the numbers on the chart mean?
500-1500 CFS = Good levels for
[Descriptions from California
This total classic is one of
the finest whitewater runs in California.
The rapids are exhilarating without being very dangerous,
camping is excellent, geology is interesting, and scenery is good
now that forests have regenerated after wildfires of the early 1980s.
Although the Tuolumne is
runnable in springtime,
there are usually many other rivers running at that time,
so boaters often save this run for summertime when little else is
In May and June, snowmelt can create flows well above 8000 cfs.
By July, dam releases create a more moderate 900-1300 cfs,
often with less on Saturday and fish flow (200-500 cfs) on Sunday,
just to make things inconvenient for recreational boaters.
Permit are required,
selected by fee payment and lottery during the off-season.
High water permits are the most sought-after.
Kayakers can often pick up cancellations
almost any weekend in August or September.
Note the port-a-potty requirement,
which encourages kayakers to make the run in a single day.
(Rafters have a hard time doing this at low flows,
so they abandon the river once Sunday flows diminish).
The shuttle is long and
Your most cost-effective and convenient alternative
is to drive your vehicles uphill early in the morning, pick up your
pay for a half shuttle at Casa Loma Store, then hitch-hike down to
That way, your vehicles will be at take-out when you get there,
and you can exit the easy way towards Sonora.
A mnemonic for remembering the
first letter of class IV rapids thru Clavey is:
``rabbits never suffer having rested in philodendrons, slowly eating
To reach Casa Loma Store (closed at night),
drive east from Oakdale on highway 108/120.
Just before highway 108 starts climbing steeply,
turn right where highway 120 splits off.
Wind along New Don Pedro reservoir, then climb the steep hill to
(near the bottom of the hill past Moccasin,
a right turn onto Old Priest Grade makes a good uphill shortcut.)
Once past Groveland, continue east another 7.5 miles,
and turn left onto Ferretti Road, marked with a glow-in-the-dark green
The parking area for Casa Loma Store is an immediate left turn.
There are some flat spots for sleeping along Ferretti Road,
and two USFS campsites at the bottom of Lumsden Road.
0 Put in on the left bank at Meral's Pool, near the river flow gauge.
- .1 Rock Garden, class IV,
Runnable almost anywhere in an inflatable kayak, and great fun too. At
low water, a real pain for rafts; wraps and wedges are commonplace. At
low flows, rafts and kayaks must enter right and make a yo-yo move
sharp left behind a large rock outcropping. At moderate flows, boats
can run far left all the way. At high flows, the sneak route is down
the right side, and another rock outcropping near the bottom creates a
huge reversal about the size of a suburban swimming pool.
- .4 Nemesis, class IV-, hard to
This rapid starts with a boulder field of moderate gradient, continues
into some bigger drops, then piles into a rock cluster, the Nemesis
itself. Although the rock cluster might change with future floods, the
current route is diagonally left to right. At high water the sneak
route is on the left. Some additional drops and rock slaloms present
- .8 Sunderland's Chute, class
IV+, scout left
The river turns right and drops over a gravel bar on the left and a
series of rocks against a small cliff on the right. You can scout this
rapid by walking over the gravel bar among willow trees. Enter left,
but not too far left, and choose a good opportunity to work left and
avoid the big holes at the bottom right.
- 1 Hackamack's Hole, class IV-,
Contains two rocks near the center. It's easy to navigate between them
at low flows, but at high flows they create a single reversal. Named
after Bob Hackamack, a longtime Sierra Club river activist.
- 1.5 Ram's Head, class IV,
After a short respite, the river bends left, drops over a gravel bar on
the right, and piles into a cliff on the left (a smaller mirror image
of Sunderland's Chute). There are rocks to avoid and drops to punch in
the upper section, but the main problem is a large rock (class V hole
above 3500 cfs) smack dab in the middle near the bottom. You can go
either right or left of the Ram, but you must decide.
