The Eel River is one of the few long overnight rafting trips in California. The river is fed by rainfall, and is best run in the spring after a particularly snowy winter. Memorial Day weekend is also a popular time of year to make this trip, and by then, water levels have dropped considerably and the river has likely turned from a muddy brown to a clear blue-green with temperatures that make swimming a refreshing pleasure.
Most boaters run the four-day section from Dos Rios to Alderpoint. There is an even easier take out six miles further down at Fort Seward. There are many tributaries and creeks that flow into the Eel for most of the way down, and four days allows plenty of time to explore them all.
The old train tracks of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad run along side the river, but have been shut down since 1998. While the tracks and railroad debris occasionally detract from the pristine scenery, the tracks allow a way out of the river in case of an emergency.
This trip has great camping with wide, sandy beaches, and there are many great hikes up the side canyons to look forward to. Boaters can easily tack on more miles to this run by taking out later in the journey or adding the Middle Fork of the Eel to the trip for a 77-mile wilderness float.
The rapids on the Eel fluctuate radically depending on river levels and flows. Generally boaters can count on manageable Class IIIs, but if the CFS happens to reach 100,000 due to a big storm, many rapids turn into Class IV.