.  Then the river bends sharply to the right and enters Hells Kitchen rapid.

This is a long, steep and busy rapid.  At normal flows, it's a technical line through huge boulders right down the middle. At the higher flows (above 5,000 cfs) you'll want to start looking for lines down the left side to avoid the huge powerful waves in the center.

North Fork of the Tuolumne

Class - N/A Mile - 15.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

There are campsites on both upstream and downstream sides of this creek.  It is a very pretty area to explore


Class - IV Mile - 17.6
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This short but tricky rapid appears only at very low reservoir elevations.  A line of large boulder block the river.  There are a number of openings, but each is semi-blocked by smaller boulders.  Kayaks should have no problems, but rafts can get hung up. 

Wards Ferry Bridge

Class - N/A Mile - 18
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This newest bridge was constructed in 1971 to keep the road above the high water mark of New Don Pedro reservoir.  The stone abutments of the old road remain just upstream on each side of the river. 

There is a steep trail on river left suitable for individual hikers and kayakers, but private rafters will use the slightly wider trail on river right.  It is an awkward, slippery, difficult carry, so be careful.  Commercial raft companies use a winch to lift their boats straight from the water to the bridge. 

AW is working with the other stakeholders to design, fund and construct a better take out. 

Elevation 750 Feet - Deer Creek

Class - N/A Mile - 18.1
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The river will reach past the Wards Ferry Bridge to Deer Creek when the reservoir elevation is 750 feet.

Elevation 700 feet

Class - N/A Mile - 20
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The River will reach this far when the reservoir is at 700 feet elevation.

Elevation 650 feet

Class - N/A Mile - 23
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The river will reach this far when the lake is at this elevation.


default user thumbnail
Matthew Henry
6 years ago

Tuolumne River is open and runnable. No restrictions are posted on Lumsden Road. Burned areas from the Rim Fire are noticeable and significant but most of the vegetation at river level has survived, and the popular camp sites along the river are in good shape.

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Konrad Pehl
8 years ago

Apparently road was repaired spring 2012.

Gage Descriptions

Boating on the Tuolomne can be divided into two seasons: Spring spill season and Summer powerhouse release season. The spring, high flow season can have very high flows that are suitable for only the most-skilled paddlers. Commercial rafting trips rarely begin above 8,000 cfs. 6,000 cfs is considered an above normal flow, and 3,000-4,000 cfs is considered a very good flow. Once spills from Hetch Hetchy & Lake Eleanor cease, flows are around 1,500 cfs or less. During non spill, flows are a combination of powerhouse outflow from Holm Powerhouse on Cherry Creek, and a minimum release into the Tuolumne River from Early Intake diversion.

The flow from Holm Powerhouse takes a few hours to reach Meral's Pool.


Daily Flows Realtime Flows Dreamflows Home
Show 30 Days
Show 3 Years

Tuolumne river release bulletins for 2007
Tuolumne river release Calendar for 2007


Inflows to New Don Pedro Reservoir will be mostly the flow from the river, although there are some low elevation creeks that can have a large effect during the winter.   Inflow is reported as a 24 hour average after midnight.

Directions Description

The map below shows a long way around route to the put in (as of 2011).  

Put in: From Goveland, drive east on highway 120 about 8 miles to Ferretti road at Casa Loma. Turn left and drive 1 mile to the junction with the Lumsden Road (Forest Route 1N10) Meral's Pool is 5 miles down Lumsden road.  Allow about 20 minutes driving time from Highway 120 down to Meral's Pool.   Lumsden Road is dirt, often rough, and is generally closed in the winter time. Call the ranger district to see when this road opens in the spring. 


When Lumsden road is closed, kayakers can hike down the SF Tuolumne road.   From Casa Loma (Ferreti Road) continue east on 120 for 3.8 miles, then turn onto a dirt road on the left.  The gate is within a few hundred yards.  You may have to hunt around to find the proper route.  This road is visible in spots in aerial photos and shows up as a trail on the topo view.  It is a two or three mile hike.  


