Wild and Scenic Rivers

A blue river winds through a steep, tree-lined canyon
Trinity Wild and Scenic River

Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management

Rivers in our National Wild and Scenic Rivers System capture the essence of all waterways that surge, ramble, gush, wander, and weave through our country.

Fifty years ago, Congress created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition.

Southeast of Lassen Volcanic flows one of eight original Wild and Scenic Rivers designated by the Act. Seventy-seven miles of the Middle Fork of the Feather River flows freely through open mountain meadows and steep, rugged canyons before rushing into Lake Oroville, the second largest reservoir in California. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act helps balance the preservation of sections of free-flowing river with the crucial need for hydropower generation and water storage.

Lake Oroville is one of 20 dams and reservoirs in one of the nation's major water conservation developments. The Central Valley Project in California generates electric power, supplies domestic and industrial water, conserves fish and wildlife, and creates opportunities for recreation.

Also included in the Central Valley Project is Lewiston Lake, located just above nearby Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Into it flows the more recently designated Trinity Wild and Scenic River (1981). The 203-mile Wild and Scenic section includes narrow valleys enjoyed by paddlers as well as a clear, cold section legendary for fly fishing.

Wild and Scenic designations comprise one percent of river miles in California and one fourth of one percent nationwide. By comparison, about 17 percent of American rivers have been modified by dams. Fifty years after its enactment, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act remains an important tool in balancing our growing demand for water management and the free-flowing character of our rivers.

Last updated: April 30, 2018