The North Fork of the American River

Placer County's Slate Yosemite

The south wall of Giant Gap

    The great canyon of the North Fork of the American River, often more than 2,000 feet deep, for miles of its length over 3,000 feet deep, and at Snow Mountain, the massive sentinel of the Royal Gorge, over 4,000 feet deep, has resisted roads and development down through the 20th century and now into the 21st century. It is one of the great refugia for wildlife left in the Northern Sierra, and is renowned for its wildness and beautiful scenery. It is this canyon and no other which, historically, was known as The American River Canyon.

    There is magic and mystery in this wildest of all canyons in the Northern Sierra, with its romantic cliffs, its many waterfalls, and the roaring, sparkling river at its heart. Artists and photographers have attempted to capture its grandeur and beauty for over one hundred and twenty years, notably, Thomas Moran and Lorenzo Latimer. There are many threats to this precious bit of wilderness; a checkerboard land ownership pattern, dating from grants of land to the Central Pacific Railroad, complicates and impedes efforts to preserve its wilderness and scenery, and residential development begins to obtrude houses like ugly vultures, perched around the canyon rim. Environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club have worked for decades to protect the North Fork American. In the middle and upper elevations the canyon lies within the boundaries of Tahoe National Forest (TNF). West of the TNF boundary, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has substantial land holdings within the canyon. In 1978, the North Fork American was designated a Wild & Scenic River. This was an important step towards protecting the North Fork, but for my part nothing less the Wilderness designation, combined with TNF and BLM  acquisition of private inholdings up and down the canyon, will suffice to ensure that this rare and really priceless treasure can be enjoyed by future generations. In the pages which follow you will find information about the geology, natural history, human prehistory and history, the trails, and environmental issues of the North Fork of the American River. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or corrections, or if you wish to be added to the North Fork Trails email list.

Thomas Moran's 1877 etching of Giant Gap; Lovers Leap on upper right

Lovers Leap, 2400 feet above the river in Green Valley

Page created January 4, 2001

Back to Russell Towle's homepage

Contact me