- 1.9 India, class IV-, boat
After another short respite, the river narrows and curves sharply left
against the right wall, into a hole. A down tree (1998) makes the entry
more constricted than in the past. Named after an early woman kayaker,
- 2.1 Phil's Folly, class IV-,
Swift water continues over some drops leading into several rocks with
blind exits. Kayaks have no problem here, but at low flows rafts are
restricted to one or two channels between the rocks. After this,
relatively easy rapids follow for about two miles.
- 3.3 Tin Can Cabin camp on the
left bank, connected by hiking trail to Lumsden Road.
- 4.4 Stern, class IV, possibly
Big boulders block the river. For rafts at low summer flows, this is
one of the most feared rapids on the river. At higher flows many routes
appear, so this rapid becomes easier. The low water route is a
boat-width channel between the leftmost boulder and the cliff on the
left. The drop just before the narrow channel contains a diagonal wave
that turns boats rightward, so be sure to counteract that tendency with
the appropriate strokes.
- 4.7 Evangelist, class IV,
possibly scout left
The river veers right and enters a series of drops. The second or third
drop contains a large rock (hole at high flows) right of center, and
the best low-water route is to the left of that rock. Rafts sometimes
get wrapped there, in which case, this one will make a believer out of
- 5.1 Bent Thole Pin, class IV-,
possibly scout right
An innocent-looking series of drops leads into a steep falls over some
rocks that plug the exit. A large rock wall lurking on the left below
has jammed rafters' oars, hence the name of this rapid.
- 5.4 Clavey Falls, class V- or
IV+, scout right or left
On river right just past the Clavey confluence, the Tuolumne drops over
a 3 meter falls into rock-strewn turbulence, surges into a cliff on
river left, then crashes into a monster hole downstream, and finally
collects to the left past Dinosaur rock before reaching somewhat calm
water. The route on the right is rated class V- for injuries it has
caused, such as kayak pins and broken bones. An alternate class IV+
route on the left is available for kayaks, but is too narrow for rafts.
This semi-sneak route starts left of a low island, drops steeply thru
some rocks, then drops again between two underwater boulders forming a
goalpost, and joins the raft route well above the monster hole. Using
either route, the hole can be avoided by paddling to river right, but
avoidance is easier when you start from the left side, because this
eliminates right-to-left momentum caused by the falls rafts use. At
higher flows even rafts can run the sneak route, and usually choose to.
Scout right if you are in a raft, except at high water. Scout left
otherwise. A narrow trail follows the left bank under tree cover,
stopping just short of the aforementioned cliff. First timers might
also want to scout the hole and lower rapid from the right, then scout
the entrance from the left before running it. Portage on the right if
you decide not to run the kayak route, which really isn't much tougher
than Sunderland's Chute. For emergencies, a trail starts on the left
upstream of Clavey, leading downstream and then uphill out of the
- 5.6 Son of Clavey, class III+
Just around the corner from calm water at the bottom of Clavey Falls,
the river drops steeply over some plug rocks. It is difficult to see
the best route from above. Afterwards, rapids taper off to class II.
- 7.5 Powerhouse from the gold
mining days, destroyed by flood in 1937. This sandy beach makes a
common lunch stop or a good campsite.
- 7.9 Grapevine Creek enters on
the right. Ironically, Grapevine campsite is on the left bank just
downstream. About .2 mile downstream, near the bottom of the flat
gravel bar, is an abandoned hard rock mine shaft that makes an
interesting exploration, with flashlights.
- 8.3 Indian Creek enters on the
left. Ironically, Indian Creek campsite is on the right bank just
downstream. This formerly offered a huge sandy beach, much diminished
in the flood of 1997.
- 9.5 Gray's Grindstone, class
IV, scout left (top only)
This fine rapid is about one kilometer long, perhaps longer if you
count the class II rapid that follows a short break after a typical
Tuolumne rock-cluster-at-the-bottom. The first sequence contains a
series of holes and/or rocks, and should be scouted if you are not
familiar with the rapid, so as to avoid a long swim. After the first
sequence comes a long (but fortunately not very steep) rock garden with
many possible routes. This leads to a rock cluster, best navigated with
a left-to-right angle. During high water of 1998, the first death on
this stretch of the Tuolumne occurred when a commercial guide sustained
a head injury after a raft flipped in the first sequence of Gray's
- 10.5? Surf City, class III,
big waves and lots of fun.
