From the put in, class 2 rapids start off immediately, but then long stretches of slow, flat water separate the few rapids. The scenery is pleasant oak woodlands, grassy hillsides, or brushy chapparal. There are a few islands with interesting side channels for those with small enough boats and exploratory spirits. Once into the Gorge, the scenery is beautiful with wild cliffs and rocks channeling the river. The Gorge is distinctly different than the Chili Bar section rapids. Rapids in the gorge tend to be narrow, deep and turbulent. In the Haystack canyons, the wave trains seem to go on forever.
The Gorge is often the first Class III run for Sacramento and San Francisco area boaters. It is somewhat easier than Chili Bar and has a much more gradual warm up with many class 2 and easier rapids before boaters reach the actual gorge. On the other hand more advanced boaters may complain about these long stretches of flat water and mild rapids on the approach to the bigger rapids in the gorge.
Following Chili Bar, The Gorge is the most popular commercial run in the state. There will be lots of other rafts and kayaks on the river and each boat must show consideration for others. Kayakers will have to weave their way through rafts at times. Raft guides need to acknowledge each other and give enough space so that others can maneuver.
During spring high flows (>3500 cfs), Fowler's Rock and Satan's Cesspool can easily flip rafts. At normal summer flows (1200-1500 cfs), rafts have an easy time, but novice kayakers are challanged. Flips and swims are common for kayakers at Satan's and at Bouncing Rock.
Put-in: Greenwood Creek River Access area on Highway 49, west of Coloma. BLM developed this area in 2005 by paving a large parking area with 40 slots. There are toilets but no potable water. Boaters must carry their equipment down a trail to the river. google map. The next public put ins upstream are at Camp Lotus and at Henningson-Lotus park, where boats can be unloaded from cars close to the river. Parking fees are required at both locations.
Take-out: Salmon Falls Road bridge at Folsom reservoir. There is a large parking area on river right on the upstream side of the bridge. Two pit toilets are available but there is no potable water. There is some overflow parking uphill and on the other side of the bridge. The high water mark of the reservoir extends several miles upstream of the bridge, so depending on the lake level, the paddle out can range from a few hundred yards to a few miles. google map.
There are a number of active paddling clubs that frequent this river. Listed below are just a few.
AW affiliatesGold Country Paddlers.Chico PaddleheadsSierra Club: Loma Prieta ChapterThe Coloma Shuttle transports people from Coloma to Chili Bar in the morning and from Salmon Falls to Coloma in the afternoon & evening. If boaters use a shuttle service to get to the put in or from the take out, it can reduce air pollution, and reduce traffic congestion. As of 2017 Coloma Shuttle has a 14 passenger van and rides cost $10. A 12 ride pass costs $100. Reservations are usually needed for weekends. Call (530) 303-2404 to make reservations. The Coloma Shuttle is operated by the non-profit American River Recreation Association (ARRA).
Rafter's Toe 530-622-9655, in Coloma, can tow rafts from the end of the river across Folsom Lake to the Salmon Falls take out. Call ahead for prices and schedule.
Other Information Sources:The American River ConservancyProtect American River Parkways works to protect the North and Middle forks of the American River.
BLM Mother Lode Office manages much of the public land along this river. Phone: (916) 941-3101cacreeks.com Bill Tuthill's excellent online river guide.
The American River Page has a wide range of information about the river and the region, including a forum and photo gallery.The River Store in Lotus often has up to the minute information about the river.boof.com has a forum that is especially popular with expert kayakers.
Nice new parking lot with 40 spaces and free parking. There are restrooms but no running water. This facility was constructed in 2005. It is owned and maintained by the BLM. Carry your boats down a trail to the river.
First rapid past the put in.
The river bends steadily to the right and splits around a bushy island. Rocky shoals are at the top of the island.
The river bends left over a gravel bar then turns right towards bedrock outcrops. The current goes to the left past Fowler's Rock, then slaloms past several more equally giant rocks. Smaller boulders in the current create plenty of hydraulics. This is a very pretty and fun rapid, that marks the start of the true gorge.
This narrow section of the gorge is very pretty and has fun waves for a long distance.
A long moderate rapid gradually bends to the left and leads to a low rocky island. A sneak route can be taken to the right, while the standard route is to the left. The main current sweeps quickly left at the top of the island, then then is forced sharply back to the right by a cliff wall on the left. In the final chute, there is a ledge at the top right, and immediately another on the left, creating a crazy, twisting, turbulent drop.
Below the ledges the rapid is clean and deep. Swimmers have a large catch pool to collect their gear. However, the next large rapid, "Son of Satans" is only 70 yards downstream and at high flows they will run together.
Photographers are often stationed atop the cliff on river left and also downstream on river right.
A short pool separates the end of Satan's Cesspool from the start of this rapid. The current heads straight down towards the right wall, but there is plenty of room to move left and it is an easy move, even at the last second.
The river bends to the left above the drop, then narrows over the length of the rapid.
Another beautiful long section of canyon with mostly continuous waves starts a short ways past Scissors rapid.
The "Bouncing Rock" is on far river right. There is a steep drop over the bouncing rock and into a hole. There is plenty of room to avoid it if you wish, but may not have the paddling skill to avoid being swept over the rock and into the hole.
The river is steadily bending to the right till it runs mostly north. Hospital Bar rapid awaits just ahead.
The river bends to the right past boulders, then bends to the right and heads down a chute while bending back to the left.
This good rapid appears if the lake level drops low enough.
Fee required for parking (and they do ticket). Restrooms, but no running water.
See American, S. Fork Chili Bar (Route 193 to Coloma) for updated Flow Information
Water released at Chili Bar Dam takes about 3-4 hours to reach Greenwood Creek
A flow gauge at Chili Bar is maintained by PG&E. Flow information is distributed and stored by CDEC. You can obtain daily flow information in numeric form at CDEC website, but the gauge home page is at Chili Bar Gauge info. If there is no graph visible below, click on this link to a CDEC graph. Convenient flow information for almost all rivers in California and many other western states can be found at Dreamflows.com. You can also call the River Store (530) 626-3435 or the El Dorado County Flow Phone at (530) 621-6616.
The release at Chili Bar generally takes around three to four hours to reach Greenwood Creek.
Permits are not required for this reach.
Figure about 20 minutes driving time each way between Greenwood and Salmon Falls bridge.
South Fork Gorge
Heading in to the Gorge
Drop below Satan's - 3
Drop below Satan's - 2
Drop below Satan's - 1
Satan's Cesspool: wide view
Raft in small drop
Lolli Pop Tree
Greenery before the Gorge
In the Cesspool
Middle Move Satans Cesspool
Top Entrance Satans Cesspool
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Good news as we navigate our lives with COVID-19, American Whitewater received word that Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has made the decision NOT to cancel scheduled recreational flows on the South Fork American River. Wait what? Yes, you read correct a paddling staple we take for granted below Chili Bar was on the verge of being curtailed in the midst of a public safety emergency.
Recently, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) made an unexpected move to advocate for policies that would undermine environmental protections in the Clean Water Act and the Federal Power Act. American Whitewater worked with SMUD and other stakeholders in negotiating a settlement agreement for the Upper American River Hydroelectric Project (UARP) that was signed by all parties in 2007. The final license for the project was issued in 2014 and included whitewater recreation flows to mitigate the impacts of its project.
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