Take out: Wards Ferry Road bridge crosses the upper end of New Don Pedro reservoir.   From Groveland take either Wards Ferry Road if coming from the west, or Deer Flat Road if coming from the east.  The two roads merge after a couple miles.   Wards Ferry Road is paved, but narrow and winding. Allow about 20 minutes driving time each way from the river to Highway 120.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2012-08-01 n/a Fatality Read More
2005-06-26 High Fatality High Water Read More
2005-06-16 High Fatality Other Read More
1998-06-08 High Fatality High Water Read More
1989-06-27 Medium Near Miss/Rescue Read More




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Access Improvements - Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River (CA)


A new put-in launch has been constructed for the world class whitewater of Cherry Creek (Holm Powerhouse) on the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River. Funded by contributions from the U.S. Forest Service and private donations, Stanislaus National Forest River Ranger Bob Stanley spearheaded the design and construction of a slide/stairway to the river’s edge.

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A Ward's Ferry Bridge Take-out Worthy Of The Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River

Evan Stafford

The U.S. Department of the Interior has issued Bureau of Land Management (BLM) negotiated 4(e) conditions that ensure vital improvements at Ward’s Ferry Bridge, the take-out for the iconic Merals Pool run on the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River. Far from an ideal take-out, Ward's Ferry is the site of steep eroding pedestrian trails, rampart graffiti and a vandalized bathroom.  American Whitewater believes the improvements mandated by the revised 4(e) condition will one day provide a take-out worthy of the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River.



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Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River (CA) - Improvements Challenged at Ward's Ferry

Theresa Simsiman

Rejecting the idea that their hydroelectric project causes any impact at Ward's Ferry Bridge, Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts filed a request for trial-type hearing before an administrative law judge that challenges the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary conditions to improve the long-standing whitewater take-out for the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River.

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Theresa Simsiman

American Whitewater is advocating for improved access conditions at Ward’s Ferry Bridge on California’s Tuolumne River, which is the take-out for the Wild and Scenic Meral’s Pool run above the Don Pedro Hydropower Project. Today the take-out at Ward’s Ferry Bridge is plagued by theft, vandalism and covered in graffiti. Operations of the Don Pedro Project cause water levels at Ward’s Ferry Bridge to fluctuate dramatically, and this has affected conditions at this take-out for decades by contributing to shoreline and trail erosion and creating a steep hike to get up to the road. It’s time to put on record that a safe and improved take-out at Ward’s Ferry Bridge is important to you, the private boater. 

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5th Annual Paddle to the Sea with Tuolumne River Trust

Megan Hooker

This May and June join Paddle to the Sea – the Tuolumne River Trust’s popular paddle-a-thon where hundreds of river lovers and boating enthusiasts raft, canoe and kayak from the Sierra to San Francisco Bay. There is adventurous whitewater and mellow flat-water; fun one-day trips, or going the distance. Boaters of all skills and ages are encouraged to join.


Paul Martzen


Mark Singleton


Matthew Henry


Thomas O'Keefe


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1196086 09/17/09 Paul Martzen
1195910 08/31/09 Paul Martzen
1190120 04/23/09 Paul Martzen n/a
1195906 08/30/09 Paul Martzen
1195905 08/30/09 Paul Martzen
1195918 08/31/09 Paul Martzen
1200461 07/28/11 Paul Martzen Minor corrections
1200460 07/28/11 Paul Martzen SF Road info added
1197555 04/12/10 Paul Martzen updated directions & permit info
1202922 12/10/13 Paul Martzen River Closure
1202930 12/15/13 Mark Singleton remove closure
1203341 04/30/14 Matthew Henry Link to Vimeo movie added
1208697 01/07/18 Thomas O'Keefe broken links removed
1208698 01/07/18 Thomas O'Keefe minor edits