We have been playing in Coloma, California on the South Fork of the American River for twelve days and have been so impressed with the area and people! We came up for California Canoe & Kayak’s opening day event and had so much fun that we stayed for another full week…
We have a great camp site at Camp Lotus, which is located right on the river and a great take out point for the upper run, as well as put in site for the middle run and the barking dog play wave. There are 10 full RV sites with power and water and if you get site #7 across from the office you can get wifi at your site!
California Canoe and Kayak’s opening day event is a fund raiser for American Whitewater and made up of a number of paddling workshops + BBQ/beer and a movie. Hunter and I did the Chili Bar River Running Clinic, with friend Bryon Dorr, and Tim did the play boating clinic. It was a great day for all of us – pushing boundaries and learning new things. Such a great day that we made it back for beer and dinner but ran out of steam and headed back to the campground before the big movie night…
The first week of our stay had above seasonal weather – big bluebird skies, green lush hillsides and temps in the 70’s-80’s (20-25c). The hills and riversides were covered with purple lupin and yellow poppies.
The spring run off has lead to really wacky water levels. The river is dam controlled and they have “recreational releases” 6 days a week from 9am-12pm where there is guaranteed to be a minimum of 1200-1500 cfs. The levels didn’t get that low once during our stay. I have yet to figure out what causes the ups and downs of the releases – it has definitely made for some interesting river days and no run of the same section has been the same experience.
Barking Dog play wave is only good from 900-2000 cfs so we kept careful watch of the gauge for those windows. We were shut out most days… To get there from Camp Lotus it is a quick left down the river – about 6 paddle strokes. Getting back when you are done is another story… At lower flows it seems that you can walk up an island that is river right of the play wave. At these higher flows the island is inaccessible so we walked up the river on the far right side until we reached the top of the island and then walked a little more to some rocks where we could get back in our boats and attain up to the campground. You need to be sure to leave some energy for this last slog…
We had some fun (kinda sorta) one day when we were paddling down the C2G section after a Chili Bar run and I looked down in the water next to me to find a snake! Yes… I screamed – no surprise there. The boys figured I had dropped the camera or something. After regrouping I realized I should at least take a picture to show them. The snake seemed to be following me in the current so as both the snake and I caught up with Tim and Hunter I pointed him out. It’s a given that Tim picked him up to check him out and Hunter was equally fascinated. We let him hang out on Tim’s boat for a while to warm up and then ferried him over to shore to some nice sunny grass.
The Chili Bar run was our favourite out of the 3 river sections around Coloma. We paddled it 4 times at various levels, ranging from a low of 1800 to a high of 4200. While it was big water it wasn’t overly pushy and has a nice gradient so none of the rapids are super steep and creek like. There were a few play waves that were guaranteed to get Tim smiling and lots of inconsequential holes and rocks for Hunter to boof.
Our last three days of paddling were with the Holcombe family and some great local folks. It was fun to have another family to paddle with and even better to do it on a river where Hunter and Abby were pretty well free to goof around and paddle their own lines without much concern for us parents. They are both becoming really strong paddlers and we are definitely looking forward to catching some more river time with them over the next few weeks.
Coloma, and the South Fork of the American River, are an unexpected GEM and we definitely recommend a stop here for any paddlers. Our sense is that it is a zoo in the summer time so spring would probably be best – higher flows and less people.