Chili Bar Rafting on the South Fork American 1/2-Day

Location California Adventure Level Easier to Moderate Minimum age 8 (10-12 during high water) River Rating Class III From $125
Book Now Call toll-free 1 (800) 346-6277

Short and sweet, Chili Bar rafting trips offer a half-day of wet, wild, and adventurous fun on the South Fork of the American River near Sacramento, CA.

Need a quick adventure fix? This classic California whitewater rafting trip on the upper 8-mile Chili Bar stretch of the South Fork of the American River offers several hours of rafting for novice and experienced rafters alike. You’ll maneuver through boulder gardens, dodge sneaky holes, and drop into exciting Class III rapids like Meatgrinder, Triple Threat, and Troublemaker (which definitely has the potential to live up to its name). In the calmer stretches, simply bask in the beauty of the scenic Sierra Foothills, or take the opportunity to hop off of the raft and feel the rush of swimming a “swimmer’s rapid.” 

About an hour from Sacramento, and just an hour and a half from Lake Tahoe, this quick getaway has you rafting on the American River in the morning and back in time for lunch and plenty of time to venture on to your next destination.

Trip Highlights
  • A Chili Bar rafting trip is a short & sweet add-on to any northern California vacation
  • Paddle exciting Class III rapids like Meatgrinder, Triple Threat & Troublemaker
  • Cool off in the river while swimming through splashy riffles & calm pools
  • Raft the upper South Fork American River through rolling, golden hills & rocky gorges
  • Camping, showers & restrooms available at OARS American River Outpost
A group rafting on the South Fork of the American River raises their paddles.

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What to Expect

Itinerary & Map

Itinerary at a Glance

We pride ourselves in running a relaxed and flexible schedule. Every Chili Bar rafting trip on the South Fork American is different depending upon the group, other trips on the water, and sometimes the weather. The following is a sample of what your trip might be like:

  • Meet at the OARS American River Outpost the morning of your trip. Once everyone checks in with the trip leader, your guides will deliver an orientation and safety talk and fit you with your helmet and PFD (wetsuits and splash tops are also included on all early-season and cold-weather trips). Then, we’ll hop in a shuttle for a quick, 25-minute drive upstream to the Chili Bar put-in.
  • Meatgrinder Rapid is the exciting initiation to the splashy, big-water fun on the upper section of the South Fork. As beautiful river scenes stretch out around us with redtail hawks soaring overhead and the occasional river otter swimming near shore, exciting rapids like Racehorse Bend, Maya, and Triple Threat await us further downstream
  • After a short section of Class I-II whitewater, we find ourselves at the notorious Troublemaker Rapid. This solid, Class III rapid packs an exhilarating ride and can offer up plenty of surprises. Be sure to smile as we make our way through this rapid as there are often onlookers watching from the shore and usually a photographer waiting to capture the action.
  • As we float by the historic town of Coloma and the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where gold was originally discovered in 1848, the trip begins to wind down—but not without a few more stories from your personable and knowledgeable guide.
  • Once we return to the Outpost, we encourage you to stick around for a while. Explore our nature trails, play campground games, or just savor your time along the river. 

Meeting Time & Place

Location

OARS American River Outpost, Lotus, CA

Meeting time

9 AM

Return

12 – 1 PM, depending on water levels

Trip Map

A couple sets up a tent together

Camp With Us!

Limited camping for rafters is available before and/or after your trip at the OARS American River Outpost in Lotus. All nights of camping are $15 per person/night. Advance reservations are required. Please ask an Adventure Consultant about the details of staying at our beautiful riverside camp.

Campground Amenities

Located on twelve gorgeous acres, stretching over a third of a mile on the riverfront, the OARS campground offers modern shower and bathroom facilities, a small store (cash currently not accepted; cards and electronic payments only), beach and river access, camp games, and free WiFi. All within a few minutes walk of Sierra Rizing Bakery & Coffee House and a handful of other local restaurants.

Don’t have your own gear? Rental options include:

  • 2-Person Pre-set Platform Tent (with 2 comfy twin beds, all bedding, and a private deck with two chairs): $129/night (includes camping fee)
  • Sleep Kit (sleeping bag, pad, pillow & sheet): $25 per person
  • 2-Person Tent: $30
  • 4-Person Family Tent: $50

Please note that camping reservations must be made in advance of arrival and guests may check-in between 3:30 and 8 PM. Payments for platform tents at the American River Outpost are refundable if canceled at least 7 calendar days prior to scheduled arrival; cancellations made 6 days or less prior to scheduled arrival are non-refundable.

A group of ecstatic paddlers in a yellow raft smile for the camera as they enter a rapid on the South Fork American River.

Dates & Prices

Late March – Labor Day: Thursday – Tuesday
September: Thursday – Sunday

2024 Prices
Standard Value$135
Youth Value$125
Standard Rate*$155
Youth Rate*$145

*Applicable Saturdays June 15 – August 17

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See below for more ways to save!

ADDITIONAL COSTS:

• $8 per person federal, state, and local access fees

Ways to Save

To book with one of our special offers, call 1-800-346-6277 or contact us today.

Book Two People

Book 2 people on any 1- or 2-day full-price American River rafting trip and get a tent rental & two sleep kits free!

Teachers Raft for Free!

Teachers raft for free on 1/2- and 1-day trips all season long with one or more full-paying guests.

