Above average snowfall and late spring winter storms in the Sierra are combining to make this one of the best rafting in years in the 209 as well as throughout Northern California.
OARS, based out of Angels Camp, is the go-to company for honest-to-goodness rafting on the North Fork of the Stanislaus River as well as on both the Merced and Tuolumne rivers near Yosemite National Park. They offer single to multiple day excursions. For more information go to www.oars.com.
You don’t have to go high up in the Sierra to get Class III-IV rapids as you can find them on the Stanislaus River below Goodwin Dam.
If you’re looking for something a bit more pedestrian but with more razzle thanks to this year’s abundant snowfall, all you have to do is head to Knights Ferry via Highway 120.
Sunshine Adventure Trips have been offering “float” trips for years down the Stanislaus. They’re referred to as float trips because it is mostly Class I with a touch of Class II rapids tossed in. This year early to mid-June will have elevated flows with rapids that carry more punch. The rest of the summer flows will be above normal.
April through June is prime rafting season and river rafting companies offer trips on a dozen or so rivers stretching up and down the northern two-thirds of the state. These companies have put together a diverse menu of trips that are designed to match the various skill levels and physical capabilities of the participants. There is everything from a half-day family float down a calm Class I or Class II river to extended overnight camping trips along Class V rivers where white-knuckle rapids are suitable only for the most adventurous.
The outfitters say that river rafting does not necessarily have to be a physical challenge, although the higher class rivers require more strength and endurance. Age really isn’t a factor either, as people in their 60s routinely raft Class IV’s and above. According to outfitter Lorraine Hall of Tributary Whitewater Tours, the most important requirement is the right attitude:
“You don’t have to be in hugely great shape,” Hall explained. “It’s mental attitude. Some people have a definite fear of the water and some do not. An adventurous spirit will make up for not the greatest of physical capabilities.”
Generally, families with children are encouraged to choose Class I and II rivers such as the Lower Middle Fork of the American River, or Class III rivers such as the South Fork of the American, which happens to be the most popular whitewater river in the state. There is a fair leap from Class III to Class IV – people rarely fall out of the boat on a Class III, while it occurs much more often on a Class IV. Of course, even if you do fall out, you’re fitted with a high-quality flotation device and guides are trained to quickly pluck you from the water.
One recommended river is the East Fork of the Carson, known as a good outing for families who will enjoy a gentle Class II float along 21 miles of wilderness. A bonus on this particular trip is the hot springs you encounter about halfway down that flows into the river. This is one of the few east-flowing rivers in California that is used for rafting.
For those seeking a few more thrills, the Class IV Yuba is a favorite with river guides and combines lush forested banks with ample whitewater. The Gold Rush is alive and well on the Yuba where you likely will float by gold miners. Nearby Downieville is still an active gold rush town.