Thanks to local kayaker Mike Bean,, and to Jeff Novak of El Dorado County Parks and Recreation, for the following information on boating the South Fork in the off-season.

Most of the general issues apply to the other forks as well. We would appreciate suggestions on specifics to add for the North and Middle Forks of the American.

Winter Considerations

Mike Bean

Most people do not consider the Chili Bar and Gorge Runs of South Fork of the American River to be wilderness runs but in the winter they can almost be considered wilderness runs. Incidents of injury or damaged/lost equipment are few and far between on these runs and often are not life threatening. The problem occurs in the winter months when your group may be the only group or the last group on the river. Finding help or a ride out on a commercial or private raft is far more difficult in the winter. Your group might be the only help for another group in trouble. The sun sets early and the temperatures drop fast. Hypothermia is a real threat. Ideally you want to get off the river before dark but there is a chance that someone may need to stay on the river after dark. Dealing with this rare situation requires better preparation in the winter than in the summer. Carrying a little extra gear and knowing how to get off the river when something goes wrong could be the difference between a bad day and a really bad day.

Mike’s Checklist

Here is a list of things you can do minimize the risks of winter boating on the South Fork:

  • Dress for the weather and take extra clothing in you boat.
  • Carry or wear good footwear, consider socks for your Tevas.
  • Someone in the group should carry a first aid kit.
  • Someone in the group should carry a spare paddle or oar.
  • Everyone in your group should carry a simple survival kit which includes: a space blanket, matches, disposable lighter, some dense calorie food, and duct tape.
  • Tell friends about your boating plans so they know where to look for you and when they should consider you to be late.
  • Boat in groups no less than three, this allows one person to stay with an injured boater and the other one to get help.
  • Know where to wait for help and how to get help. See map of egress locations of the South Fork, copies are available at The River Store in Lotus. Call 911 from Coloma or the pay phone at commercial lot at the Salmon Falls take out. Tell them where the injured party is located. Use the numbered locations written on the egress map.
  • Take a swiftwater rescue class and a first aid class. The time you save dealing with pinned equipment or an injured boater is invaluable.

Winter Access

The lower beach at Chili Bar is closed to vehicle parking. The store is also closed. The folks at Chili Bar charge $3 per person fee through a self-pay system, and boaters can park on the upper lot. We understand that all gates to the lower beach will be locked for the fall and winter. In case you were wondering, the lower beach winter closure is a requirement of Chili Bar’s operating permit from the County.

Henningsen Lotus County Park is open year-round. There is a $5 per vehicle parking fee and $1 per kayak & $5 per raft put-in or take-out fee through a self-pay system.

Camp Lotus is closed during the winter season; they generally reopen in March.

See also the Access section of the South Fork Logistics page, and the maps on the South Fork River Tour page.

Emergency Egress

In an emergency, you may need to get off the river somewhere other than a normal access point. El Dorado County Parks and Recreation has provided us with the following maps showing emergency egress routes. Note: many of these cross private property — do not attempt to use them in a non-emergency situation or you may be arrested for trespassing.

The maps are in PDF format. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view them. You may also pick up waterproof copies of these maps at The River Store, or contact Jeff Novak and he will mail you a copy.

Comments from Jeff Novak on the South Fork egress maps:

  • The Sheriff’s department established the numbering system. The 911 dispatch also works off the numbering system. If someone reports an injury, for example,with the injured party at the river’s edge at access 16b, dispatch should know where the person is located.
  • Not every access road to the river is contained on the map (river left at Gorilla Rock comes to mind; some of the egresses have spurs that run along the river (above Satan’s on river right and river left, for example). We tried to display the best access for each section of the river, and also tried to think about egresses from areas boaters have run into problems. Above the gorge, there are a number of ways out, but once you are in the gorge, your egress options are limited.
  • Emergency egresses #5 through #10 are in the Coloma-Lotus area. We did not put these on the map.
  • With the exception of Greenwood Creek, all emergency accesses cross private property at some point, and all the access roads leading back out to the main highways or County roads have locked gates. I can not stress the point enough – these are emergency egresses.
  • If you have to hike out of the gorge, be prepared to walk some distance before you can find a phone. Hiking out on river right from Satan’s to the road is a fairly steep mile and a half walk.
    • 12a Bacchi Ranch – no homes or phones, more than a mile to Highway 49.
    • 16a, 16b to Equestrian Way – mile+ hike to ridge top, there are homes near Salmon Falls Road.
    • 13 to Luneman Rd. – owners of blue house above Satan’s are not full time residents. Following road out, there is another home as you near Luneman Rd.
    • 17 to Kanaka Valley Rd. If mobile home not occupied, there are other homes along dirt road leading out to Kanaka Valley Rd.
  • The emergency egress map contains an important section titled: “How to report your situation to 911 dispatch”
  • On the Chili Bar run, egress options are limited. The trail out from Meatgrinder on river right is well known. The road out from Racehorse Bend on river left to Red Shack on Highway 49 is steep. Downstream from Maya rapid, the next egress is Serenity Lane, where homes can be seen near the water on river right. I have not tried it, but I am told one can walk out of the upper canyon along the Coloma-Lotus ditch on river left.