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July 15, 1999 - Top 5s & 10s From California Boating

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1. Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe
Along with the Yosemite Valley and Oregon's Crater Lake, Lake Tahoe is one of those rare natural wonders that makes you feel something special just by looking at it. One of the premier outdoor experiences in the world is boating in Emerald Bay, which brings you right into the heart of Tahoe's incomparable scenic beauty. No matter where you go in the bay, you1ll be floating on clear, cobalt blue waters and surrounded by a mountain rim that is often topped with bright white snow. The sight is always remarkable, often breathtaking. See chapter D4, page 253.

2. Hell Hole Reservoir
Sapphire-blue water fills this lake, which is set at the bottom of a massive granite gorge. When viewed from an airplane, Hell Hole Reservoir resembles a mountain temple. Close up, it is just as sacred. The lake is set at an elevation of only 4,700 feet, but the surrounding walls and mountain country rise steep and high above the shore. The water is pure, and is fed by the most remote stretches of the pristine Rubicon River. See chapter D3, page 235.

3. Upper Kings River
For the most part, this stretch of the river has been left untouched by humankind. It is extremely difficult and dangerous for rafters, and even experts rarely attempt to run it. Getting to the put-in requires a long, steep hike, and you must carry in your gear and your boat. Still with us? The first three miles are Class IV-V, with several possible portages. After that it's Class V+ all the way, with many portages, huge drops, and "brick-shitting rapids" (quote courtesy of a humbled river guide named Mike). The reward is unequaled wilderness scenery, including a spectacular view of the 4-tiered, 640-foot Garlic Falls (on the right at mile 5). See chapter F4, page 389.

4. Donner Lake
The first glimpse of Donner Lake is always a stirring one, and many vacationers cruising past on Interstate 80 stop to look at the sparkling blue waters. The remarkable beauty evokes a heartfelt response in all who witness it. Was it good for you, too? This is a big, oblong lake, 3 miles long, three-quarters of a mile wide, with 7.5 miles of shoreline, and is set near the Sierra crest at an elevation of 5,900 feet. See chapter D4, page 251.

5. Sardine Lakes
Sometimes there just is no substitute for spectacular natural beauty. That is why no visit to the Plumas area is complete without a trip to the Sardine Lakes. Among the prettiest drive-to lakes in California, they are set in a rock bowl and are always full of fresh water thanks to the melting snow. The Sierra Buttes tower above. See chapter C3, page 176.

6. Smith River
Undammed and unbridled, the Smith River is the crown jewel of the nation's streams, a fountain of pure, emerald-green water that runs free through granite canyons. When you first see the Smith, you will probably exclaim: "Look how beautiful the water is!" Even after heavy winter rains, which can turn most rivers into brown muck, the Smith is usually pretty and clear. The river1s hard granite base and the large volume of water drained from a huge mountain acreage give the river a unique ability to cleanse itself. See chapter AØ, page 51.

7. Channel Islands
Venturing out to any of the Channel Islands is one of the greatest boating odysseys in North America. This extraordinary habitat is surrounded by pristine, clear waters, with hardly anyone around for miles and miles...well, at least 20 miles. These islands are the perfect setting for hiking, swimming, snorkeling, and camping. And with the remarkable sea caves here, there is no better place to kayak, even for people who have never tried it. See chapter I3, page 447.

8. Convict Lake
People who love untouched, natural beauty can practice their religion at this mountain shrine. The lake is framed by a back wall of wilderness mountain peaks and is fronted by a shoreline dotted with giant rocks and a few scattered pines. Although it is set at 7,583 feet and bordered by the John Muir Wilderness to the west, it is easily accessed off U.S. 395 to the east. See chapter E5, page 355.

9. Forks of the Kern River
This rafting run bears a Class V rating, one notch below a Class VI (which is certain death). It is known for many things: one heart-pumping rapid after another, a beautiful canyon setting, and extremely difficult access. The run is 17 miles long, most of it amid complete wilderness, and all of it on clear, icy water that is fed largely by Mount Whitney snowmelt from May through July. Right off the bat, you hit Class V water, a section of the river that is considered a world-class rafting run because of its series of sensational miniature falls. See chapter G5, page 413.

10. Monterey Bay
Monterey Bay is among the world's prettiest places. Even the water has a special look...more of a deeper blue-green than the murky green waters to the north and south. The water is often calmer and warmer than at points north, and it can lap at the sandy beaches. Big Sur to the south and its spectacular deep-cut canyons and rocky outcrops make this stretch of coast stand apart from all the others. See chapter F1, page 365.

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