North Fork of the Yuba, Class 4 & 5 Rafting
Photo © Graham Morey
The North Fork Yuba River offers both veteran and active first-time rafters a variety of Class 3 - Class 5 whitewater rafting thrills, from 1 - 4 days, on over 35 miles of river. Even at lower flows, the North Fork Yuba River still offers exciting rafting in smaller boats. The river runs through the heavily forested Tahoe National Forest, fed by the snow-melt from the majestic 8000 peaks of the Sierra Buttes. It is located at the north end of the fabled Mother Lode highway (Hwy 49) and nearby are the rustic and charming gold mining towns of Downieville and Sierra City. There is a good selection of restaurants, interesting shops, cozy motels and saloons, historic landmarks and plentiful camping. Despite its proximity to the San Francisco Bay Area, this river is an uncrowded gem, with just three permitted outfitters. Tributary Whitewater Tours is one of the original companies who pioneered this river for commercial rafting in 1981.
Haypress Creek to Union Flat (Wild Plum Run): Class 5 , 8 miles Elevation 4240 - 3350. This section of the North Fork Yuba River offers high mountain scenery and plenty of Class 5 action with the most noteworthy section being Ladies Canyon. A more technically difficult run than the Class 5 section below, so previous Class 5 paddling experience is required. It has a shorter season than the runs below as it is above the in flow of the Downie River and several large side creeks, which add considerably to the flows downstream. Gradient 110 feet per mile. BEWARE - POSSIBLE STRAINERS ON THIS SECTION.
Union Flat to Goodyear’s Bar (Moss Canyon/Rossasco Ravine): Class 5, 10 miles Elevation 3350 - 2640
Nearly continuous Class 4-5 rapids in the first 8 miles, with 3 large Class 5 drops in Moss Canyon above Downieville. The Downie River enters in Downieville adding considerably to the flow, and below this is a long series of rapids in Rossasco Ravine, including “Big Dummy”. At higher flows this may have to be portaged due to the chute ending in a huge hole. Previous Class 4 paddling experience required with excellent swimming ability. Gradient is 72 - 80 feet per mile.
Goodyear’s Bar to Indian Valley (Maytag Run): Class 4, 9 miles Elevation 2640 - 2320 This section of the North Fork Yuba River is a great Class 4 run, which can be suitable for the active and adventurous first-timer when flows are not too high. There is an introductory 2 miles of Class 2-3 rapids, followed by Class 3 and 4 action including “Ramshorn” and the double drops of “Two Pair”. Six miles into the trip is the highlight - the Class 5 “Maytag”. We stop above this rapid and scout it, so all clients have the option of walking around. The Class 4 “Son of Maytag” falls follows quickly, with more Class 3 action to the take-out.
Indian Valley to Bullards Bar (Wilderness Run): Class 4, 8 miles Elevation 2320 This is a beautiful wilderness section of river, providing exceptional Class 4 whitewater. It is usually combined with the ‘Maytag’ stretch for 2 days of excellent Class 4 rafting. Due to the lack of access that requires a motor tow across the length of Bullards Bar Reservoir, or an interesting 4x4 take-out on a little used road, this section is seen by few boaters and is not detailed in any guide books. However, it is well worth taking the time for a great combination of whitewater and wilderness.
Typical Class of Water: 2 sections of Class 4, and 2 sections of Class 5
As the North Fork Yuba River is not dam controlled, the season varies with the snow pack. In some above normal years, rafting should be possible into mid-July. The most reliable flows are usually in May.
State Highway 49 follows the river for most of its length, so there are may access points from above Sierra City to the numerous campgrounds upstream of the where the Hwy 49 bridge crosses the North Yuba. The lower section of river from Indian Valley down to Bullards Bar reservoir, requires a 4x4 take-out on an obscure Forest Service road, or a tow-out to one of the marina's on Bullards Bar reservoir. Some years, particularly after heavy snow melt, access to Bullards Bar may be blocked by log jams.
Due to the difficult nature of this river, access is limited. However, Downieville, Goodyears Bar and the Forest Service campgrounds near Indian Valley do have wheel chair accessibility.
Most pets should not be taken on rivers of this level of difficulty.