American River view from the campus of California State University, Sacramento
|Part of||Sacramento River watershed|
|- left||South Fork American River|
|- right||North Fork American River|
|Primary source||North Fork American River|
|- location||Mountain Meadow Lake, Placer County|
|- elevation||7,923 ft (2,415 m) |
|Secondary source||South Fork American River|
|- location||Nebelhorn, El Dorado County|
|- elevation||7,401 ft (2,256 m) |
|Source confluence||Folsom Lake|
|- location||Near Folsom|
|- elevation||253 ft (77 m)|
|- elevation||23 ft (7 m) |
|Length||119 mi (192 km), Northeast-southwest Main stem 31 miles (50 km); North Fork 88 miles (142 km)|
|Basin||2,150 sq mi (5,568 km2) |
|Discharge||for Fair Oaks|
|- average||3,685 cu ft/s (104 m3/s) |
|- max||314,000 cu ft/s (8,891 m3/s) |
|- min||215 cu ft/s (6 m3/s) |
Map of the American River watershed. It includes the North, Middle, and South forks of the river as well as Rubicon River, a tributary of the Middle Fork.
The American River (Río de los Americanos during the Mexican-ruled period before 1846) is a California watercourse river system which runs from the crest of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to its confluence with the Sacramento River in Sacramento, California. The Sacramento River continues to eventually empty into the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean at San Francisco, California. The American River flows entirely within California.
The American River is divided into the North, Middle, and South forks, which are located in El Dorado County, Placer County, and Sacramento County. The river's three forks originate in the Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests.
The American River's section of the Sierra Crest extends ~50 mi (80 km) between the north triple watershed point (South Yuba, North Fork American, and Truckee rivers) at Mount Lincoln ( ) to the Winnemucca Lake triple point (Sacramento, San Joaquin, and central Lahontan hydrologic subregions).
From the confluence at Auburn, the combined North and Middle Forks river flows at an elevation of 600 feet (180 m) in a forested canyon 800 feet (240 m) deep and is called the North Fork. It meanders through additional canyons past the site of the abandoned Auburn Dam to where it meets the South Fork at Folsom Lake. All three forks are known for their verdant canyons, forested ridges, massive rock formations, trails, backcountry winter adventuring among snowy peaks, fishing and white water rafting.
Below Folsom Lake, the river passes through an urbanized area but is buffered by a riparian park, the American River Parkway. Containing fishing and family-oriented rafting, and paved bicycling and multi-use trails, it runs 30.6 miles (49.2 km) from Folsom Lake to the river's confluence with the Sacramento River. The American River Parkway incorporates Historic Leidesdorff Ranch, a 35,000-acre (140 km2) cattle and wheat agribusiness owned by the "African Founding Father of California." Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, a meandering, uninterrupted 32-mile (51 km) cycle path, hugs the river bank from Old Sacramento to Folsom Lake.
The North Fork is the longest tributary of the American River, at 88 miles (142 km). It begins at an elevation of about 7,900 feet (2,400 m) near Lake Tahoe in Placer County at Mountain Meadow Lake, just northeast of Granite Chief and immediately due west of Squaw Valley Ski Resort. It flows westward through remote wilderness areas. The North Fork and its tributaries provides one of the most biologically diverse habitats in North America. The North Fork features scenic multi-use trails along forested ridgetops and riparian corridors. It flows freely as a designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers System river until a debris dam, the North Fork Dam, is reached. This dam creates Lake Clementine just north of the Foresthill Bridge and prior to the confluence with the Middle Fork American River at Auburn, California. Both the North Fork and Middle Fork feature archaeological and historic sites of ancient American Indian culture and 1850s Gold Rush habitation.
The 62-mile-long (100 km) Middle Fork originates a mere 1.7-mile (2.7 km) from the source of the North Fork on the south face of Granite Chief, between the summit and Emigrant Pass. It is characterized by somewhat broader steep canyons interspersed with manmade reservoirs, natural waterfalls, and quiet riparian areas. The Middle Fork is used extensively for both motorized and non-motorized recreation, including fishing, white water adventuring, bicycling (mountain and road), horseback riding, trail running and hiking. It contains areas used for hydroelectric generation, mining, and agricultural timber cultivation and harvesting. The Middle Fork features the Western States Trail, which hosts multiple annual endurance events, including the prestigious Tevis Cup equestrian trail ride and the world-famous Western States 100- Mile Trail Run, both beginning at Squaw Valley and leading to Auburn via remote wilderness trails.
The 87-mile-long (140 km) South Fork originates at Echo Summit near Echo Lake south of Lake Tahoe in El Dorado County, just south of where U.S. Route 50 makes a sharp curve northward to descend into Tahoe Valley. The South Fork has multi-use recreational areas, including the Rubicon Trail for motorized adventuring and whitewater rafting venues. The South Fork also features the townsite of Coloma, where the gold rush began in California in 1848. Trout fishing and recreational gold panning are popular family activities on the South Fork.
Like most major western U.S. rivers, the American River has been extensively dammed and diverted for hydroelectricity production. Since the California Gold Rush was centered in an area that included the American River basin, it was one of the earlier California rivers to be populated, beginning at Leidesdorff Ranch, owned by William Leidesdorff. Water was used to drive grist mills. The Natoma Company completed its Folsom Powerhouse by 1895 and began delivering power 22 miles (35 km) away to the city of Sacramento to power a streetcar system.
Currently, five power plants on the Middle Fork are owned by the Placer County Water Agency, eight plants are owned by Sacramento Municipal Utility District ("SMUD"), El Dorado Irrigation District and PG&E each own one plant (Akin Powerhouse and Chili Bar Powerhouse, respectively), and one plant is owned by a small private concern (Rock Creek Powerhouse). The SMUD plants are run on a peaking basis, although recreational boating and environmental flow requirements constrain their operation slightly. None of these upstream plants are constrained by flood control requirements plants on the upstream tributaries, the needs of water supply and flood control largely govern their operation.
- "Mountain Meadow Lake". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 1981-01-19. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
- "North Fork American River". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 1981-01-19. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
- "Nebelhorn". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 1981-01-19. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
- "South Fork American River". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 1981-01-19. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
- "American River". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. 1981-01-19. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
- U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed March 10, 2011
- "Boundary Descriptions and Names of Regions, Subregions, Accounting Units and Cataloging Units". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
- "USGS Gage #11446500 on the American River at Fair Oaks, CA" (PDF). National Water Information System. United States Geological Survey. 1905-present. Retrieved 2010-09-26.
- "The American River: California's Favorite Whitewater River". TheAmericanRiver.com. Archived from the original on 12 July 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-06.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: American River (California)|
- Parks.ca.gov: Sutter's Mill—Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
- Flows and Forecasts
- Guide to Rafting and Kayaking on the American River
- Folsom Dam
- Nimbus Dam
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: American River