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Difficulty V
Length 3 Miles
Gauge No. Willow Creek Near Sugar Pine
Flow Range 75 - 200 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 4 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 01/28/2009 2:30 pm

River Description

This is an interesting creek with some big, and steep bedrock sections.

Take-out: Take highway 41 to the Oakhurst area and to the Bass Lake road. Go to Bass Lake and take Beasore Rd to Chilkoot campground. There are other spots where the creek is semi-close to the road, but you will need to study a map to figure them out. Chilkoot ought to be good enough. Hike down from your car to scout the creek wherever you decide to exit, so you recognize the right place. topozone map, google map.

Put-in: Drive about a mile past Chilkoot and turn left onto a gravel road going 3 miles to Grey Mt Campground. Put in at the bridge crossing the creek. topozone map, google map.

The flow will seem pitiful at the start, but within a few hundred yards or so, you will hit bedrock dropping away and then the flow will seem just fine.

This creek has long sections of beautiful, steep bedrock slides and falls which are mostly runnable. All of the major drops have been run, but many people will portage some of them. Portages around big drops tend to be across steep dirty slopes on small trails.

Alternating with the nice bedrock sections are fairly long sections of steep, technical slalom boating. Much of these technical sections are still boat scoutable, but there will be many places throughout the run where one person will need to scout from rocks or shore and decide for the other boaters as to route or whether to portage.

In the middle of the run there are also long sections of junk; as in irrigated rock piles. Most of the junk sections are sort of boatable and boat scoutable, but with great risk of pinning and broaching. There are a few portages around siphons, or similar, and lots of portages around logs. Logs and log jams are an issue throughout the run. Portaging tends to be fairly easy overall though, so that compensates somewhat for the number of portages.

Nathan Hunkapiller writes:

N. Willow (from Grey Mt to Chilkoot) was an interesting run but by no means a favorite of mine. I enjoyed the first mile with it's nice granite bedrock drops. The middle miles were exhaustingly crappy with many log portages and junk that is runnable but not altogether worth it when considering the fun factor vs. piton/broach factor. I was pleased that it opened up again in the end with a few more nice bedrock drops. Great take out drop!
May 2, 2005

The Lower Willow Creek section is considered to be a higher quality section with much less junk and more clean drops.
When in the vicinity, also check out Upper Big Creek and Lower Big Creek near Wawona in Yosemite.

Here is my Story on how not to run this creek, or any other.   NF Willow video:from May 2006

Other Information Sources:

Land Stewardship Council - PG&E lands proposals



Rapid Descriptions

Grey Mt. Campground

Class - Mile - 0
Primitive campground and bridge across the creek. Gauging station upstream of bridge.

Clean Break

Class - IV Mile - 0.1
Steep slides and ledges begin immediately and curve out of sight to the left. Worth looking at.

Back Scratcher

Class - IV Mile - 0.15
This is another sweet slide. There are multiple lines to choose from. All can be boat scouted.

Land Mine

Class - IV+ Mile - 0.15
Boulder garden with a small slide into a 3 foot drop.

Whack Whack

Class - 5.0 Mile - 0.25
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
A short section of easy water is followed by this big waterfall. Scout or portage on river left.

Split Wheel Slide

Class - IV Mile - 0.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Charge out onto the slab to avoid the undercut boulder in the center.

Rocket Flume

Class - IV Mile - 0.7
The river constricts into a small V slot with the right wall overhanging. Hang on for the ride and the ejection into a pool at the end.

Broken Elbow

Class - IV Mile - 0.75
This small drop takes you through a narrow chute. Elbow pads will keep you safe on this one.

Skull Crusher

Class - 5.0 Mile - 0.8
This rapid has 3 drops. The 1st on can be run center, or far right. Be careful that you don't get sucked under the water fall. The 2nd drop should be run far right down a narrow slot that slides into a pool. The 3rd drop is best run on the right with a right boof stroke. This rapid has a sticky hole at the bottom that will keep you and your boat for quite some time.

Junkie Section

Class - Mile - 1
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
This part of the run is a real bummer. The creek constricts into a series of log portages and manky drops. This section goes on for almost a mile. Make your way through it and keep your head high. Good things will follow.

Paddle Snatcher

Class - 5.0 Mile - 2.25
The creek drops through a narrow defile into a small pool. Paddlers then have to climb the eddy fence to boof over a very narrow slot into a narrow pool. The recirculation in this bottom pool could be bad, so set a safety next to it on river right.
The whole drop plus 3 smaller drops can be portaged on the river left side. The best scout is on the right and the only safety spots are also on the right side.

Chilkoot Creek Falls

Class - 5.0 Mile - 3
A very distinctive rapid is just before Chilkoot Creek comes in on the left. A long slide suddenly drops 10 feet into a pool with an angular boulder. The trick is to avoid smacking the boulder. Scout or portage on left. Then follow the trail around to the left up and across Chilkoot Creek, then up the hill to the campgrounds.


Gage Descriptions

The gauge is at Grey Mt. Campground so that is the flow you get. 75 cfs is an excellent flow, scratchy in the shallows but managable in the steeps. The maximum flows given are just guesses. In dryer years, flows may never get high enough to boat, but in wet years it can run for a few months. Historical data and other information can be found on the USGS NF Willow page. There is also a diversion above this section. Water is diverted from NF Willow near Soquel Meadow over to California Creek which drains eventually into the Fresno River for use by Madera Irrigation District.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

No Accident Reports




Matt Muir


Paul Martzen


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1193821 01/28/09 n/a n/a
1197565 04/15/10 Paul Martzen n/a