Cottonwood Creek Middle Fork


Stretch: Platina Road to North Fork Confluence
Difficulty: class III (one III+), then class II
Distance: 23.5 miles, 1 long day
Flows: kayaks 300 - 900 cfs approximately
Gauge: for take-out estimate 40% of flow near Cottonwood (COT)
Gradient: 29 fpm average, steeper in first half
Put-in: Platina Road (A16) bridge, 1150'
Take-out: upstream on North Fork to near Gas Point Road, 460'
Shuttle: 27 miles (40 minutes) one-way
Maps: Delorme Northern California, AAA Northern California
Season: winter and spring, from recent rain and some snowmelt
Agency: mostly private
Notes: © 1998 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

This is one of the few runs described in Dick Schwind's classic 1974 book West Coast River Touring that did not make it into a newer guidebook, but which boating clubs still run frequently. Schwind gave it an A rating for scenery, and this still applies, perhaps with an even higher rating for wildlife and bird watching. Beaver activity is noteworthy, and you might be lucky enough to see one.

The river distance of 23.5 miles makes for a long day, and to take out you must paddle upstream on the North Fork, so get an early start. A friend went on a club paddling trip, which did not get on the river until after 12:00 noon. They finished in the dark.

About .5 mile below put-in is a runnable 2' diversion dam. At first the drops are small and brushy, but within several miles, the drops become larger and maneuvering is required. Around mile 6, Begum Creek enters on the right, more than doubling the flow and the size of the channel. After the confluence the creek bottom is often washboarded, creating numerous small waves with whitecaps. Around mile 6.5, boaters encounter the most difficult drop of the run, a class III+ rapid at a large rock outcropping. Just around a right turn around mile 6.8 is a smaller drop. Around mile 8.3 is a cabin on the left, visible from creek level. Around mile 9 is a rapid with a surprise drop at the end. After that the gradient falls flat for the remainder of the run. About half a dozen barbed wire fences are strung across the creek in the lower portion of this run (1997). Around mile 17 a barn is visible on the left. Around mile 21 an old house barn is visible. At mile 23.2, at a right turn, an overhanging rock bank on the left signals that the North Fork confluence is just around the corner. Paddle or line your boats .2 mile upstream on the North Fork to a public right-of-way at a bridge.

Begum Creek makes an alternate approach to this same run. Put in on Begum Road just south of the town of Begum, where the creek crosses under the highway. River distance to the confluence is about 6 miles, same as on the Middle Fork Cottonwood from Platina Road. However Begum Creek is brushy, and contains more class IV rapids than its 60 fpm gradient would indicate. The first descent was by Shasta Paddlers in 1998.

From the USFS campground near the end of road 29N06 out of Platina to the aforementioned Begum Road bridge, Begum Gorge offers an excellent 9 mile run with some tough portages. Shasta Paddlers pioneered this section in February 1996.

To reach take-out, exit I-5 at Cottonwood and drive west on Gas Point Road about 13 miles to where it turns sharply north to follow the North Fork. Bear left (almost straight) onto Foster Road, and drive downhill and park on the far side of the bridge. Barbed wire is everywhere.

To reach put-in from there, return to Gas Point Road and turn left (north). After about 7 miles, turn left at the 4-way junction near Igo. Continue on Platina Road, thru the unfriendly town of Ono, uphill and over various creeks, for about 20 miles to a bridge over the Middle Fork Cottonwood Creek.


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