Wild & Scenic Rivers - California

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American (Lower) River
California Resources Agency, 1416 Ninth Street,
Sacramento, CA 95814
This short stretch of river running through Sacramento is the most heavily used recreation river in California. The river is also known for its runs of steelhead trout and salmon.
Total Miles: 23, Recreational: 23

American River, North Fork
Tahoe National Forest
Bureau of Land Management, Bakersfield District
800 Truxtun Avenue,
Bakersfield, CA 93301
A fairly inaccessible river, this waterway protects spectacular Sierra mountain scenery.
Total Miles: 26.3, Wild: 26.3

Big Sur River
Los Padres National Forest
Located in the Ventana Wilderness, this river offers outstanding opportunities for primitive hiking, camping, swimming, and fishing. It is one of the longest California coastal streams to be lined with redwoods.
Total Miles: 19.5, Wild: 19.5

Eel River
Six Rivers National Forest
Mendocino National Forest
Bureau of Land Management, Ukiah District, 555 Leslie Street, Ukiah, CA 95482-5599
California Resource Agency, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
California's Eel River flows through canyons most of its length but ends in a gently sloping valley with virgin redwood stands. Its salmon and steelhead fishery is of commercial importance to the local area.
Total Miles: 398, Wild: 97, Scenic 28, Recreational: 273

Feather River, Middle Fork
Plumas National Forest
The Middle Fork features Feather Falls, the third highest waterfall (640 feet) in the United States.
This northern California river is remote and has outstanding fishing.
Total Miles: 77.6, Wild: 32.9, Scenic 9.7,Recreational: 35

Kern River
Sequoia National Forest
Sequoia National Park
This river includes both the North and South Forks of the Kern. The South Fork is totally free flowing. It descends through deep gorges with large granite outcroppings and domes interspersed with open meadows. It is habitat for the golden trout, the state fish of California. The upper 47.5 miles of the North Fork flow through Sequoia National Park and the Golden Trout Wilderness, a scenic area with a wide variety of outstanding recreational opportunities, as well as cultural and historical associations.
Total Miles: 151, Wild: 123.1, Scenic 20.9, Recreational: 7

Kings River
Sequoia National Forest
Sierra National Forest
This river includes the entire Middle and South Forks, which are largely in Kings Canyon National Park. Beginning in glacial lakes above timberline, the rivers flow through deep, steep sided canyons, over falls and cataracts, eventually becoming an outstanding whitewater rafting river in its lower reaches in the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests. Geology, scenery, recreation, fish, wildlife, and history are all significant aspects.
Total Miles: 81, Wild: 65.5, Recreational: 15.5

Klamath River
Klamath National Forest
Bureau of Land Management, Ukiah District, 555 Leslie Street, Ukiah, CA 95482-5599
California Resources Agency, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation, P.O. Box 817, Hoopa, CA 95546
Yurok Tribe Dept. of Natural Resources, 15900 Hwy. 101N, Klamath, CA 95548
California's second largest river, which flows through the state's northwestern counties and then into the ocean in Redwood National Park, is a major salmon producer, particularly for Coho and Chinook. On the banks are noted raptor habitats. The Scott and Salmon, North and South Forks Salmon, and Wooley Creek are included.
Total Miles: 286, Wild: 12, Scenic 24, Recreational: 250

Merced River
Sierra National Forest
Yosemite National Park
Bureau of Land Management, Bakersfield District,
800 Truxtun Avenue, Bakersfield, CA 93301
Including the South Fork, the Merced flows through superlative scenery—glaciated peaks, lakes, alpine and subalpine meadows—in alternating pools and cascades. Wildflower displays are also spectacular. The South Fork possesses one of the few remaing pristine Sierra fisheries with self-sustaining populations of rainbow, eastern brook, and brown trout. Archeological and wildlife features are also noteworthy.
Total Miles: 122, Wild: 68, Scenic 20, Recreational: 34

Sespe Creek
Los Padres National Forest
Interesting geologic formations, unusual gorges, and riparian vegetation provide excellent scenic diversity and recreation opportunities. This stream is considered an excellent rainbow trout fishery, has a remnant steelhead fishery, and provides critical habitat for the endangered California condor.
Total Miles: 31.5, Wild: 27.5, Scenic 4

Sisquoc River
Los Padres National Forest
Most of this river lies within the San Rafael Wilderness. It offers excellent opportunities for solitude and wilderness-oriented activities with outstanding visual experiences.
Total Miles: 33, Wild: 33

Smith River
Six Rivers National Forest
California Resources Agency, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
The Smith, including 46 tributaries that are also protected, is the only major undammed river system in California. The river is an important stream for fish and is shaded by the towering redwoods of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park as it passes by the northern boundary of the park on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Most of the river system is also within the Smith River National Recreation Area.
Total Miles: 325.35, Wild: 78, Scenic 31, Recreational: 216.35

Trinity River
Six Rivers National Forest
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
Bureau of Land Management, Ukiah District, 555 Leslie Street, Ukiah, CA 95482-5599
California Resources Agency, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation, P.O. Box 817, Hoopa, CA 95546
This major tributary of California's Klamath River is located in heavily forested, mountainous terrain. The lower river flows through the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. The North and South Forks of the Trinity and the New River are included.
Total Miles: 203, Wild: 44, Scenic 39, Recreational: 120

Tuolumne River
Stanislaus National Forest
Yosemite National Park
Bureau of Land Management, Bakersfield District,
800 Truxtun Avenue, Bakersfield, CA 93301
The Tuolumne originates from snowmelt off Mounts Dana and Lyell in Yosemite National Park and courses 54 miles before crossing into Stanislaus National Forest and BLAME public land. This river contains some of the most noted whitewater in the high Sierras and is an extremely popular rafting stream. The park segment provides views of some of America's most spectacular scenery.
Total Miles: 83, Wild: 47, Scenic 23, Recreational: 13

Definitions of the terms; "Wild, Scenic, and Recreational."

Contrary to what you might think, these terms don't describe the character of the river. Wild doesn't mean it's a wicked and foamy stretch of whitewater, and scenic doesn't mean it's a pastoral float. Rather, it's all about accessibility. Here's what the government says. . .

Wild; this river is accessible only by trail, is undeveloped and generally is unpolluted.
Scenic; this river can be accessed by some roads but is mainly still a trail access river.
Recreational; this river has been developed along the shoreline and is easily accessible by roads, trails not necessary.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 4 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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