North Fork Tuolumne near Sonora


Stretch: Riverside Campground to Main Tuolumne
Difficulty: Class V with 4 portages
Distance: 7.8 miles, then 3 miles on main Tuolumne
Flows: kayaks 400 - 1000 cfs, IK minimum 300
Gauge: none, good flows occur about a week after heavy rain
Gradient: 180 fpm average
Put-in: Bridge above Riverside campground, 2238'
Take-out: Main Tuolumne, 831' then paddle to Wards Ferry Bridge
Shuttle: 12 miles, paved road
Maps: USFS Eldorado NF, AAA Yosemite Area, Topo
Season: winter or spring, from rain or low-elevation snowmelt
Agency: Tuolumne County, Stanislaus National Forest
Notes: © 2003 Doug Wiedwald & Zach Collier zach at kevsmom

We decided to run the North Tuolumne after many hikes up the canyon on commercial trips. We were looking forward to bragging "Yeah I ran this - no big deal" to river booty the next hundred times we walked up the North Fork for an afternoon dip at Devil's Gate. This is the motivation that led us to put in on this hideously steep river. We were expecting to find scary class V and lots of portages, but what we found was kayaking nirvana. Darren and I decided that this was our favorite kayaking run of all time and Doug was hard pressed to think of something better.

We put in at a nasty bridge above the Riverside Campground next to a rusty washer and dryer and paddled about 200 feet to the Riverside Campground where we should have put in. There were bathroom facilities at the campground, so I did something that I was afraid to do at our upper put in.

The first few miles had us a bit worried about the rest of our day. Right away we paddled a rapid with a log in it and our first portage was a ten foot drop into a rock with a class IV entrance. It is hard to portage so early in the run, but we ended up walking on the left with moderate difficulty. You can see this drop from the road to put-in if you stop enough and look down the canyon.

North Fork Tuolumne River near Sonora CA North Fork Tuolumne River near Sonora CA
Early rapid with log Beautiful double drop after first portage

There were so many fun boat scoutable rapids along the way we lost count. We portaged four times and probably scouted 10-15 times. As we came to each rapid, all of us were amazed at how runnable they were.

North Fork Tuolumne River near Sonora CA North Fork Tuolumne River near Sonora CA
Great drop with big hole at the bottom The center slot was most navigable

The rapids got better as the canyon deepened.

North Fork Tuolumne River near Sonora CA North Fork Tuolumne River near Sonora CA
Absolut Perfection Ledge Complex rapid with weird bottom drop

At the end of our day we were on the lookout for the fifteen foot waterfall and the difficult portage mentioned in the Holbek and Stanley book. The fifteen foot falls had a great boof on the left but there is a submerged rock on the right.

The long portage was pretty much directly below the waterfall. We portaged on the right and had pretty easy going. Doug and Darren ran some middle drops of the portage which saved them from lowering their boats a cliff. I accidently dropped my ex-girlfriend's boat 15 feet into a mud puddle on my portage. Please don't tell her.

North Fork Tuolumne River near Sonora CA North Fork Tuolumne River near Sonora CA
Dougie's Demise, the 15' foot waterfall Devil's Gate waterslide full o' flow

The next mile after the portage was full of fun rapids. We recognized the Devil's Gate waterslide and ran it sucessfully. After running the eight miles above, the last half mile past Devil's Gate was like peaches and cream. The final 3 mile runout on the main Tuolumne (including Don Pedro Reservoir) is a real treat for class II enthusiasts. We had a great day and plan to return to this incredible run soon.

For more pictures from our trip check out the North Tuolumne!


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