Carmel River near Ventana Wilderness
In 2015, San Clemente Dam was removed more quickly than expected, so the Carmel is runnable its entire distance, although log portages are likely. The fish restoration people want to say:
As of January 2016 this is still an active construction/restoration project. Boaters should use extreme caution when passing through the project site. In particular, logs and other structures have been placed in the floodplain area as a standard riparian area habitat restoration procedure, and could create serious hazards to boaters at high flows.
In 2005 a kayaker died in a brushy passage below San Clemente Dam. Due to decades of low flows, this is still the brushiest segment, but cross-channel logs and brush are possible elsewhere.
Despite brush, rapids are numerous and water quality is excellent. It runs only after seasonal rains fill Los Padres reservoir, which spills. In cold years there could be snowmelt from 5000' Ventana Cones and Chews Ridge.
The highest put-in is on USFS land. A more convenient put-in is at Cachagua community park. The take-out is at Rosie's bridge on Esquiline Road near Carmel Valley Village.
There are houses in the early portion of the run, but after the river turns away from the road, you are in wilderness, which ends only when you encounter the former San Clemente reservoir. Because the Carmel arm of this so-called reservoir (only 75 years old) was completely silted up, a hole was puched through a mountain to divert the river into the San Clemente Creek arm, which was not silted up. Below the dam, good rapids continue unabated, but with more brush.
Hazard! Down logs are possible, and parts of the run are brushy, so remain alert and avoid extreme highwater. After a string of drought years, brush conditions might worsen considerably. The braided channel maze near the end, below Tularcitos Creek, is usually bad.
The remaining 13.4 miles to the Pacific ocean are described as the lower Carmel. At moderately high flows, you could combine both runs into a marathon paddle. Alternatively, select volunteers to run shuttle from Rosie's bridge while luckier paddlers spend a pleasant hour paddling down to Garland Park.
To reach take-out, drive southwest on Carmel Valley Road (G16). From highway 101, the easiest route is from Salinas on highway 68, then south over Laureles Grade (G20). Carmel Valley Village is two miles uphill from Laureles Grade. At the far end of town, turn right onto Esquiline Road, descend to the river, and park on the far side (left bank).
To reach put-in from there, continue uphill on Carmel Valley Road. After about 3 miles, turn right onto Cachagua Road. Climb steeply over Tularcitos Ridge, then descend steeply to the Carmel River and Cachagua Creek valley. Near the bottom of the hill after 5.9 miles, turn sharp right onto Nason Road. Cross several speed bumps to County Park on the right, where the good pavement ends. This is an alternate put-in, with public toilets and a children's playground. Continue uphill past the ranger station and park in a dirt lot where there is a fence with locked vehicle gate. Enter the unlocked hiker's gate and carry boats on a dirt road .5 mile to Los Padres Dam.
Map of Rivers