Buchanan Road to Wards Ferry Bridge

Length: 12 miles (plus 3 miles on the Main Tuolumne) / 1 day
Class: V (3+ portages)
Gradient: 100 ft/mile
Season: Spring runoff
Shuttle: 35 minutes/ 13 miles
Permits: none

Recommended Flows: 400 to 700 cfs at confluence with main Tuolumne
Flow Information:
dreamflows estimate or eyeball at the confluence with the main Tuolumne

North Fork Tuolumne Rafting and Kayaking Overview

The North Fork of the Tuolumne is a seldom run classic, well worth the long day of rafting or kayaking. Numerous fun, nice size drops are throughout the run. The trip is a major commitment for only being 15 miles. Our last run was an 8.5 hour affair with only two short breaks to snack and pump some water. There were a fair number of portages with a couple being pretty strenuous. Small rafts were ideal and could be lined for almost all the portages. Between the gorges are brushy rapids that will make you glad you have a helmet.

Put-in for North Fork Tuolumne
Put-in at Riverside Day Use Area


Mile 0: Put-in

Put-in at the Forest Service Riverside Day Use Area on Buchanan Road. There are bathrooms and a nice paved path down to the put-in. be aware of a weir that can be avoided by launching a little farther downstream. Below here the river is brushy and rocky like much of the river. After claw through brush and banging on rocks for about a half mile that will take 30+ minutes the river starts to open up a bit.

shows initial rapids of the North Fork Tuolumne River
River Opening Up
Mile 0.5: Granite Falls (V+)

This rapid is commonly portaged by lining or walking on river right.

show how to line a raft through the first class v+ rapid on the North Fork Tuolumne
Lining Granite Falls
view upstream of Granite Falls on the North Fork Tuolumne
Looking upstream at Granite Falls
Mile .5 to 2: Ledges and Slides (III-IV)

There are multiple fun ledges and slides below the falls. Enjoy them because more hardship awaits shortly.

show kayak boofing ledge drop on North FOrk Tuolumne River
One of many nice ledge drops.
shows R-2 raft on slide rapid on the North Fork of the Tuolumne River
Mile 2 – 5: Brushy and Rocky (III-IV)

Lots of brushy rapids. Look for a little tunnel chute where most of the water flows underneath two rocks laying against each other. Just below here is another big rapid. Towards the end of this section there are some homes built along the river.

visual of brushy rapids of the North Fork Tuolumne
Another clean Brushy Section
nasty undercut in brushy rapid
Lil Tunnel Chute
Mile 5: Steep and Junky (V)

The canyon has left the granite and moved into schist. This large drop can be scout, lined, and portaged on the right. Downstream is another fun gorge.

lining raft through big rapid
Steep and Junky
Mile 5.0-6.0: Gorge IV

More fun rapids and easy miles in this section

show size of rapid kayaker running in rocky gorge
shows how steep the drops are in the gorge on the North Fork of the Tuolumne River
Mile 6.5: Hunter Creek Falls (V – Portage)

Hunter Creek is a major drainage cascading in on river left. The run is in the left chute. There is a nice portage route on river right and the rapid can be lined easily on river right.

Mile 8: The Waterfall (V)

A fifteen foot drop into a nice pool, the waterfall is typically run on river right. Portaging and lining is best on river left.

Mile 9: Big Portage (VI)

It is easiest to line and carry your raft on the right side of the river for the first part of portage and then ferry to river left to finish the portage.

how big the big portage is on the North Fork Tuolumne
Big Portage (Upper Half)
Mile 11.2: North Fork Swim Hole (III+)

It looks much different with all the water.

shows raft in vertical walled canyon on the North Fork Tuolumne
Above North Fork swimming hole.
show difficulty of north fork tuolumne rapid for rafters and kayakers
Dropping the Swim Hole
Mile 12: Confluence with Main Tuolumne River

Now it’s time to relax and float out on the end of the Tuolumnne River. Chances are the Tuolumne is running 6 to 10,000 cfs. If the reservoir is low there is more excitement below but still easy miles compared to the North Fork.

can see the volume of water that is visible at the confluence when the North Fork Tuolumne is a runnable flow for rafting
Confluence on North Fork and Main Tuolumne Rivers
Mile 15: Take-out at Ward’s Ferry Bridge

Hopefully it is still light out. The bridge can be a little sketchy after dark.

If you are in the area and the North Fork has water it’s best to get a day running the whole Tuolumne River at highwater and maybe sneaking on the South Fork of the Tuolumne.

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