North Fork American River

Beginning as a mild stream, the North Fork American River quickly gains momentum and leads into the Class IV “Chamberlain Falls Gorge,” one of the most challenging rafting runs in the American river drainage. The North Fork runs only in the springtime and early summer, where residual melting snow still comes from the Sierras. The river drops down through an extremely steep gorge, winding in between enormous boulders and over waterfalls reaching a height of 8 feet. Endless crystal clear water and rapids are the trademark of this challenging and technical river rafting California rapid. The North Fork boasts one of the most beautiful rivers in the Sierra and should only be attempted by experienced rafters who have good physical conditioning.

North Fork American River Info

  • Section: Mineral Bar to Ponderosa
  • Season: April through May.
  • Length: 9.5 Miles
  • Location: Near Colfax, CA
  • Difficulty: Class 4-4+
  • Ages: 13 and Up

River Description

The North Fork of the American below Mineral Bar is a short but sweet Class 4-4+ section. The Chamberlain Falls section is a true pool-drop run, with the beginning section being the most continuous. Rafters must navigate “Entrance Exam, a narrow churning chute which leads directly into “Slaughters Sluice”, a fast paced boulder garden with steep drops and holes which ends abruptly with “Chamberlain Falls” a boxed in 8″ near vertical drop containing a recirculating undercut left wall. Rafters are able to regroup after this, before continuing into rapids such as Achilles Heel, Zig Zag, and Bogus thunder, before culminating in a tricky rapid known as “Staircase Falls”. Although hard to not focus on these rapids, the scenery in this canyon, the big granite boulders, and the clearest water around make this run a must do for competent boaters.

Shuttle Directions

To get to Take out, take Highway 80 until Exit 131 Weimar Cross Roads. Turn Right onto Ponderosa Way and follow this 5.7 miles down to the bridge. It is easiest to take out on river right side of the bridge, so dont cross it. To get to put in, Drive back to the Freeway and get on I-80 E and take the Colfax exit 135. Keep Left to stay on Canyon Way. Follow this road for .4 miles, then turn left onto Iowa Hill Rd. Follow this road for 3 miles. Cross the bridge and then turn left into the Mineral Bar dirt parking lot. There is a fee here, or you can keep following Iowa Hill rd for a couple hundred yards until a turn out on the right side of the road. This is out of the Fee area.


There is tent camping at the Mineral Bar put in. Other than that, your best bet will be up in Colfax or Auburn.

Real-Time River Flows

The flows of the North Fork vary depending on craft. Kayakers kayak the river down to 300 cfs. Commercial rafters typically raft this river from 1000 cfs to 3000 cfs.

Other California Whitewater Rafting Rivers

Merced River South Fork American North Fork American Middle Fork American River

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