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Alameda Creek

*Sunol to Niles through Niles Canyon*

Alameda Creek drains all of the Livermore Valley creeks including Arroyo Valley, Arroyo Mocho, and Arroyo Hondo.  Arroyo Hondo is impounded by Calaveras Reservoir, and Arroyo del Valle by Del Valle reservoir,  so the flows on Alameda Creek do not fluctuate as wildly as might be expected.  Nonetheless this large drainage for a small creek can generate big flows during heavy rains.  After heavy rainfall early in the season the two reservoirs are drawn down, and this can produce runnable flows for a week or so after a heavy rainstorm.

Alameda Creek got a bit of a bum rap from Dick Schwind's West Coast River Touring guide.  Typical of Schwind, he ran it at 65cfs, probably too early in the season, and encountered a lot of brush.  He recommends mounting a gasoline powered brush cutter on the front of the boat as the optimum means of running the creek.  This admonition scared off most boaters for years, but in fact Alameda Creek can be quite enjoyable at reasonable flows.  But let's be honest - the major plus for this creek is that it is close by, and can be run in an extended lunch break from Silicon Valley.

The interesting part of the creek is the section through Niles Canyon.  Here the creek drops about 120 feet in 4 miles, producing some pleasant class 2+ rapids.  Despite the fact that the creek shares the canyon with the railroad and Highway 84 (a significant commute corridor), the scenery is typical of many coastal creeks, and neither the highway nor the railroad is intrusive.  In addition to the rapids, there are three small dams - one near the beginning and two near the end of the run.  The second dam Alameda Creek, Dam #2  is about 1 mile above the take-out, while the third dam Alameda Creek, Dam #3  is about half a mile above the take-out.  Both these photos were taken at 1500cfs.  When we ran the third dam at 3,000 cfs, there was a good line down the fishladder, which can be seen in a low water photo of the dam Alameda Creek, Dam #3  All of the dams are runnable at all flows, however the optimum place to run the dams varies with the flows, and at higher flows there are parts of the dams that may produce dangerous keepers.  As with all coastal creeks, the most significant hazard can be brush Alameda Creek, Brush  and log jams which can form after any rainstorm.

At the minimum flow of 200 cfs, the creek will offer a pleasant but not challenging series of riffles and small rapids, with maneuvering required to avoid rocks and brush, and it will be possible to slide down the faces of the dams.  At higher flows there will be some boisterous waves, some adroit brush dodging, and careful selection of sneak routes on the dams. 

There is really no upper limit on flows.  At higher flows, more and more channels open up, and the brush is submerged.  Obviously, waves will be bigger and rescue difficult.  When the flow is high Niles Canyon Road will be closed by flooding, and the longer shuttle and alternate put-in on Arroyo de la Laguna is required.  On my last run at 3000-4000cfs, Niles Canyon Road was closed, and we found the alternate put-in.  While we investigated the put-in the Sheriff pulled up and said through his megaphone: "Don't even think about it!" and left.  We decided that we weren't really thinking about it because we had already made up our minds.  We retreated to a side road, got dressed and the boats ready, then roared up to the put-in, skidded to a stop, and jumped in the creek.  We were rewarded by a gentle two-mile float through farmland before entering Niles Canyon.

Take-out - Go east on Niles Canyon Road (Hwy 84) a hundred yards past Foothill Blvd (Hwy-238) to the bridge at Old Canyon Road.  Turn right, cross the bridge, and park at the "Alameda Creek Regional Trail - Niles Staging Area", which looks like it was built for a river takeout.

Put-in - From the take-out, go east on Niles Canyon Road 4 to 5 miles.  On the left there is an old railroad museum, and on the right there is a large dirt turnout and picnic area.  This is the put-in (if you get to Sunol, you've gone too far).

Alternate put-in - Continue on Niles Canyon road to Sunol.  Turn left on Pleasonton-Sunol road, which parallels Highway 680.  Proceed about a mile and a half to Verona Road, which crosses the creek on a bridge closed to automobile traffic.  The name of this creek is Arroyo de la Laguna, so you get to bag two creeks in one run.  Alameda Creek enters just downstream of Sunol.

Alternate Shuttle - If Niles Canyon Road is closed due to flooding, take Mission Blvd south from the takeout.  Take I-680 to Niles Canyon road (Hwy-84) and go west on 84 to Sunol.

Bonus - There is a first descent up for grabs if you want to put in on Alameda Creek on the South side of 680.

Booby Prize - Continue on Alameda Creek through the flood control channel below Mission Blvd all the way to the Bay, then paddle 3 miles south and takeout on the west end of the Dumbarten (a.k.a. Dumb and Smart) Bridge.

Narrative and photos all copyright 2003 and 2005.  Contact Walt Garms.  This page was last updated March 17, 2005.