Take a wet and mild raft trip down Baduwa’t (the Mad River)


ROLLING ON THE RIVER The author takes a relaxing cruise down Baduwa’t (the Mad River). Moonlight Macumber | Union


Ray Olson
Mad River Union

BADUWA’T – Looking for a fun, free, and frolicking outdoor experience this summer? How about a family-oriented (and wet!) adventure? 

Well, search no farther than our own Humboldt County backyard, where you can enjoy an accessible, easy, one-hour, one mile rafting trip between two parks along the Mad River!

Well, actually, it’s more of a floating trip... sprinkled with colorful moments of “slogging- through-the-shallow-water-while-dragging-along-your-raft.” Regardless, this excursion is a great opportunity to create delightful memories while being immersed in nature.

The raft/float/slog trip begins at the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District Park 4, at the end of Warren Creek Road, (off of West End Road), around 2 miles east of Arcata. After launching your raft(s) at Park 4, you will drift downstream for about an hour, for approximately one mile. After reaching your destination at Park 1, the return trip to Park 4 is a fairly easy 0.8 mile walk along West End Road and Warren Creek Road.

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If a 0.8 mile walk while carrying a deflated raft sounds overly daunting, both parks have free, day-use parking. This is convenient if you prefer to utilize an additional vehicle to help shuttle between the parks.

The float downstream is scenic and relaxing. But be forewarned: as the summer progresses, and the river gets lower, this will translate into the necessity of frequently getting out and dragging the raft through shallow stretches.

Before departing on your adventure, you may want to research current health advisories regarding blue-green algae that may be encountered during the summer’s low flow conditions (Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services: humboldtgov.org). 

The California Division of Boating and Waterways provides helpful water safety tips and regulations at dbw.ca.gov.

The Mad River reaches its lowest flow sometime in August or September, and its peak flow in January or February. This beloved river is about 100 miles long, beginning in the Trinity Mountains at around a 6,000 foot elevation. The entire river is mostly free-flowing, except for one dam (Matthews Dam), which creates the reservoir, Ruth Lake.

Built in 1962, the R.W. Matthews Dam is located about one-third of the way from the river’s headwaters (about 33 miles). From the dam, it is about 55 miles downstream to Park 4. After flowing down the one mile between the two parks, the river continues to travel downstream an additional 5 to 6 miles into the Mad River Estuary and finally the Pacific Ocean.

Baduwa’t (the Mad River’s original name in the Wiyot language) is a vital source of life for a variety of fish, animals and plants that rely on its year-round flow. It is also a vital life source for us humans who live in Northern Humboldt County, as it provides water for  residents, businesses and industries in the greater Humboldt Bay area, including Arcata and McKinleyville.

The water collection system is managed by the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District. The water is collected from pumps (called Ranney collectors) located in the Mad River, mostly around the vicinities of Parks 1 and 4. (For more information, visit hbmwd.com.)

To enjoy a short, 10 minute video that reinforces the information in this article, feel free to check out “Mad River Rafting Trip” found on Humboldt Outdoors, which is available on YouTube, Facebook and Access Humboldt (accesshumboldt.net). Humboldt Outdoors is a non-monetized, independently produced video series featuring Northern Humboldt County’s premiere public outdoor areas.

Here’s hoping that your summer provides plenty of opportunities to spend more time in Humboldt, outdoors!

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED The satisying end to an adventure on the river. Moonlight Macumber | Union


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