The Need-to-Know Info

Trip Details

Included in Your Trip Cost

  • Skilled, professional guide service
  • High-quality inflatable rafts and related river equipment including paddle, helmet, personal flotation device, and wetsuits and splash tops (included on early and late season trips, cold weather trips, and by advance request) 
  • Transfer to the river put-in from our campground

Not Included in Your Trip Cost

  • Transportation to and from our meeting location at our American River Outpost
  • Pre- and post-trip accommodations and meals
  • River access fees
  • Sleep kits or tents, if you are staying overnight with us (available for rent)
  • Insurance of any kind, including a travel protection plan
  • Wetsuit booties or shoes of any kind
  • Gratuities
Six excited young guests hold on to their paddles as their guide paddles them through a rapid.

The number and variety of boats on an OARS trip will vary based on water levels, the number of participants, and other factors we take into account when planning your adventure. Please be aware that in doing so we will ask you to share boat time with your fellow travelers. We don’t assign boats, nor can we guarantee exactly which crafts we bring, but trust us to provide you with the best possible mix for you and others on your trip. 

Learn more about the OARS Fleet and the boats that may be a part of your experience: Paddle raft, paddle raft with oar assist

Smiling guides prepare a deli spread for lunch on the Middle Fork American river.

Half-day Chili Bar rafting trips on the South Fork of the American River do not include any meals. A light snack such as trail mix or a granola bar will be available, but you should eat a filling breakfast before your trip. 

Groups of 8 or more who are camping with us the night before your trip can opt-in to a guide-prepared breakfast in camp for an additional fee.

After your trip, there are several convenient lunch options available within walking distance or a short drive from the OARS American River Outpost.

Average Air & Water Temperatures

Air (Day) °FAir (Night) °FWater °F
April66-7044-4858
May74-7850-5460
June83-8756-6066
July90-9462-6668
Aug89-9361-6567
Sept83-8757-6166

Whitewater

A yellow raft crashes through a rapid and the paddlers are getting soaked by wave spray.

The South Fork’s exciting Class III whitewater is near-perfect fun for the whole family and groups! The water on the South Fork is released during summer months from hydroelectric facilities located upstream. Such water releases are not subject to the control of El Dorado County or commercial rafting companies.

Before booking your trip with OARS, there are a few important considerations we’d like you to know about.

  • Physical Requirements: Your outdoor adventure will be an active participatory trip. Please inform us of any physical limitations you may have as soon as possible. If you exceed 260 pounds, please give us a call. Make sure you are exercising frequently in the months leading up to your trip and can meet our Essential Eligibility Criteria.
  • Trip Forms: Each participant will need to complete the required trip forms online and submit them no later than 30 days prior to your trip, or immediately if booking within 30 days.

Reservations and Payments

Full payment is required at the time of booking.

Payments can be made by check, money order, eCheck, wire transfer, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover. Prices are in US Dollars, and all payments must be made in US Dollars. Payment of the deposit establishes your acceptance of our complete Terms and Conditions. Individual departures and trip capacity are strictly limited by the managing agency. Your payment is fully refundable for 48 hours, less a 3% processing fee, after making a reservation when you reserve a trip 7 days or more prior to departure.

Cancellations and Refunds

Canceling your trip after your deposit is processed will incur cancellation fees because OARS has absorbed costs on your behalf and will turn others away who would like to book the spaces we’re holding for you. If you must cancel your reservation after the rescission period described above, your cancellation fee will be determined according to the schedule below.

Payments for platform tents at the American River Outpost and cabin tents at EarthTrek are refundable if canceled at least 7 calendar days prior to scheduled arrival; cancellations made 6 days or less prior to scheduled arrival are non-refundable.

We regret that we cannot make exceptions to the cancellation policy for any reason, including foul weather, poor air quality, wildfire activity, acts of terrorism, civil unrest, or personal emergencies. For these reasons, we strongly urge you to consider purchasing a travel protection plan.

Date of CancellationCancellation Fee
30 or more days before your trip$15/person
29 – 3 days before your trip$15/person. The remainder of your trip payment can be transferred to another trip within the same year (or to a credit account for the following year). No refund.
2 days or less before your trip50% of the trip cost can be credited to another trip (within the same year). No refund.
Late arrivals or “no-shows”No refund or credit

Please note that different deposit/cancellation policies may apply for charter groups. Refer to the group organizer’s confirmation email for details.

Canceled Trips

OARS reserves the right to cancel any trip due to insufficient registration or other factors that make the trip impractical to operate. In such instances, we will inform you at least 7 days prior to departure. Do not make non-refundable travel arrangements until you have verified with OARS that your trip is confirmed. 

If a trip must be canceled or postponed due to force majeure (factors outside the control of OARS), OARS will provide full credit for payments made toward future travel, or a refund less a $30/person service fee and any non-refundable payments made on your behalf to 3rd-party suppliers. OARS will make good faith efforts to recover deposits made on your behalf to 3rd-party suppliers; however, we cannot guarantee recovery of any or all of the advance payments made. OARS is not responsible for expenses incurred by participants in preparation for a canceled trip.

Transfers

If you need to move your reservation to a different trip during the same year, or to a credit account for the following year, there is a $15/person fee up until 3 days prior to departure for a one-time transfer of your payment. If we are 2 days or less prior to your trip departure, 50% of your trip cost can be credited to another trip, within the same year only.

O.A.R.S. West, Inc. is a permitted outfitter of El Dorado County & the California Department of Parks and Recreation Gold Fields District.

Ancestral Lands Acknowledgement

We respect and recognize that many of the river canyons on state and federal lands where we operate are the ancestral homes of indigenous communities. Where we operate on the South Fork of the American River between Chili Bar and Salmon Falls Bridge, we acknowledge the territories of the Nisenan.

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