When you need a quick adventure fix away from it all, a 2-day whitewater rafting trip on the Middle Fork American River is the perfect antidote.
This iconic California rafting trip is probably best known for its thrilling highlight—Tunnel Chute. In 1889, in search of gold buried beneath the American River, miners blasted a tunnel through the side of a cliff to divert the water, creating what is today a long, tumultuous rapid that concludes by taking paddlers through a 90-foot tunnel before whisking them out on the other side. On our two-day trips, exhilarating whitewater and scenic calm stretches of flatwater combined with stress-free camping make for an unforgettable overnight getaway in the remote and wild American River Canyon. Just a short drive from the bustle of San Francisco and Sacramento, this is a must-do California whitewater rafting adventure.
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What to Expect
Itinerary & Map
Itinerary at a Glance
We pride ourselves in running a relaxed and flexible schedule. Every whitewater rafting Middle Fork American River overnight trip is different depending upon the group, other trips on the water, camp locations, and sometimes the weather. The following is a sample of what your trip might be like:
Check in with your trip leader at the OARS American River Outpost. Once everyone has arrived, we will take an hour shuttle ride to our Middle Fork American River put-in at Oxbow. Here, 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’re off!
Not a minute from our launch point, we encounter our first blast of whitewater. Aptly named Good Morning, this big-wave Class III rapid will get our blood flowing and hearts pumping. The next mile and a half delivers several Class II-III rapids in quick succession, giving us a chance to sharpen our paddling skills for the mother rapid of the Middle Fork: Tunnel Chute!
We hear the ominous roar as we approach Last Chance, a thrilling Class III drop, that positions us for entry into Tunnel Chute–a long, growling stretch of whitewater that paws us back and forth through its frothing channel, down through the famous subterranean stretch of river. (Some guests and groups of guests may be asked by the guides to walk around Tunnel Chute.) One hundred yards later, we float back into the sunlight, our hearts still pounding with laughter and cheers.
For the next few miles, we happily negotiate more adrenaline-pumping Class II-IV rapids with highlights like Cathedral and Kanaka Falls. Following our plummet through Kanaka, the river changes considerably, meandering over several miles of calm water. We’re now in the heart of Auburn State Recreation Area in the American River Canyon, where steep walls covered in pine forests plunge down into the boulder-strewn river. Springtime rafting offers green hills blanketed with colorful wildflowers; later in the season, the hills turn a golden yellow that contrasts sharply with the green woods that cover them.
Lunchtime comes and we pull off the water for a delicious picnic. Knowing that a morning of hard paddling inspires a very hearty appetite, we make sure our lunches are always abundant and satisfying. After feasting and relaxing on the beach, our downriver journey toward camp resumes. On our way downstream, we may stop for a hike at Dardanelles Creek. This is a manageable hike for most, up a slot canyon creek, that dead ends at a “shower room” type waterfall.
At the end of the afternoon, we’ll pull over for camp. Your guides will set up the kitchen and begin preparing a delicious dinner. Here at camp, there will be time to set up your individual site, get to know each other, fish, swim, play, or sample the delectable hors d’oeuvres your guides have prepared. Dessert, stargazing, and perhaps a tall tale or two follow the evening meal.
The next morning, we’ll rise amidst the wonderful smells of coffee and breakfast. We’ll have time to repack our gear and get ready for another exciting day on the river.
Back in our boats, we’ll finish paddling through the calm-water section and down to the gear/luggage takeout. Here the overnight camp gear and dry bags will be offloaded before we paddle through another fun stretch of steep and continuous whitewater action.
Before lunch, you will be given the option to participate in another side hike up Canyon Creek. This hike is a bit longer and more adventurous than the first day’s hike and includes beautiful scenery and even pools for swimming. After another delicious lunch, the afternoon whitewater begins.
An intense Class IV drop, Chunder, provides thrills and chills before we get out of the boats and scramble around the roaring, 30-foot waterfall, Ruck-A-Chucky Falls. As we negotiate the rugged path around the side of the pounding falls, you can look back up to watch your guides maneuver the rafts down this spectacular stretch of whitewater. Back on the river, we finish our day with another mile and a half of exhilarating whitewater rapids with names like Parallel Parking, Texas Chainsaw Mama, and Final Exam.
As we reach the take-out, an OARS shuttle will be waiting to return us to the OARS American River Outpost. Feel free to spend the night with us again before heading back home.
Meeting Time & Place
OARS AMERICAN RIVER OUTPOST
7330 River Park Drive, Lotus, CA 95651
Adjacent to where Hwy 49 crosses the river, behind Hotshot Imaging and the River Park shopping center.
View our American River Outpost driving directions.
7:30 AM on Day 1
Approximately 4 – 5 PM on Day 2
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.
