Public Access to Lands Along the Sacramento River
THIS IS NOT A LEGAL STATEMENT; rather it is a general explanation of public access to lands adjacent to the Sacramento River. Our intent is to provide information and guidance based on our understanding of the law and collective experience.
Public access along the Sacramento River is currently in a period of transition.
In general, both federal and state-owned lands allow for some form of public access, but each agency has specific policies and rules related to public access and use. As a member of the public, however, you are responsible for knowing where you can and can’t be and what activities you can engage in.
In the instance of the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), public access will be spelled out for each individual unit of the refuge in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Sacramento River NWR. When finalized and adopted, the Comprehensive Conservation Plan will change current policies on public access and allowable public uses within the Sacramento River NWR.
Similar planning efforts are underway by both the California Department of Fish and Game and the California Department of Parks and Recreation for their lands along the river. All these plans and their specific policies will evolve over time.
Here are a few general guides:
-With only a few exceptions, public access will not be allowed on the Sacramento River NWR until the Comprehensive Conservation Plan is in place.
-On state lands, public access is allowed unless specific exclusions are spelled out.
-Appropriate public uses on State Parks land are tightly controlled while activities on other state lands are less so.
-The Sacramento River NWR and State Park lands are generally well posted.
-You should only be on private land with permission from the owner, whether it is posted or not.
Gravel bars and islands are another story.
The State of California owns fee title on a river’s bed up to the “ordinary low water mark” (sovereign land) and owns a public trust easement between ordinary low water and the “ordinary high water mark”, on rivers in their last natural condition. The general rule of thumb is:
-Lands permanently under water (below the low water line) and natural islands are state owned, and:
-A gravel bar attached to the bank, covered every year by high water, and exposed in the summertime has an easement for public trust uses -- that is, you can land a boat,swim and fish, etc.
-On a gravel bar contiguous to public land, the public entity owning that land regulates allowable activities on the gravel bar.
The Bottom Line: It’s your job to know what activities are allowed and disallowed based on the management of the responsible public agency. However, you can be reasonably sure that you have public trust access on publicly owned gravel bars.
Be respectful of property rights.
Determination of ownership and legal access can be very complicated on a privately owned gravel bar because it is a matter of law and interpretation of the law and physical factors. For instance, on a gravel bar adjacent to private land, a public trust easement may or may not exist. We strongly recommend that you not assume you have a right to access unless you have received permission from the adjacent landowner. It is always good policy to be respectful of private lands and private landowners.
For more information:
We have tried to provide accurate ownership information regarding public lands on the Sacramento River on this Web site.. These include contact information in case you would like to discuss specific policies regarding a particular piece of land.