Disclaimer: Welcome to this web-guide. This content is provided as an informational guide only and should never substitute hands-on instruction by a qualified instructor. The river sections below have all been safely completed on Stand Up Paddleboards. Remember that Stand Up Paddleboarding on rivers entails known and unforeseen hazards. Unsuccessful mitigation of such hazards can result in injury, disability, or worse. Safety can be further compromised by improper selection and/or use of equipment, and poor decision making. It is recommended that river paddlers should be competent swimmers, comfortable both underwater and swimming in current, and possess a fundamental understanding of river dynamics and sufficient skills to safely navigate the chosen river section. See a description of the Classification of Whitewater at the bottom of this page. All rivers can change dramatically with variations in flow and unanticipated hazards may exist. Furthermore, most of the river sections are NOT boatable year around, so check the flows before embarking.
Dream Flows Daily Report – California/Nevada

Author: Charles Pike

While many rivers have a natural flow dependent on natural events like rain and snowmelt, others are controlled by a release of water from hydroelectric dams. The flow of a river in the US is often measured in Cubic Feet per Second (CFS). This reading tells us the volume of water that passes through a specific point on the river at a specified time (1 second). The volume of water is measured by river gauges, and in many areas the data is readily available to the public via on-line resources. Let’s say the gauge for the river section you plan to paddle reads 1,000 cfs; what does this reading actually mean? Imagine a rope stretched across the river; during 1 second of time, 1,000 basketballs are passing by that rope (1 basketball ≈ 1 cubic foot). An increase in the reading means the river is flowing faster, rapids typically become larger and more powerful, but also less technical as more rocks are submerged. A decrease in the reading means less water, slower flows and more technical paddling. Because rivers come in different sizes with respect to volume of water, a reading of 1,000 cfs has different meanings based on the river you are looking at. For a smaller volume river, this may mean dangerous high water conditions, while in a larger volume river there may not be enough water for good paddling. So it’s important to be familiar with a specific river section at different flows to really understand the meaning of its river gauge data. 

California Creeks
American Whitewater California Rivers
American Whitewater Nevada Rivers

Classification of Whitewater

Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.

Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class II+”.

Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficulty to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class III-“ or “Class III+” respectively.

Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. A strong eskimo roll is highly recommended. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class IV-“ or “Class IV+” respectively.

Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. A very reliable eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential. Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV, Class 5 is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc… each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last.

These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions. After a Class VI rapids has been run many times, its rating may be changed to an appropriate Class 5.x rating.