Feather River North Fork Cresta Run


Stretch: Cresta Dam to Poe Reservoir
Difficulty: class IV then II (IV), harder at higher flows
Distance: 5 miles
Flows: rafts and kayaks 800 - 1600 cfs, possibly 4000
Gauge: flow approximates scheduled dam release
Gradient: 48 fpm average, steeper at beginning
Put-in: below Cresta Dam, 1630'
Take-out: just above Poe Reservoir, 1390'
Shuttle: 5 miles (10 minutes)
Maps: USFS Plumas NF, AAA Feather and Yuba Region
Season: monthly June to October, depends on PG&E releases
Agency: USFS, private
Notes: © 2003 Paul Quiroga, photos courtesy Martin Wong at raft.org

Due to the hard work of AWA volunteers on FERC relicensing, two sections of the North Fork Feather now have dependable flows once a weekend every month June thru October. Saturday flows on the class IV Cresta section will start at about 1600 cfs in June, dropping down 200 cfs every subsequent month until 1000 cfs is reached in September and October. In dry years we might only see 800 - 1000 cfs released on this section. Below Cresta Dam, Grizzly Creek adds between 30 - 75 cfs to the flow. Please note that above 1600 cfs it has been said that many advanced boaters were portaging County Line Rapid during the first release in June 2002. The 3rd edition Holbek/Stanley guidebook describe County Line as a “killer” hole; the left side might very well be above 1600 cfs. Most of the rapids on this run can be scouted from the road, which runs along this entire run.

For this year's flow schedule, see the North Fork Feather page.

Highway 70 follows this section of river, so traffic problems may occur during the scheduled releases. A good approach is to rig your boats, drop them off at the turn-out right before Elephant Butte tunnel, then return to parking at take-out. You can use the AWA shuttle service (only $5 for unlimited use) to get back to put-in. Once at the put-in you must carry your boats and gear down a narrow path alongside a steep drop-off. Be careful because you need to single-file anything larger than a kayak. The trail is unstable and rocky. Once you get your boat and gear to an opening, you must rappel them down a granite dome (rope and pitons provided). The granite dome ends with a 30' high drop into sharp rocks and thorn bushes. Underneath the cliff is a cave about 60' deep.

mile -0.3
The put-in trail to the upper run is supposedly even more difficult than the one mentioned above. Easy water just below the spillway.
Unnamed Class V-, scout left from high above the put-in
North Fork Feather Cresta CA

Entry to this rapid is marked by rocky shallows extending almost all the way to river right. Kayaks might fare better and could find entry points from river center out to river right. Rafts need to work their way to river right against the bank before entering the rapid. The last drop is best run left of center for rafts, although kayaks could run it right of center. Below 1000 cfs, rafts might have a hard time negotiating the rocky shallows atop the rapid.

Unnamed class V- viewed from road

mile 0
Standard 2003 put-in. Slow moving water permits warm-up.
Class II+ or III- boulder field, boat scout
Relatively easy but best run right or left of center. Watch out for barely submerged rocks.
North Fork Feather Cresta CA North Fork Feather Cresta CA
Looking up boulder field at put-in Big raft buries in Grizzly Creek rapid
Grizzly Creek, Class III-, boat scout
This rapid occurs immediately after the Grizzly Dome Tunnel and is a straight shot down the tongue into an angled lateral with a decent sized hydraulic that might send you against the left bank if you don't square up to the lateral. Grizzly Creek enters on the left about 100' past the drop. You can paddle up the creek, which runs under the highway.
The river splits around a shallow island with most water and the cleanest route against the left bank, so stay left. A few submerged boulders must be avoided.
County Line Falls, Class IV (verges on V- at high flows), scout left above entrance
Other than the Unnamed Class V- above the normal put-in, County Line is the largest rapid on this run. It is marked by two county-line road signs along highway 70, hence the name. Once you see the Plumas and Butte County road signs, eddy out on river left to scout the entrance before the big drop. This drop is best run right of center where a nice tongue takes you into a frothy maelstrom of whitewater. You can use the eddy behind the table rock to help set up for the drop. Another possible route is on far left (see photos).
North Fork Feather Cresta CA North Fork Feather Cresta CA
County Line Falls @ 1200 cfs from below

Big raft attempts a tailstand right of center

North Fork Feather Cresta CA North Fork Feather Cresta CA
Paddle raft in entrance of County Line Paddle raft takes County Line Falls on far left
The Wave, Class IV, road scout or from either bank
Most swims on this run tend to occur in this one. You can enter the rapid from either right or left of the mid-stream boulder. The left slot has an angled wave (hence the name) which you must square-up to and ride out before a midstream boulder forces you to backferry towards river left. The run out is clean. The right slot is clean and easy, but the required backferry to the left-exit slot is extremely difficult. If you go right, don't take the very far right chute against the bank, which is shallow and rocky. The correct chute (see second photo below) is obvious once you are in there.
North Fork Feather Cresta CA North Fork Feather Cresta CA
Boats line up patiently above The Wave Raft turned sideways in The Wave left side
Boxed-in Hole on right, run to river left
This next rapid is run by moving from river right to river left. There is a runnable-looking drop against the right bank, but the hole is boxed-in and has recirculated swimmers for over a minute, so please do not run it (see picture below Rock Garden).
Cave Rapid, class 4E, scout either side and set safety
Class IV technical difficulty with class V consequences. A fatality occurred on this rapid in September 2003 when a raft overturned and a swimmer was swept into the lethal 30' deep undercut cave on river left, visible in the second picture.
North Fork Feather Cresta CA North Fork Feather Cresta CA
Cataraft in control near bottom of Cave Rapid Doug easily avoids cave-size undercut
Rock Garden, Class IV-, scout from either bank
This rapid is marked by a fairly long rock garden. Enter center then work right. There are a few rocks to avoid, but moves are easy enough to make. Moves are tighter at the bottom, where you can run it right or center between two tight boulders, then exit on river left. Recovery pool below. This rapid marks the end of the Cresta class IV upper section.
North Fork Feather Cresta CA North Fork Feather Cresta CA
View from below of Boxed-in Hole @ 1000 cfs Run out in last of Rock Garden @ 1000 cfs
Shady Rest Take-Out on left bank
It is easier to take boats up the bank 500 yards above this, than at Shady Rest Area itself. Novice boaters can put in here for the more-remote class II-III section of this run. Somewhere not too far downstream is a great surfing play-hole on river left. This pour-over hydraulic is easy to spot and lots of fun to play in, but please share the spot with other boaters! This section of river meanders away from the road and gives an impression of solitude.
Rock 'n' Wrap, Class IV, scout on river left
Class II-III boaters should take out before entering the boulder garden above this rapid. This constricted boulder pile is very tight for 14' rafts under 1100 cfs, and has caused many wraps due to lack of scouting. There are at best two narrow slots to get you thru. The safest is on river right were rafts must execute a lowside (to the boat's left) and work from river right to left once past the tight entry slot. The middle slot requires an immediate right-to-left to avoid the wrap rocks lurking below the drop. Moving pool below this rapid, so pick up any swimmers immediately.
North Fork Feather Cresta CA North Fork Feather Cresta CA
Looking downstream at maze of Rock'n'Wrap Kayaks have much easier pickings here
Take out on river left, where you can drag boats up a concrete apron.
For the most comprehensive photo journal of this run, see Raft.org's North Feather gallery.


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