Middle Fork of the American

Class IV+
16.5 miles
1000 cfs - 2000 cfs
23 ft/mi
Oxbow Powerhouse
Driver's Flat Road
April to October

The Middle Fork of the American River is a one or two day wilderness trip through a classic forested Sierra Canyon. The run is best know for Tunnel Chute, but has many other interesting rapids. The downsides of the run are a possible portage around Tunnel Chute, a mandatory portage around Ruck-a-Chucky, and nine miles of Class II water in between.

You'll put in on the Middle Fork of the American just below Oxbow Powerhouse and navigate Good Morning Rapid immediately.Ther are six distinct Class III rapids in the first mile, which will warm you up for Last Chance, the entry rapid for Tunnel Chute. Last chance is a river wide hole formed by bedrock that can easily surf or flip a raft. This is particularly dangerous since Last Chance is quickly followed by Tunnel Chute. It's nice to catch an eddy just before Last Chance and scout Tunnel Chute on the right. Most groups that choose to portage will run Last Chance and skedadle over to the left where it is easiest to portage. There is private road that can be used in case of emergency on river right.

Tunnel Chute was created by some industrious miners in the 1890's that wanted easy access to the gold rich river bed at Horseshoe Bar. The blasted a tunnel through the narrow part of the horseshoe and then blasted a chute in the bedrock to divert the river to their new tunnel. The sharp rock walls in the chute make this a rapid that you don't want to swim. This is an amazing rapid and interesting place that all serious California rafters should visit at least once.

The next few miles following Tunnel Chute contain several great Class III rapids including the always exciting Orange Wall and the Class IV Kanaka Falls. After Kanaka Falls, you have nine miles of Class II rapids and classic Sierra scenery.

This "scenic" section ends at Chunder, a fun vertical drop that can be easily scouted on the right. Chunder is immediately followed by a mandatory portage of Ruck-a-Chucky, a 30 foot waterfall onto jagged rocks. There is a new portage trail on the right that can be used to carry your boats. Some groups have a system for pushing their boats over the falls and retrieving them at the bottom, which won't be discussed here due to the complexity. It involves moves called the "leap of faith" and in certain unfortunate cases, the "death swim."

You'll want to immediately recover your boat since the rapid Cleavage (a fun surf spot) is directly below the falls. The last mile and a half include a great concentration of Class III and IV rapids including Parallel Parking, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Final Exam, and Pop Quiz. The take-out is at the site of the Old Greenwood Bridge. The bridge was destroyed in 1964 by a flood created by the catastrophic failure of the Hell Hole Dam.

If you're interested in pictures and the perspective of an inflatable kayaker, check out Creekin's MIddle Fork of the American description. For more information about the American River system, check out the American River Rafting Page.


To reach Old Greenwood bridge from Sacramento (take-out): Get yourself on Interstate 80 East and head towards Reno. In Auburn, take the Foresthill exit and hang a right onto Foresthill Road. You'll quickly cross the impressive Auburn-Foresthill Bridge. About six miles past the bridge, take a right onto Driver's Flat road which will get you to the river and take-out.

To reach Oxbow Powerhouse from Old Greenwood Bridge (put-in): Take Driver's Flat Road back up to Foresthill Road where you should hang a right. Take Foresthill road to the friendly town of Foresthill and just past a grocery story you'll need to go right on to Mosquito Ridge Road. Stay on Mosquito Ridge Road and cross the bridge over the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the American River. Keep going until you get to a stop sign where you should hang a right down to Oxbow Reservoir. Follow this road down to the river where you will put in just below the outlet of the Oxbow Powerhouse.


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Disclaimer: River descriptions and classifications may change due to natural events that may create new hazards or flows. C-W-R advises that any paddler that uses this site be additionally informed by seeking out local news and updates for changes on this river.

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