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A float trip down the Sacramento River

Adventure entry by Wild Rivers Director, Steve Evans


Name of area/general location:
Sacramento River Bend Outstanding Natural Area near Redbluff, CA


Land Acknowledgement:
This area is located on the ancestral homelands and traditional territories of the Yana, and Nomlaki People. To learn more about the original residents and stewards of the land, visit native-land.ca.


River class rating
: Class 1+ float trip (suitable for kayaks, canoes). Fast moving and extremely cold water with few obstructions, but with riffles, small waves, and swirls. Risk to swimmers is slight, self-rescue is easy. Always wear a PFD (personal floatation device).

River mileage: 9.1 miles (Jelly’s Ferry Bridge-Bend Bridge Boat Ramp)

Run time: 4- 5 hours – depending on the flow and the number of times you stop

Description of the area, sights, wildlife, and any key markers:


The class 1+ (low-risk) run between the Jelly’s Ferry Bridge and river access to the Bend Bridge boat ramp is 9.1 miles. Depending on the flow and the number of times you stop for lunch and potty breaks, you can do this run in 4-5 hours. The river has fast-moving cold water, occasional but easy to avoid rocks and snags, riffles, waves, and swirls – hence the “+” to the class 1. All gear in kayaks and canoes should be tied down. Canoeists should wear their personal flotation device (PFD) and kneel in their canoe as they run the more turbulent sections of the river.

While canoeing this stretch in the mid-80s, I failed to tie my gear down and I wasn’t kneeling in my canoe when a swirl simply knocked us over. If you find my wallet, camera, and binoculars, please let me know.

Boaters should bring plenty of drinking water, sunscreen, and a sun hat. Summer temps can top a hundred degrees, so staying hydrated is crucial. Because water is released from Shasta Dam upstream to meet federal water contracts, the typical summer flow can range from 10,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) to 15,000 CFS. Drought year flows may range anywhere from 3,000-5,000 CFS. Despite its wide variety of flows, the Sacramento is surprisingly easy to paddle. Anglers fish the river year-round from boats and from the banks, but it is particularly busy during the fall salmon season (fall run Chinook salmon are the only non-listed salmonid that spawns in the river). Fortunately, the river is so broad, it is easy for paddle-powered boats to make their way downstream and avoid the many power boats maneuvering to catch salmon.


How to get there:
Just north of the town of Red Bluff, take the Jelly’s Ferry Road exit from I-5. Turn right (east) and drive a few miles to the Bend Ferry Road. Turn right and drive over the Bend Bridge. Just after crossing the bridge, turn left into the Bend Boat Ramp parking lot. Leave a car here, then proceed back to Jelly’s Ferry Road and turn right. Drive a few miles north on Jelly’s Ferry Road, cross the new Jelly’s Ferry Bridge, and turn left into the Jelly’s Ferry River Access. The car shuttle takes about 15 minutes. Both Bend Bridge and Jelly’s Ferry have vault toilets but no water. Cell service can be spotty in this area.


Flow information | AllTrails Hike Link | BLM map


Places to camp nearby:
Although there are no developed BLM campgrounds in this area, camping is allowed on most BLM lands for up to 14 days per calendar year. Day-use sites such as the Jelly’s Ferry site, the mouth of Inks Creek, and the Bass Pond parking areas are closed to camping. Group camping is available at the Reading Island Group Campground, under a special use permit issued by the BLM. Massacre Flat is a popular primitive campsite for boaters.


Caution: 
Please do your own research and take on any outdoor activity at your own risk. Conditions, flows, and weather can all change in an instant. It’s important that you have the right skills, gear, and knowledge before heading out for an outdoor activity.

More info on this area, future management and more:

The state’s largest waterway, the Sacramento River, flows 400 miles south from its sources near Mt. Shasta to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Along the way, it flows through the southern extent of the Cascade Range, through cities and towns, and past farms. Levees and rock riprap mar the lower river, but between Redding and Red Bluff in the upper Sacramento Valley, the Sacramento flows through a relatively undeveloped scenic area of oak-studded foothills. Here, the river offers some of the finest class I-II boating in California.


This segment of the river flows through the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Sacramento River Bend Outstanding Natural Area. Lush riparian forests are found along the river, with blue oak woodlands and grasslands on the upper slopes, topped with volcanic rimrock. The river is home to a wide variety of wildlife and fish. Predatory birds like osprey and bald eagles commonly forage along the waterway. Other common wildlife found in the area are great blue heron, egret, acorn woodpecker, deer, and coyote. Journey (a.k.a. OR7), the eastern Oregon wolf who pioneered the reestablishment of this endangered species in California, wandered through the Sacramento River Bend Area in 2011-12. The river supports threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead, including four runs of Chinook salmon (winter, spring, fall, and late fall), as well as winter and spring steelhead trout. This section of river is also known for its trophy rainbow trout fishery. Green sturgeon, an ancient and long-lived species that is considered threatened, also live and spawn in the river.


The entire Sacramento River Bend Area is rich in the native cultural heritage of the Yana, Nomlaki, and Wintu people. Explorer Jedediah Smith looked over this segment of the river on his second trip to California in 1827-28. From the river, he decided to proceed west to the coast instead of north past the imposing edifice of Mt. Shasta. As modern place names attest, subsequent interactions between explorers and Native Americans were violent. During their 1846 expedition to California, John Fremont and Kit Carson are responsible for the massacre of Wintu people where Battle Creek flows into the Sacramento River (upstream of Jelly’s Ferry).


Most of the east bank of the river between Jelly’s Ferry and Bend is public land managed by the BLM. A short side paddle is available up Inks Creek from its confluence with the river. A boat-in campsite with vault toilet is available at Massacre Flat, about 3.3 miles downstream of Jelly’s Ferry. About 5.8 miles downstream from Jelly’s Ferry, Perry’s Riffle provides road access and a vault toilet. Most of the west bank is private ranch land – visitors should respect private property rights. Managed by the BLM, the public lands along the east bank of the river possess an extensive trail system, which offer delightful hikes in the winter and spring months.


The future management of this area will be determined by the BLM’s Northern California Integrated Plan (NCIP). In addition to its status as an Outstanding Natural Area, the Sacramento River Bend area is also an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. In 1995, the BLM determined that a 25-mile stretch of the Sacramento River between Ball’s Ferry and a point upstream of Red Bluff was eligible for National Wild and Scenic River protection due to its outstanding scenery, recreation, fish, cultural, and ecological values. Unfortunately, the BLM has tentatively reduced the river’s eligibility to 15 eligible miles in multiple unconnected segments. The public will have the opportunity to comment on this area when a draft NCIP is released for public review later in 2023.