Alameda Creek thru Niles Canyon


Stretch: Sunol to Niles Junction near Fremont
Difficulty: Class III with brush, which varies by year
Distance: 4.3 miles, 1 day
Flows: kayaks 400 - 1200 cfs
Gauge: measured near Niles take-out (ALN)
Gradient: 21 fpm average
Put-in: Sunol railroad bridge along highway 84, 190'
Take-out: below gauging station along highway 84, 100'
Shuttle: 5 miles (10 minutes) one way
Maps: Delorme Northern California, AAA San Francisco Bay Region, Topo
Season: winter, from recent rain
Agency: highway right-of-way, private
Notes: © 2002 Don da Roza,

When Schwind wrote his guidebook West Coast River Touring in 1974, he said Alameda Creek was the one of the brushiest runs in his book. Maybe the situation has changed, because lately it's really not so bad. Don da Roza sent these two reports:

I monitored Alameda Creek flows, and the gauge reading was 400 cfs for about 10 days. Earlier, after big rains, it was up to 2500 cfs. I happened to see it at 1200 cfs one day. It was a pretty scary strainer run at that level. We had Monday off from work so a friend and I ran it in our hardshells. It was fun class II with some strainer hazards. We were able to easily avoid all of the strainers, and also easily portaged three diversion dams. Two may be runnable at higher flows. I would have preferred 500 to 600 cfs.

I don't think that 100-200 more cfs would have been a problem. There were two spots where higher flow would have prevented scraping the bottom of our boats. The first one was a 6-8' wide chute through willows and trees for about 200 feet on the right. We went left instead and scraped. The other was a log across the main chute on the left. We went right and scraped. If I see the flow at 500 or 600 cfs I'll run it again. Routes are fairly open and boat scoutable.

I ran into a person at work who has run Niles Canyon numerous times. He says that he likes flow from 600 to 800 cfs for a hardshell kayak. He also said that the flow drops very fast, about 50 cfs an hour, so if you see a runnable flow on the gauge don't delay your trip!

Almost a year later:
Saturday we had plenty of rain so a friend and I ran Niles canyon with 600 cfs when we put in and 450 cfs 2.5 hours later when we reached take-out. Wow, it was a much improved run at those flows. We ran both the upper diversion dam/rapid (class III+) and the lower dam. Lots of fun class III rapids and many surfing waves. Pictures below are from our higher-water run.

Alameda Creek CA Alameda Creek CA Alameda Creek CA
Scott surfing above bridge Second diversion dam Third diversion dam

Alameda Creek is also runnable upstream from Sunol Regional Park (below Calaveras dam) to Sunol, but infrequently boated. Above Little Yosemite the creek is class II through a pretty valley. Little Yosemite is an irrigated boulder field, with small waterfalls and narrow chutes (too narrow for a boat). It's highly scenic but unrunnable. In the summer it makes a good hiking and clambering destination. Below there, the creek is class II with one class IV and lots of brush, but passable with maybe 150 or 200 cfs.

To reach take out, turn off Mission Boulevard onto highway 84 headed east. Drive about 200 yards and turn right onto Old Canyon road, which almost immediately crosses over to the south side of Alameda Creek. Follow this road along the creek for about 1/4 mile and then turn left into the riverside park with bathrooms.

To reach put in, return to highway 84, continue east up the canyon about 4.5 miles, and turn right into a large creekside parking area with bathrooms. Most of the canyon has no parking signs ad infinitum making for few put-in options except here.


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