Helms Creek - Courtright reservoir to the NF Kings river

Helms Creek, California, US


Courtright reservoir to the NF Kings river

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 3.3 Miles
Avg. Gradient 400 fpm

Last good slide.

Last good slide.
Photo by Cody Howard taken 08/01/11

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
cdec-HCC 4.60 - 5.00 ft V 35h29m 4.07 ft (too low)

River Description

Helms Creek drops through a fantastic glacier carved canyon below Courtright reservoir. Hiking through the canyon is fun and fairly easy.   There are numerous long and steep slides in the canyon.   A few are clearly not safely boatable/slidable.   A number of slides look appealing.   A lot of the slides are pretty steep. A few have bad landings or rocks in bad places. The two biggest waterfalls land on rocks, but all the portages are easy and mostly on smooth bedrock slabs

This auther has not heard of any kayak descents of this creek as of 2009, but others have agreed that it looks intriguing.  

Forty cfs is about the most release this creek ever sees since the construction of the Helms Project. But since much of this creek is bedrock slides and falls, 40 cfs seems like it might be ok if you don't mind leaving some plastic behind.  During the spring, a side creek may add enough to improve the boating potential. 

Getting there: From Fresno take freeway 168 to Shaver Lake. Just before the main town of Shaver Lake, turn right onto Dinkey Creek Rd. At Dinkey Creek the road becomes the McKinley Grove Rd. A few miles before Wishon Reservoir, turn left onto the Courtright road. At Courtright, bear right across the dam and park near the trailhead. google map.

Put-in:  There is a trail and stairway near the dam that provides access to the gauging station. However the creek is very congested and tight at first. Depending on your taste, you may or may not find it enjoyable. If you hike around behind the large dome on east side, then follow a small creek down to the main creek you will bypass 7/10ths of a mile of congestion. The first big slides start 1.2 miles below the dam. google map.

Take-Out: It is probably easiest to just hike back out the way you came in.  Otherwise, continue down the NF Kings to Wishon and then paddle about 2 miles across the reservoir to the nearest road on the west side of the reservoir.   google map.


FERC Information: 

Courtright Dam and reservoir, along with Wishon Dam and the Kings River Powerhouse (near Kirch Flat) are all part of the Hass-Kings River Project, FERC #1988.   Flows in Helms Creek and access below the dam are thus subject to FERC regulation.  If boaters want a scheduled release with higher boatable flows they must send documentation of their needs to FERC.   This project was relicensed in 3/6/2001.  The license will expire again in 2/28/2041.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2011-08-05 05:45:00


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
1.0Side Creek put inN/AAccess
1.2Start of main slidesN/A
2.6NF Kings ConfluenceN/A
3.3Wishon ReservoirN/A

Rapid Descriptions

Side Creek put in (Class N/A, Mile 1.0)

Hiking down this side creek avoids the junky section below the dam.  In the spring this creek may supply enough water to improve the boating below, but it will not show up on the gauge.  

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
August 1 2011 (2731 days ago)
Cody HowardDetails
Did a descent of Helms Creek in the summer of 2010. It has some really nice large slides and falls
for about a half mile stretch. These start at the confluence of a small side trib (river left) just
below the large dome. This side trib is a nice put in....and a short walk from the climber's
parking lot. After the few nice drops, Helms then careens off it's final cascades down into the NF
Kings. I found it easiest to just hike back out the way in. Very beautiful, open and novelty. The
flows of 4.4 feet on the gage was too low. It's too bad that there isn't a little bit more (~like
100 cfs) being released from Courtright Res, because all it needs is a few cfs to go.