Combine a thrilling Middle Fork American River trip with a splashy, fun South Fork American River Chili Bar rafting trip for a 2-day California rafting adventure in the heart of scenic Gold Country.
This exciting adventure starts off with a bang on the Class IV Middle Fork American River—best known for its notorious Tunnel Chute Rapid, which blasts paddlers 25 feet down a man-made chute before it flows through a 90-foot tunnel. But rest assured that’s not the only highlight on this top California whitewater rafting adventure.
On the South Fork American River, you’ll tackle the guide-favorite Chili Bar section where splashy good times are guaranteed. The whitewater on this stretch of river offers big waves and bouncy drops in memorable rapids like Meatgrinder, Triple Threat, and Troublemaker.
In between rafting trips, stay the night at our riverside campground and enjoy a hot shower, camp games, and a night of catered camping so you can kick back with your crew. Best for intermediate and experienced paddlers, this is a trip that has the perfect balance of adrenaline-inducing rapids and calmer, scenic stretches of water that are ideal for swimming, and just enjoying time outdoors, laughing with family and friends.
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What to Expect
Itinerary & Map
Itinerary at a Glance
We pride ourselves in running a relaxed and flexible schedule. Every Middle Fork & South Fork American River Chili Bar combo trip 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:
Once everyone in the group has checked in at OARS American River Outpost, we will take a 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, PFD, and wetsuits and splash tops as needed. Then, we’re off!
Our morning brings several Class II-III rapids in quick succession, including aptly-named Good Morning, just moments after we launch. Then, the ominous roar of Tunnel Chute is the presage we hear before the river rushes downward 25 feet through a man-made chute and then into a 90-foot tunnel blasted through the canyon wall. (Some guests and groups of guests may be asked by the guides to walk around Tunnel Chute.)
The thrilling action continues with big, steep rapids like Cathedral and Kanaka Falls. Then the river changes considerably, meandering over several miles of calm water and allowing us the opportunity to rest while gazing at the beautiful scenery in the heart of Auburn State Recreation Area. Come lunchtime, we’ll pull over to a beach for a delicious picnic prepared by your guides.
Back on the rafts, we prepare for another stretch of continuous whitewater action. 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 dramatic stretch of whitewater. Our day concludes with another mile and a half of great whitewater and rapids.
As we reach our take-out point, an OARS shuttle will be waiting to give us a ride back to the OARS American River Outpost. Back in camp, you are welcome to take a swim or a hot shower, join a game of horseshoes, or sit back and relax with a beverage as your guides prepare dinner. The evening is yours to unwind however you wish.
The next morning, following a hot breakfast, 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 day two of 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.
After floating by the historic town of Coloma and the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where gold was originally discovered in 1848, your trip begins to wind down—but not without a few more stories from your personable and knowledgeable guide.
Enjoy another picnic lunch, relax, and go for a dip one last time before arriving back at our campground by mid-afternoon. Our peaceful hideaway is surrounded by plenty of Gold Rush history, recreational opportunities, and cultural activities. Enjoy a relaxing afternoon and evening in camp or hit the road with plenty of time to get home before dark or on to your next adventure.
Meeting Time & Place
OARS AMERICAN RIVER OUTPOST
GPS Coordinates: 38.806327, -120.903538
7 AM on Day 1
Approximately 2 PM on Day 2, depending on water levels
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
Memorial Day – September: Wednesdays & Fridays
Full payment is required at the time of booking.
• $8 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 and from our meeting location at our American River Outpost
- River access fees
- Pre- and post-trip accommodations and meals
- Wetsuit booties or shoes of any kind
- Insurance of any kind, including a travel protection plan
- Tents and 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, paddle raft with oar assist
Our 2-day Middle Fork & South Fork American River Combo trips include all meals from lunch on Day 1 through lunch on Day 2. Please let us know if you have any dietary needs that we’ll need to consider in planning your trip.
- Breakfast – Our hot breakfasts typically feature classic options like pancakes, french toast, breakfast sandwiches, or burritos with all the fixings. Bacon or sausage, fruit, as well as cereal, yogurt, and granola are also typically provided along with coffee and tea.
- Lunch – Picnic lunches on the river may be an abundant spread of cold cuts, cheeses, veggies, and breads for a build-your-own-masterpiece deli sandwich, or perhaps a fresh Caesar salad wrap or tasty taco salad for roll-your-own burritos. Fruit, cookies, cold water, and lemonade are also provided.
- Dinner – Our dinner menu varies depending on the size of groups and other factors but may feature anything from barbecued chicken or steak to fajitas or even Dutch oven lasagna. An appetizer, dessert, and a limited selection of beer and wine are included.
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*|
|May||74-78||50-54||60 / 55|
|June||83-87||56-60||66 / 58|
|July||90-94||62-66||68 / 61|
|August||89-93||61-65||67 / 65|
|September||83-87||57-61||66 / 64|
The Middle Fork and Chili Bar stretch of the South Fork combined offer up 24 river miles with 18 named Class III-IV rapids. Water levels sufficient for rafting on the two forks during the summer months are a result of releases 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.
Reservations and Deposits
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 payment 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). 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.
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 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 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, and 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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Adventure Level: Moderately Challenging
Minimum Age: 14 (16 during high water)
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