South Fork American River Rafting Gorge 1-Day

Location California Adventure Level Easier to Moderate Minimum age 8 (10-12 during high water) River Rating Class III From $145
Book Now Call toll-free 1 (800) 346-6277

The Gorge on the South Fork American River is California’s most popular whitewater rafting trip for a reason–it’s a day of pure fun!

This full-day adventure down the lower 13-mile stretch of the South Fork American River offers some of the most exciting Class II & III whitewater in the state and is perfect for beginners, families, staff outings, and anyone who wants a day out paddling in the California sunshine. The trip begins with several miles of bouncy, stress-free rapids before things get a little spicier in the Gorge with big waves, challenging chutes, drops, and unforgettable rapids like Satan’s Cesspool and Hospital Bar. 

Whether you’re new to rafting and just want to “get your feet wet,” or you only have time for a quick getaway, our 1-day South Fork American River rafting trip will surely be a perfect choice. About an hour from Sacramento, and just an hour and a half from Lake Tahoe, rafting the South Fork of the American River is a quick and relatively easy option for an exciting family or group adventure. Splashy good times are guaranteed.

Trip Highlights
  • South Fork American River rafting Gorge trips are perfect for families & groups
  • Paddle exciting Class III rapids like Fowler’s Rock, Satan’s Cesspool & Hospital Bar
  • Cool off in the river while swimming through splashy riffles & calm pools
  • Raft the lower South Fork American River through rolling, wooded hills & rocky gorges
  • Affordable camping options with showers & upgraded 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 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:

  • Meet at the OARS American River Outpost on 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’re off! We’ll take a short walk down to the beach and launch our rafts right from camp.
  • The first part of the day starts off mellow with several miles of splashy, Class II warm-up rapids like Barking Dog and Highway Rapid. Practice your paddling skills and enjoy plenty of swimming opportunities, including Swimmers’ Rapid, a fun wave-train rapid that lets paddlers experience what it feels like to swim a rapid (if you want), before entering the ever-exciting Gorge later in the day.
  • Come lunchtime, we will pull over to a beach for a delicious guide-prepared picnic. Enjoy the beautiful river scenes around us, and keep an eye out for redtail hawks soaring overhead or a river otter swimming near shore.
  • Back in the rafts, our anticipation builds as we keep an eye out for the Lollipop Tree, which marks the official entrance to the Gorge. This is where the canyon walls constrict the flow of the river, creating an action-packed series of wild Class III rapids. Such memorable torrents as Fowler’s Rock, Satan’s Cesspool, and Hospital Bar will surely get your pulse racing; remember to smile for the photographers’ cameras!
  • As we get closer to the take-out, one last “Surprise” rapid may sneak up on us and provide an exciting finale to our day on the water. After the main rapids, and depending on the water levels, the guides may tie the boats together for a short tow-out to our take-out at the Salmon Falls Bridge. Here, our shuttle vehicles will be waiting to take us back to camp. 
  • Stay with us as long as you like. Our peaceful riverside hideaway is surrounded by plenty of Gold Rush history, recreational opportunities, and cultural activities.

Meeting Time & Place


OARS American River Outpost, Lotus, CA

Meeting time

Between 10:30-11:30 AM (depending on departure day & group sizes)


4 – 5 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

*Due to a below-average water year, we will not be able to run the South Fork of the American on Wednesdays.

2024 Prices
Standard Value$155
Youth Value$145
Standard Rate*$185
Youth Rate*$175

*Applicable Saturdays June 15 – August 17

Book Now Save 10%

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 paddle, helmet, personal flotation device, and wetsuits and splash tops (included on early and late season trips, cold weather trips, and by advance request) 
  • Transfers from the river take-out back to our campground

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
  • 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.

A delicious riverside picnic lunch is provided on South 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


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 within two weeks of making a booking. Refer to your confirmation email for the link to the online forms. If you prefer to fill out paper forms, please let us know right away. If you are reserving within 60 days of departure, your forms must be completed immediately to ensure we can properly plan for your trip.

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.


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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