Sacramento River Adventure Provides Fun in 'Rapid' Fashion
Tom Stienstra, Outdoor editor, San Francisco Chronicle
Dear Tom: Do you know of any places where you can canoe down a Class I/II river and camp along the way? I have done a two-day trip on the Russian River from Asti to Healdsburg and camped in the Alexander Valley Campground. It was a lot of fun, and I'd like to do similar trips.
-- Bill Maggiore
Nothing captivates in the spring and early summer quite like a river adventure through woods and water, paddling by day in a canoe (or kayak) and then camping along the river by night.
I've done several multi-day trips like this in Northern California on the lower Klamath, Eel and Sacramento rivers, and elsewhere. The best all-around easy trip with a few thrills in the mix is the Sac, paddling from Redding to Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area near Corning.
This trip runs about 70 miles, best done in four days and three nights, includes a Class II gorge, several Class I runs, with excellent camping on sand bars. The trip also can be shortened by putting in or taking out at other access points along the way, most notably Balls Ferry in Anderson (to avoid the rapids) and at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam (to avoid portaging here after May 15).
If you don't have a canoe, rentals are available in San Francisco, Berkeley and Sacramento (see trip notes).
The best put-in is at the Posse Grounds in Redding, which is adjacent to the Redding Convention Center.
From here, the first 20 miles down to Balls Ferry is pretty and easy, with no surprises. The river runs emerald green and is bordered by cottonwoods and alders, a gorgeous upland riparian zone. Wildlife is abundant, especially blue herons and wood ducks, and paddlers also will see turtles sunning on logs or rocks, with deer and wild turkey common along the shore.
This is also the best stretch of river for trout fishing. Another great fishing spot is at the Tehama Riffle for shad, best from late May through mid- June.
However, at the starting point, most are eager to paddle and also become concerned about covering enough water, so many rush through the early stages of the trip, where the fishing is best and wildlife sightings are highest.
About 10 miles past Balls Ferry, the trip's biggest challenge awaits: China Rapids, rated Class II. This is a chute in a short, rocky gorge, where your canoe will rock like a teeter-totter as you are propelled forward. Paddlers can add to their safety margin by rocking their paddles back and forth in the current. That will slow down the boat, making it far easier to pick your way through the rough stuff. If you paddle hard, on the other hand (as if in a raft), you can be propelled out of control. If you broach, you'll flip.
There are a few other Class I rapids that can be dealt with by taking "an inside line," as it is called, away from the white water.
The evening camping is sensational, with a choice of many large sand bars set on the inside of pretzel turns on the river.
River flows are based on releases from Keswick Dam. Last weekend, for instance, releases were 5,500 cubic feet per second (cfs). By late May, releases are typically 12,500 to 15,000 cfs, which makes for a faster ride -- but a required portage around the Red Bluff Diversion Dam. To avoid that portage, some will shorten the trip by using Red Bluff as either the ending point or starting point.
Sacramento River getaway
-- Cost - Access is free, no permits needed.
-- Canoe rental -- $150 for four days. California Canoe & Kayak in Oakland (510) 893-7833, Sacramento (916) 353-5171; www.CalKayak.com. Outdoors Unlimited in San Francisco, (415) 476-2078; www.outdoors.ucsf.edu/ou
-- Flow info -- cdec.water.ca.gov/reservoir.html (click on Scheduled Releases, then on Keswick). Gates of Red Bluff Diversion Dam are open to May 15. After, portage is necessary.
-- Directions -- To Posse Grounds put-in: On I-5 in Redding, take exit for Highway 299 West/Central Redding. Go one mile (over Sacramento River) to Auditorium Drive. Turn right, go half-mile (past Convention Center) to parking lot, boat access.
-- Contacts -- Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association, (800) 474-2782; USFS Lake Red Bluff Recreation Area, (530) 527-2813; Woodson Bridge SRA, (530) 839-2112.
E-mail Tom Stienstra at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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