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:
- Sleep Kit (sleeping bag, pad, pillow & sheet): $25 per person
- 2-Person Tent: $30
- 4-Person Family Tent: $50
- 2-Person Pre-set Platform Tent (with 2 comfy twin beds, all bedding, and a private deck with two chairs): $99/night + $15/person/night camping fee
Please note that camping reservations must be made in advance of arrival and guests may check-in between 3:30 and 8 PM. Platform tents are refundable if canceled at least two calendar days prior to scheduled arrival; cancellations within 48 hours of scheduled arrival will be non-refundable.
Dates & Prices
|July 12, 26||$469|
|August 9, 23||$469|
Full payment is required at the time of booking.
• $16 per person federal, state, and local access fees
• Wetsuits included/required on early season and cold weather days
The Need-to-Know Info
Included in Your Trip Cost
Not Included in Your Trip Cost
- Transportation to the meeting place and back
- River access fees
- Pre- and post-trip accommodations and meals
- Insurance of any kind, including a travel protection plan
- Alcoholic beverages (you’re welcome to BYOB in non-glass containers)
- Tents & sleep kits (available to rent from OARS)
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.
For Middle Fork American River rafting trips, please be aware that in the interest of safety for both guides and guests, we can only take 6 guests in each raft. We try very hard to not split groups, but sometimes, based on how different group sizes match up, it is simply unavoidable and we may ask you to share boat time with your fellow travelers. We thank you in advance for your understanding.
Learn more about the OARS Fleet and the boats that may be a part of your experience: Paddle raft
After an active day on the river, we pull ashore to camp for the night. Our first task is to unload the boats using a fire-line of crew and passengers to expedite the process. Individuals then collect their waterproof bags and locate an area on the beach to camp for the night.
While you put up your tent, the guides will set up the kitchen and central dining/seating area with camp chairs. They will also locate a secluded area away from camp to set up the portable toilet, where privacy is assured.
As guides prepare dinner, hors d’oeuvres are served. This is an opportunity to relax, enjoy a drink if you wish, and reflect on the day with your fellow traveling companions.
In the morning, the first wake-up call lets you know that coffee, hot water for tea or cocoa, juice, fresh fruit, and cold cereal are ready. You can fill your mug and grab a bite, then begin to pack up your personal belongings and sleep gear as the guides prepare breakfast. After breakfast, the entire camp is broken down and packed up. Once the guides have all of the gear loaded back onto the boats, we’ll head downstream to see what new adventures await us.
More info about Meals & Dietary Restrictions can be found on our Trip Resources page.
Average Air & Water Temperatures
|Air (Day) °F||Air (Night) °F||Water °F|
The Middle Fork of the American River offers a beautiful, boulder-strewn stretch of Class III-IV whitewater interspersed with scenic calm stretches.
Water on the Middle Fork of the American River is released during the summer months from hydroelectric facilities located upstream, which typically provides reliable flows for rafting several days per week throughout the commercial rafting season from Memorial Day through September. Such water releases are not subject to the control of El Dorado County or commercial rafting companies. It is important for our guests to understand that the water flow on the American is directly related to the demand for hydropower.
Before booking your trip with OARS, there are a few important considerations we’d like you to know about.
Full payment is required at the time of booking. Payments may be made by check, money order, or Visa/Mastercard (American Express and Discover incur a 3% processing fee). 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.
Canceling your trip after your deposit has been 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.
Cancellations and Refunds
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.
If you must cancel your reservation after the rescission period described above, your cancellation fee will be determined according to the schedule below. We regret 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. There is no refund for arriving late or leaving a trip early. For these reasons, we strongly urge you to consider purchasing a travel protection plan.
|Date of Cancellation||Cancellation Fee|
|30 or more days before your trip||$15 per person|
|29 – 7 days before your trip||Payment can be transferred to another trip within the same year (or to a credit account for the following year) for $30/person transfer fee. No refund.|
|6 days or less before your trip||50% of the trip cost can be credited to another trip (within the same year)|
|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.
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 before departure. Do not make nonrefundable travel arrangements unless you have spoken to your Adventure Consultant regarding the status of your trip.
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 5% service fee plus any nonrefundable 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 can’t 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.
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 30 days prior to departure for a one-time transfer of your payment. If we are 29-7 days prior to your trip departure, there is a $30/person fee to transfer to another trip, within the same year only. Transfer requests made 6 days or less prior to departure, 50% of your trip cost can be credited to another trip, within the same year only. Transfer requests made the day of departure will be treated like a cancellation according to the schedule above.
O.A.R.S. West, Inc. is a permitted outfitter of 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 Middle Fork of the American River between Oxbow Reservoir and Greenwood Bridge, we acknowledge the territories of the Nisenan.
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