South Fork of the Yuba River Rafting
The South Fork of the Yuba is known by hikers, rock jumpers, and sunbathers as one of the most beautiful places in California. The river begins near Donner Pass and flows along Interstate 80 before plunging into Spaulding Reservoir. Below Spaulding, the river is incredibly steep and beautiful as it makes its way to the charming town of Washington.
There are four distinct whitewater runs below the town of Washington. The first is a 14 mile stretch from Washington to Edwards Crossing that involves a strenuous portage around a 12 foot waterfall. From Edwards Crossing to Purdons Crossing is four fun miles of Class IV whitewater with one possible portage. Below Purdons Crossing is a serious Class V+ run that ends at Highway 49. From Highway 49 to the town of Bridgeport is a classic Class V run that is similar to Cherry Creek that sports at least two portages.
The trick with the South Yuba is to find some water. Spaulding Reservoir releases water on a very unreliable schedule, so flows can change drastically day to day. There is typically good water after a few days of winter rain or during the peak spring runoff. The Washington to Edwards run would be one of the most popular runs in California if it had predictable flows.
The fourteen mile Washington to Edwards run is similar to the Main Tuolumne in difficulty and probably more beautiful due to its pine forests and granite. This section begins by floating through some fun Class III and IV rapids formed by gravel bars with the occasional bedrock ledge. Around mile ten is a rocky gorge that sports a portage around a gnarly twelve foot drop. Keep an eye out for this portage as it is not obvious and Class II current leads into the drop. You'll want to haul your rafts over the bedrock on the left. It's not a particularly hard portage, but it will take some time and test your rock walking skills.
After the portage is the most difficult rapid on the run which borders on Class V. It's a tight line between dangerous recycling eddies. Below here the run continues with fun unnamed Class III and IV rapids to the take-out at Edwards Crossing. Below here is the fun (but short) Edwards to Purdons run.
To Edwards Crossing (take-out): From Sacramento get yourself on Interstate 80 heading east. In the historic town of Auburn, head north on Highway 49. You'll pass through the foothill towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City. Soon after Nevada City you'll reach the intersection where Highway 20 and Highway 49 splits and you should turn north onto Highway 49. Follow Highway 49 for 0.3 mile and hang a right onto North Bloomfield Road. Take North Bloomfield for another 0.6 mile and hang a right at a T intersection. This paved road will take you down to the South Yuba at Edwards Crossing.
To Washington (put-in): Get back to the Highway 49 and Highway 20 intersection and take a left (east) on Highway 20. After about 12 miles of Highway 20, you'll see a sign for Washington. Take this road six miles down to the town of Washington and the South Yuba. The best put-in is at a campground on the left side of the road just before the river.
Due to the unpredictable flows, no outfitters run the South Fork of the Yuba at this time.
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.