North Fork American River Rafting

Location California Adventure Level Challenging Minimum age 14 (16 during high water) River Rating Class IV+ From $169
Book Now Call toll-free 1 (800) 346-6277

The most challenging stretch of the American River promises plenty of adrenaline-inspiring Class IV thrills and non-stop whitewater, followed by a stretch of more moderate Class II-III rapids.

The Wild & Scenic North Fork of the American River near Sacramento, CA provides an extraordinary California whitewater rafting experience. The North Fork of the American is the most challenging fork of the American River, and right out of the gate delivers rapid after rapid of white-knuckling Class IV whitewater. Intricate boulder gardens, rushing falls, and staircase drops promise intense paddling and plenty of adrenaline-inspiring thrills through this scenic canyon. Towering 2,000-foot cliffs with blankets of green grass and colorful wildflowers amidst black oak and pine forests provide a spectacular backdrop, especially during a final stretch of more moderate rapids. This trip is an easy jaunt from Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, or the Bay Area and is well worth the journey for both exhilarating whitewater and classic California wilderness scenery.

Trip Highlights
  • 10 miles of North Fork American River rafting in the beautiful California foothills
  • Raft Chamberlain Falls with a crashing 8-foot drop to get your trip started
  • Zig-Zag, Achilles Heel, and Bogus Thunder Rapids provide more whitewater excitement
  • Delicious “build-your-own-masterpiece” deli-style lunch
  • Enjoy spring at its peak in the beautiful California foothills
  • Big adventure with easy access from Sacramento, San Francisco, and Tahoe
A group of guests holding paddles get down in a yellow raft as they go through a rapid on the North Fork American River.

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What to Expect

Itinerary & Map

Itinerary at a Glance

We pride ourselves in running a relaxed and flexible schedule. Every North Fork American River rafting 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:

  • The morning of your trip, you’ll meet up with your trip leader and fellow travelers in Auburn for a 40-minute shuttle ride to the river. At the put-in, 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!
  • Less than a half-mile in, the much-anticipated stretch of Class IV whitewater begins as we enter Chamberlain Falls Gorge. Slaughter’s Sluice is a lengthy series of boulder-choked rapids that leads to one of the river’s most formidable challenges: the crashing, 8-foot drop known as Chamberlain Falls. Zig-Zag, Achilles Heel, and Bogus Thunder are among the continuous steep drops and boulder slaloms we negotiate. After several miles of continuous whitewater, we near the end of the Class IV section—but not before facing Staircase, the river’s most infamous rapid and our rite of passage as conquerors of the North Fork of the American.
  • Come lunchtime, we will pull over to a beach for a delicious picnic prepared by your guides. This is the perfect opportunity to kick back and recount the day’s highlights so far.
  • Back on the water, several Class III rapids like Nose Stand and Double Dip keep us on our toes in the afternoon and we find ourselves floating through an absolutely breathtaking exhibit of the Sierra Nevada’s striking scenery. 2,000-foot canyon walls tower around us, creating an intimate gorge of polished granite, clear water, spring-green grasses, deep woods, and brightly-colored wildflowers.
  • Our river trip draws to a close at the Ponderosa Way take out where an OARS shuttle will be waiting to give us a 30-minute ride back to our vehicles.

Meeting Time & Place


Raley’s Supermarket 
13384 Lincoln Way, Auburn, CA 95603 
Look for the OARS vans and staff in the back parking lot behind Raley’s.

Meeting time

Weekdays 9 AM; Weekends vary due to launch times assigned to us by CA State Parks


Trip lasts approximately 5 hours, 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.

Dates & Prices

April – May: Daily

2024 Prices
Standard Value$179
Youth Value$169

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See below for more ways to save!


• $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
  • Delicious riverside, picnic lunch
  • High-quality inflatable rafts and related river equipment including paddles, helmets, and personal flotation devices (PFDs)
  • Wetsuits and splash jackets (required)
  • Transfers from the meeting place to the river and back

Not Included in Your Trip Cost

  • Transportation to the meeting place and back
  • 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
  • Gratuities

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

Getting lunch ready on the North Fork of the American River during an OARS rafting trip

A delicious riverside picnic lunch is provided on North Fork American River rafting trips. We’ll pull ashore mid-day and your guides will lay out an abundant spread of cold cuts, cheeses, veggies, and breads, or perhaps a fresh Caesar salad wrap or tasty taco salad for roll-your-own burritos. Lunch is always accompanied by fruit, cookies, cold water, and lemonade. 

Please let us know if you have any dietary needs that we’ll need to consider in planning your trip. More info about Meals & Dietary Restrictions can be found on our Trip Resources page.

Average Air & Water Temperatures

Air (Day) °FAir (Night) °FWater °F


View from behind of four paddlers getting soaked by a wave as they paddle through a rapid on the North Fork American River.

Water levels sufficient for rafting on the North Fork of the American River during the spring and early summer months are relatively short-lived each season. It is important for our guests to understand that the water flow on the North Fork fluctuates greatly. The river’s free-flowing waters—dependent solely on snowmelt, without dams or reservoirs in the way—keep its season short and sweet! North Fork river trips run from April to as late as mid-June, depending on the preceding winter.

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.

  • Whitewater Orientation: To increase your safety, we expect everyone to watch our Whitewater Orientation video before joining us.
  • 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$30/person
29 – 7 days before your trip$50/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.
6 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.


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 $50/person fee to transfer to another trip, within the same year or to a credit account for the following year. If we are 6 days or less prior to 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 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 North Fork of the American River between Iowa Hill Bridge and Lake Clementine, we acknowledge the territories of the Nisenan.

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