Cosumnes River Lower Run


Stretch: Latrobe Road to Highway 16 at Rancho Murieta
Difficulty: Class III (one IV) with 2 portages, harder at higher flows
Distance: 9.8 or 6.4 miles, 1 day
Flows: rafts 600 - 2000 cfs, kayaks 500 - 2500 cfs, IK minimum 400
Gauge: flow measured at Michigan Bar (MHB)
Gradient: 24 fpm average (50 fpm near portage)
Put-in: on river right under Latrobe Road bridge, 340'
Take-out: at Michigan Bar bridge or at Highway 16 bridge, 100'
Shuttle: 14 miles (20 minutes) one-way
Maps: Delorme N California, AAA Lake Tahoe Region, Topo
Season: winter and early spring, from rain and snowmelt
Agency: mostly private, BLM
Notes: © 1999 John Lester,

Aside from the Lower American, the take-out for the Cosumnes River is probably closer to downtown Sacramento than any other river: about 20 miles. So this run should be quite popular. There are a few problems: a major portage looms, locals are largely hostile, and if the recommended flows in guidebooks are to be believed, boatable flows are rare and short-lived. Now that flows are available electronically, the major difficulty is your access to the river.

The access situation on the Cosumnes is one of the worst in California. A giant No Parking zone greets you at the put-in. A commando put-in is recommended here. Stop quickly and unload equipment, then drive the car back up the road to where the no parking signs end. Michigan Bar Road Bridge should be a legal access point, but a gun-happy local prevents that. The take-out has recently become plagued with another giant No Parking zone, and the additional stinger here is that the County has enacted a No Trespassing ordinance as well. Until the access situation is resolved, a commando take-out is advised, which is difficult owing to intense traffic and law enforcement on Highway 16.

Only .4 mile below put-in, boaters encounter Lower Falls, several class IV drops followed by some class V++ drops. The recommended portage is on the right bank, because the left side is composed of uneven eroded bedrock. Below the portage is a class IV, currently log-choked (1998), and an entertaining class III gorge for about 5 miles. The river flattens out before Michigan Bar bridge, and gets really flat as it backs up behind a diversion dam 1.6 miles below. This dam has been run, but most people portage on the left. Class II rapids follow for almost 2 miles to the highway 16 bridge.

Put in on either side of the bridge. The easiest way to the river is a trail on the downstream shoulder of the north side of the bridge. After you put in, look up at the house on the top of a knoll on river right. You will be portaging right below that house.
Portage! A big sandbar on the right after one class II rapid signals the start of the portage. You'll see a children's fort behind the sandbar up on the bank. A class IV rapid below leads directly into a class V+ waterfall right below here. You'll get a nice view of the falls from the trail. The easiest portage is to haul your boat up onto a broken flume that parallels the river on the right. Portage along the flume, crossing a small creek after 0.2 mile. If you plan on running the class IV rapid, find a small cove below the falls. If you do not plan on running this rapid, continue along the trail another 0.2 mile until you reach a small trail leading down to an easy put-in. This flume is on private property, but the landowners have been remarkably friendly to boaters. Please be considerate of them.
Carnage Gallery, class IV, Strainer Hazard!
A log is firmly jammed by the rootstock into a narrow slot in the bottom of the riverbed. It will not come free anytime soon, but parties who shall remain nameless have removed the top 5 feet that protruded above a rock in the riverbed and some of the rootstock. Depending on the flow you will probably be able to float over the strainer, and you may not notice it. The roots and remaining trunk still pose considerable foot entrapment risk to a swimmer. There is a relatively calm pool to put in at above this rapid, so anyone truly capable of running a class IV rapid should not be swimming at the first drop, but it should be noted that a swim here could be deadly. The rapid itself is a long turbulent affair that is difficult to scout from the trail, but it is easy to climb down and have a look first. The name is due to the ability to sit in an eddy at the bottom on river left and watch carnage happen.
Unnamed Rapid, class III. Another long turbulent affair. Sandy beach on the left below for recovery and possibly lunch.
Cables from an old footbridge overhead, announcing the best part of the run. After the cables, the river calms a bit, then plunges down through two gorges with class II+ and III rapids, some of which are steep and quite interesting. The riverbed is quite narrow in places and swims can be fairly long because there are few pools in the gorges. You pass by great scenery and some interesting history. Keep your eyes peeled for mine shafts, waterfalls, and old homestead sites. A great surfable wave also awaits you in the middle of this section at a very tight left hand bend in the river.
Cosumnes River lower CA John Lester shows how to milk a wave
About a quarter mile before Michigan Bar bridge, flatwater sets in.
Michigan Bar Road Bridge. Armed Landowner Hazard. The Cosumnes calms considerably here, and this would make a great short day take-out, but the landowner here has reportedly pointed a gun at boaters in the past. Taking out here is legal, but seldom done by unarmed boaters.
Take the right channel where a small reservoir begins, backed up by...
Diversion Dam Hazard. Take out on the left side and portage easily across the island and put in below the dam. People have run the dam, but it is not recommended; the portage is very easy.
More interesting class II water with a fair number of play spots the rest of the way to take-out.
A great playspot is on the left at levels above about 1500 cfs and can be reached by paddling upstream from the take-out. This point is only 20 minutes from downtown Sacramento and could make a great getaway after work in the spring if access can be restored.
Take out at the highway 16 bridge. The best take-out used to be on river left up to a parking area. Currently it might be better to take out on the right, and walk to your parked car in a shopping area of Rancho Murieta. Improvise!

To reach take-out, take the Power Inn Road exit off highway 50, turn right onto Auburn Boulevard, and then veer right onto Highway 16 immediately after. Bradshaw and Sunrise can also be used to reach Highway 16. Follow this road to Rancho Murieta. After passing through the stoplights, you cross a bridge. This is the (hard to access) take-out.

To reach put-in from there, continue up Highway 16 east about 9 miles to Old Sacramento Road. Turn left and travel about 2 miles to Latrobe Road. Turn left, and you will reach the Cosumnes in about 3 miles. Drop off gear quickly and get your vehicle out of the No Parking zone!

Upstream, the Cosumnes offers a run with more difficult class IV whitewater, a portage around a waterfalls, and a long flatwater paddle to take-out.

More Information About the Cosumnes

Gauge Information: Location: latitude 38°30'01", longitude -121°02'39" in Sacramento County, Hydrologic Unit 18040013, on downstream side of midstream pier of county bridge at Michigan Bar, 5.5 miles southwest of Latrobe, and 12 miles downstream from confluence of north and middle Forks of Cosumnes River, 168.09 feet above sea level You can see the gauge as you paddle by.

Drainage Area: 536 miles² at Michigan Bar. Maximum discharge: 93,000 cfs, 2 January 1997. Minimum: zero flow at times in many years.

Remarks: Other than the small Jenkinson Lake Reservoir, the Cosumnes and the Smith are the only rivers in California that are undammed. Flow partly regulated since January 1955 by Jenkinson Lake, usable capacity, 40,570 acre-feet. A small amount of water is diverted out of basin through Camp Creek and there are numerous small diversions upstream from station for irrigation and domestic use.


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