Tuolumne - 4) Lumsden Campground (Merals Pool) to Wards Ferry Bridge

Tuolumne, California, US


4) Lumsden Campground (Merals Pool) to Wards Ferry Bridge (Main Tuolomne)

Usual Difficulty IV (for normal flows)
Avg. Gradient 40 fpm

Exit from Thread the Needle rapid

Exit from Thread the Needle rapid
Photo by Paul Martzen

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Tuolumne River Below Confluence with Cherry Creek
virtual-10553 600 - 10000 cfs IV 00h32m 162.1 cfs (too low)

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
Tuolumne-River.com guide page
Paddle to the Sea; 2009 (blog)
Tuolumne River Shuttles (209-732-6165)

Cenozoic evolution of the Tuolumne
http://www.terrywrightgeology.com/tguiderevision07.1.doc  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'.



Permit Information


Permit applications are accepted after January 1 for the following season: May 1 through October 15. While permits for day trips or weekday overnight trips are generally available in-person, advance reservation for weekend overnight trips is recommended.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-01-07 18:21:32

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-2.0South Fork Road trailheadN/AAccess
0.1Rock GardenIVPhoto
0.8Sunderland's ChuteIVPhoto
1.0Hackamack's HoleIV
1.4Ram's HeadIVPhoto
5.4Clavey Falls5.0Photo
5.4Clavey Hole5.0Photo
9.5Gray's GrindstoneIV
11.0Thread the NeedleIIIPhoto
13.1Hells KitchenIV
15.2North Fork of the TuolumneN/A
18.0Wards Ferry BridgeN/ATakeout
18.1Elevation 750 Feet - Deer CreekN/A
20.0Elevation 700 feetN/A
23.0Elevation 650 feetN/A

Rapid Descriptions

South Fork Road trailhead (Class N/A, Mile -2.0)

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)

Rafts in Rock Garden rapid

Rafts in Rock Garden rapid
Photo by Paul Martzen

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.

Nemesis (Class IV, Mile 0.4)

Evan below Nemesis

Evan below Nemesis
Photo of by Daniel Lundberg taken 04/28/07 @ 900 cfs

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)

Hey! Let's party in the bottom hole!

Hey! Let's party in the bottom hole!
Photo by Paul Martzen

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 1.0)

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)

Below Ram's Head

Below Ram's Head
Photo by Daniel Lundberg taken 04/28/07 @ 900 cfs

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. 

Stern (Class IV, Mile 4.3)

Raft in center route at Stern's

Raft in center route at Stern's
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 08/06/13 @ 1200 cfs

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)

Class V Clavey Falls

Class V Clavey Falls
Photo of This 10 foot drop is the highlight of the Main Tuolumne by Matt Urdan taken 05/28/01 @ 1250 cfs

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 5.4)

Boat-Crunching Clavey Hole

Boat-Crunching Clavey Hole
Photo of Clavey Hole by Matt Urdan taken 05/28/01 @ 1250 cfs

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)

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 11.0)

Thread the Needle rapid

Thread the Needle rapid
Photo by Paul Martzen

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

Cabin (Class IV, Mile 12.6)

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)

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)

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

Pinball (Class IV, Mile 17.6)

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 18.0)

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)

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 20.0)

The River will reach this far when the reservoir is at 700 feet elevation.

Elevation 650 feet (Class N/A, Mile 23.0)

The river will reach this far when the lake is at this elevation.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 30 2014 (1691 days ago)
Matthew HenryDetails
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.
August 20 2013 (1944 days ago)
Matthew HenryDetails
Forest fire in Clavey River/ Tuolumne River Canyons. Hwy 120 Closed near Groveland. For more
information go to the Stanislaus National Forest web site or copy and paste the following web
address: http://www.inciweb.org/incident/3660/ Fire name: "Rim Fire"
April 16 2012 (2435 days ago)
Konrad PehlDetails
Apparently road was repaired spring 2012.
July 27 2011 (2699 days ago)
Paul MartzenDetails
March 2011 Lumsden Road to the put in at Merral's Pool is closed due to a landslide approximately
4.4 miles from the intersection of Lumsden Road and Ferretti Road. For more info call the Groveland
Ranger District at 209.962.7825 Alternative access is to hike down the South Fork road/trail or to
drive in via Cherry Lake road. There is also a service to transport gear into the river via ATVs
which can get around the landslide. Call Tuolumne River Shuttles at (209) 962-4662.

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