- 11 Thread the Needle, class IV
A huge fractured boulder blocks the center of the river, offering bold
boaters a chance to thread the needle. You can also choose the much
easier Chicken Shot on the far left.
- 11.4 Driftwood, two excellent
camps on the left bank with sandy beaches and afternoon shade from old
oak trees. Just below is a class III rapid that is very shallow on
low-water Sundays (go way left).
- 11.9? Steamboat, class IV-
A long gravel bar rapid leads into a big hole that often flips rafts at
high water. Usually sneakable on the left side.
- 12.2 Mine shafts on both
banks. Trail out of the canyon on the left. A rusty old steam engine
litters the right bank.
- 12.6 Cabin, class IV, scout
Big Humbug Creek enters on the left, probably causing this rapid. The
river drops over a gravel bar and curves left around big boulders and
over some big drops. For best results, ferry left after the gravel bar
and stay mostly left. Large rafts will get stuck on low-water Sundays,
but kayaks should have no problem.
- 12.8 Big Creek enters on the
left, creating a large but unshaded campsite. Indian mortar holes
nearby, and waterfalls upstream. For heavily loaded rafts, this is a
good choice of campsite for Saturday night: you can run the first
section of Hell's Kitchen with water, tie up your boats, then run the
remaining river at low flows with no hang-ups.
- 12.9 Hell's Kitchen, class IV,
perhaps scout left
This starts with class III drops over a shallow boulder bar, then turns
into a slalom among huge rocks. The 2nd or 3rd slalom often causes
wraps, especially for paddle boats, because a tricky underwater rock
creates a tight move. Make sure the rapid is clear before entering.
- 14.4 Mohican mine, an
abandoned quartz mine and rusty old stamp mill on the left. A trail
(4WD in some years) leads up to Groveland on the left bank. A defunct
suspension bridge hanging down into the river was pasted to the banks
during the flood of 1997.
- 15.1 North Fork Tuolumne
enters on the right. Many great campsites are nearby, some usually
reserved for commercial outfitters. Downstream on the right, excellent
campsites continue, all sunny and hot in the afternoon. The 1 mile
upstream hike to a waterfalls is highly recommended if you have time.
- 15.8 High water mark of New
Don Pedro reservoir.
- 16.5 Turnback Creek enters on
- 16.8? Matterhorn, class IV-
When the reservoir is low, you find a long squirrelly rapid that passes
a rock that looks like a miniature Matterhorn, then squeezes thru a
rock fence blocking your view, and finally courses into a turbulent
chute against the right bank.
- 17.6 Pinball, class III-IV
Because this is under the reservoir most of the time, it gets mighty
silted up, so when it first uncovers, it is only class III. But after
several drought years, the river washes away the silt and it gradually
returns to its former class IV+ state. In the 7 year drought of the
early 1980s, it briefly reached class IV.
- 18 Wards Ferry bridge, take
out by climbing the right bank.
If you must reach take-out from
drive west just past the outskirts of town and turn right
onto Deer Flat road, a shortcut.
After more than a mile, turn right onto Wards Ferry Road and continue
Past the final settlements,
Wards Ferry Road becomes one lane as it winds steeply downhill.
Parking at the bridge is limited,
and vandalism at night has been reported.
To reach put-in from Casa Loma
continue north on Ferretti Road for almost a mile,
then turn right across a cattle grate (near power lines) onto Lumsden
The put-in is about five miles down this bumpy one-lane dirt road.
If you opt to have all your
you can avoid the steep uphill drive to Groveland
by exiting towards Sonora.
Continue north and uphill on Wards Ferry road about 2 miles.
Just over the crest of a hill at a left curve,
bear sharply left onto Algerine-Wards Ferry road
(Wards Ferry road continues uphill to the right).
After about 4 miles, turn left onto Algerine road,
which leads into historic downtown Jamestown,
with several excellent restaurants.