Kayaking / Outdoor Adventures

Take Me Back to the Carson

Kayak camping on the East Fork Carson River

The record-setting drought in California has been big news lately — at least on the west coast, where it was recently announced that Central Valley farmers will get no water this year from the federal government, and a Gold Rush ghost town hidden underwater since 1955 has resurfaced at the bottom of Folsom Lake.

Most of our rivers depend on snowpack in the Sierra, and the lack of precip this winter not only hurts the state of agribusiness in the rest of the country, it also means no fishing, mediocre skiing, and maybe kayaking (if we’re lucky) in the spring. We might get a week or two of whitewater if we watch the river flows closely, compared to the four-month window we normally get in a good season, and it’ll be a toss-up whether one of our favorite rivers will be running at all this year.

I’ve written about the East Fork Carson before on this blog, and it’s become one of my favorite summertime runs. The river crosses the California border into Nevada and I’ve paddled the 20-mile stretch between Markleeville and Gardnerville every year for the past three years. It’s astonishing to read my first trip report from 2011, where we experienced higher-than-normal snowpack and intense flows as late as July!

While last year wasn’t a particularly strong year for river rapids, we monitored the flow charts for weeks and made our way to Markleeville as soon as we saw a spike in the gauges. The Carson was at average flow in the middle of May 2013, with sunny skies in the forecast and warm breezes at our backs.

Markleeville General Store

Water fowl on the East Fork Carson River

Kayaking the East Fork Carson River

Kayaking the Carson

Paddling the East Fork Carson

Sierra whitewater

Hot spring waterfall

We pulled off at the primitive hot spring sites at the halfway point and let me tell you, that first soak after 10 miles of paddling was pure happiness.

Kayak camping on the Carson

Camp line

The East Fork Carson in spring

Pine cone ornament

Primitive hot spring on the Carson River

A riverfront soak

Soaking in the hot spring

Carson Hot Springs

Riverfront camp

Camping on the river is something special. It’s made even more special when paddling is one of the few ways to access this beautiful, tranquil pocket in the Sierra. We saw only two other people the whole weekend. All we could hear at the campsite was the sound of the river rushing past our tents… the occasional bird, the rustle of leaves, the crunch of footsteps passing through our pine-mulched campsite.

Camping by the river

Setting up camp

Riverfront accommodations

Tent in afternoon light

Setting up camp

Camp dining

End-of-day happiness

Relaxing by the river

Makeshift stove

I can almost feel the sun on my skin and smell the pine in the air when I think back to those two days we spent on the Carson. Completely free, totally unwound. Take me back, please.

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »


  • John Duston
    February 18, 2024 at 6:08 pm

    Hi Betty,

    Seems like a very cool trip. Could you please share what the water flow was (and possibly the site you tracked it with)

    Also did this seem canoeable?

    BTW I can share an itinerary for a Colorado River Canoe Trip that I like

  • Linda Ly
    February 28, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Wow, fascinating article! Thank you for sharing!

  • Beanpuff
    February 27, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    That pine scent you love may help limit climate change too! Thought you would appreciate a fun fact.

  • cheri
    February 27, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Beautiful pics, looks like a great adventure.

    • Linda Ly
      February 28, 2014 at 11:41 pm

      Thank you, and it is!


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