California offers an excess of whitewater that can be enjoyed by paddlers of all abilities. Here isa list of five remarkable sections of river, near Chico, that I feel are best suited to help build skill and confidence for those looking to step up from the beginner to intermediate realm. If you follow the links you’ll be able to get more detailed information on the flows, access points, and types of rapids on each of these sections.
Always make sure to recreate responsibly. Remember that everybody progresses at their own pace, and when it comes to whitewater it’s important to not rush the progression. Plan ahead and prepare to ensure that you and your crew have all the necessary information and gear to stay safe on the river. Avoid paddling alone and stick to paddling with people you trust. Finally, it’s important to remember that no matter your level of skill, the river always demands respect.
1. Centerville Powerhouse to Covered Bridge - Butte Creek, near Chico, CA
If you are an aspiring Chico boater, this is your backyard run. The flows rely on snowmelt, but if you are able to catch it while it is running, it’s well worth your time. Butte Creek provides scenic views and fun class II/II+ rapids. The hazards on this river are limited, making it a good place to focus on skills and technique. Now, hazardous situations can come into play very fast in moving water so as a new boater it is always smart to go with someone who is more experienced.
2. Coloma to Greenwood (C to G) - South Fork American River, Coloma, CA
This stretch of river is one of the best introductions to whitewater. It is an enjoyable level of excitement for a beginner as it consists of a lot of class I/II boogie. Approximately halfway down the run there is a surf wave called ‘Barking Dog’, where beginners can aggressively paddle through the feature to avoid flipping and where intermediate boaters can eddy out to practice their surfing skills. This is a popular stretch of the American for many new and old boaters.
3. Bear Creek to Haswell or Rumsey - Cache Creek, Rumsey, CA
Cache Creek is a California classic with much less raft and kayak traffic than you’d find on the South Fork of the American. This is a fun class II/II+ stretch of river with one class III rapid called ‘Mother’ that has a reputation for providing loads of harmless carnage. Having one or two bigger rapids on a run can allow you to gage if and when you'd be ready to move up to a run with more class III. This is a great stretch of river for someone looking to work on reading whitewater, which is vital in improving paddling confidence.
4. Pigeon Point Campground to Cedar Flat (Pigeon Point) - Trinity River, Burnt Ranch, CA
Pigeon Point is an incredibly scenic, roadside run that never fails to provide. This is a definite step up from class II and requires intermediate paddling skills to maximize enjoyment. There are a few bigger class III rapids that require semi technical moves, but you have the ability to scout and or walk around almost every rapid on this section. What makes this run even more luxurious is that it is “pool drop" the whole way down, meaning that there are large, still pools after each rapid that make running each rapid less intimidating.
5. Greenwood Creek to Folsom Reservoir (The Gorge) - South Fork American River, Coloma, CA
When you begin to feel more comfortable with your class II/III skills, The Gorge is a thrilling stretch of whitewater that flows through a gorged out section of the South Fork American that is commercially run throughout the summer.
The run starts out with a couple miles of class II warm up that leads into the class III gorge. In comparison to C to G, this section of river has a few more features to pay attention to and because the river is more constricted the rapids are more continuous. That being said, with a good crew by your side there is enough recovery time in between rapids to catch your breath or your gear.