Carmel River near Monterey


Stretch: Carmel Valley to the Pacific Ocean
Difficulty: class I with some class II, brushy at high flows
Distance: 10 miles (or 13.4 miles), 1 day
Flows: kayaks 300 - 1200 cfs, IK minimum 200
Gauge: flow measured near Carmel (USGS site)
Gradient: 30 fpm average
Put-in: Esquiline Road bridge or Garland Ranch Regional Park, 300'
Take-out: Carmel River State Beach, 0'
Shuttle: 10 miles (15 minutes) one-way
Maps: Delorme Southern California, AAA Monterey Bay Region, Topo
Season: winter and spring, depending on when upstream reservoirs fill
Agency: county, private, state
Notes: © 1999 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo, thanks to Keith Vandevere

This run was last described in a guidebook by Dick Schwind's West Coast River Touring in 1974. Nonetheless it is a popular run with locals, even in sea kayaks. Because the many golf courses of Carmel Valley draw down groundwater to irrigate their greens, by midsummer there is absolutely no flow in the riverbed below Robinson Canyon Road. Although this is bad for fish, brush is reduced to a minimum, a boon for boaters.

The scenery is mostly blackberry brambles amid golf courses and low coastal hills. However, the feeling of coming upon the ocean is incomparable, and makes this run seem worthwhile. To my knowledge, no other stream in California transports you so pleasantly to the ocean.

Above my recommended put-in at Garland Ranch Regional Park, the river can be brushy (golf courses not yet having lowered the water table). Rapids are class II or II+, and brush can cause problems. I've even heard stories about kayaks stuck in the branches of trees. Esquiline Road, 3.4 miles upstream, is the highest put-in that Schwind recommended. Boronda Road is an alternate put-in; from there to Garland Park is only 1.7 miles.

Virtually all locals put in at “Rosie's Bridge” on Esquiline Road. The local water district's channel-clearing projects, and the 16,000 cfs flood during winter of 1995, have vastly reduced brush in the upper river. A series of drought years could change this, however. Rock bars thrown up by 1995 floods made the run from Esquiline Road to Robinson Canyon excellent class II canoe water (though perhaps a little dull in a kayak).

Below the possible put-in at Garland Park, the river is less brushy, except after a long string of drought years. There is still substantial gradient down to Robinson Canyon Road, Schwind's recommended take-out for his upper run and put-in for his lower run. Access at this point is poor, however. A church on the southwest bank has a parking lot near the river, but this is private property (or perhaps God's property). On the northeast bank, there is no parking near the river.

Below Robinson Canyon Road, the river bottom is mostly sand, creating smooth water with an occasional rocky riffle. Boaters soon pass the Carmel Valley Safeway, and encounter many bridges, both for vehicles and golf carts. Somewhere in there is a rocky drop against the left bank, and a brush jumble that requires fast maneuvering (1992). Almost 7 miles later, boaters pass the Carmel Safeway, hence the name “Safeway to Safeway” run. The highway 1 bridge, with homeless encampment underneath (1994), is 7.1 miles below Robinson Canyon Road. Shortly below this, a pipeline crosses not very high overhead, creating a substantial hazard at very high flows. The Carmel estuary is just around the corner.

Recently, the NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) strongly suggested that San Clemente Dam be removed and the channel restored upstream. Quote: “This raises the prospect of a longer and more challenging section of the Carmel River becoming available for boating.” Actually this section, the upper Carmel, is already great for boating! However it might take years after dam removal for the river corridor underneath to return to navigability.

To reach take-out, turn west from highway 1 south of Carmel onto Rio Road. If you cross the Carmel River, you have gone too far. Continue on Rio Road to an uphill section, turn left (onto unknown street names), and follow signs to Carmel Beach State Park. Parking is tight in the afternoon, but seldom crowded early in the morning.

To reach put-in, return to highway 1 and turn north. Soon, turn right onto Carmel Valley Road (G16). Continue about 9 miles to a turnout leading down to the dirt parking lot of Garland Ranch Regional Park. This area is easy to recognize because it is an open space, not a golf course or housing development. Parking is never a problem. There are several trails down to the river, but the least brushy access points have usually been upstream.


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