Tuolumne Whitewater Rafting 1-Day Trip

Location California Adventure Level Moderately Challenging Minimum age 14 (16 during high water) River Rating Class IV (Class V possible during peak flows) From $329
Book Now Call toll-free 1 (800) 346-6277

Tuolumne whitewater rafting is a thrill-packed one-day adventure that’s the perfect add-on to any Yosemite National Park vacation.

Spilling from the highlands of Yosemite National Park, the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River is often considered California’s premier whitewater rafting trip. When done as a day trip, this 18-mile stretch of nearly non-stop Class III-IV whitewater just below Hetch Hetchy is nothing short of epic, especially during high-water spring trips when the river roars with fresh snowmelt. Paddlers can expect technical and challenging rapids, including intricate boulder gardens, narrow chutes, and big drops like notorious Clavey Falls, where rafts plummet eight vertical feet over a dramatic series of staircase drops before having to dodge a boat-munching hole at the bottom. A true wilderness trip, a Tuolumne whitewater rafting day trip pairs perfectly with a trip to the Yosemite region.

Insider tip: Make this trip a 2- or 3-day adventure for the chance to explore all of the hidden wonders that the Tuolumne has to offer like Gold Rush history and hikes up spectacular side streams that lead to waterfalls, secret swimming holes, and natural waterslides.

Trip Highlights
  • 18 miles of continuous Class IV Tuolumne River whitewater rafting
  • Raft 15 unforgettable rapids like Ram’s Head, Clavey Falls, Gray’s Grindstone & more
  • Enjoy a delicious guide-prepared picnic lunch & snacks 
  • A true wilderness adventure in a Wild & Scenic River canyon
  • The best California rafting near Yosemite and an easy drive from San Francisco & Sacramento
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 Tuolumne 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 before embarking on a 3-mile hike 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 hit the water!
  • The Tuolumne is nearly consistent whitewater, with four exciting rapids in the first two miles: Rock Garden, Nemesis, Sunderlands Chute, and Ram’s Head. Downstream, we encounter the ultimate thrill: Clavey Falls; this Class IV+ rapid features a series of staircase drops, which deliver unabashed excitement.
  • Come lunchtime, we’ll pull over to a sandy beach for a delicious picnic. Back in the boats, the adventure continues with exciting Class III-IV rapids such as Gray’s Grindstone, Thread the Needle, and Hell’s Kitchen. Between rapids, you’re welcome to enjoy a refreshing swim in the calm stretches of cool water.
  • As we reach Ward’s Ferry and flat water, our river trip draws to a close. At the take-out, an OARS shuttle will be waiting to give you a ride back to your car.

Meeting Time & Place


Lucky Buck Cafe
7647 CA-120, Groveland, CA 95321
11 miles east of Groveland on Highway 120 (13 miles west of the Hwy 120, Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park). View the meeting place on Google Maps.

Meeting time

8:30 AM


Approximately 6:30 PM

Trip Map

Dates & Prices

2024 DeparturesPrice
May 7, 19, 28$329
June 11, 23$329
August 2, 23$329
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The Need-to-Know Info

Trip Details

Included in Your Trip Cost

  • Skilled, professional guide service
  • Delicious picnic lunch and snacks
  • High-quality inflatable rafts and related river equipment including a paddle, helmet, and a personal flotation device
  • Wetsuits and splash jackets (after June 1, available by advance request only)
  • Transfers from the Lucky Buck Cafe to the river and back

Not Included in Your Trip Cost

  • Transportation to our meeting location in the Groveland area
  • Pre- and post-trip accommodations and meals
  • River access fees
  • Wetsuit booties
  • Insurance of any kind, including a travel protection plan
  • Gratuities
Five guests and a guide on a yellow raft as they're about to enter a rapid while one guests holds his paddle up in the air in excitement.

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, oar raft.

For lunch, we’ll pull over to shore for a delicious riverside picnic. 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 °FNotes
April60-7035-4044-46Extremely variable weather; more wildlife & wildflowers
May70-7540-4445-48Chance of spring showers—but usually beautiful, sunny days
June80-8546-5048-50High-water time; rare rain-clouds
July88-9252-5650-54Hot, sunny days; perfect for swimming
August88-9252-5654-58Driest month; ideal for sleeping out under the stars
September85-8945-4958-60Warm summer temperatures start to cool down

Whitewater & Water Levels

A group of guests and a guide paddle through boulder strewn whitewater on the Tuolumne River in California.

The water on the Tuolumne River is released from hydroelectric facilities located upstream. These water releases are solely controlled by the city of San Francisco and its Hetch Hetchy Reservoir; whitewater rafting companies have no influence in the schedule. It is important for our guests to understand that the water flow on the Tuolumne is directly related to the amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada, as well as the demand for water and hydropower. On Tuolumne River rafting trips, we often have to wait for the dam-released water to reach our campsite, causing a later start in the day.

When spring run-off is highest, water is released from the reservoirs in abundance to make room for the in-flow. This can lead to high flows on our trips. Peak run-off usually occurs between mid-May and mid-June, but can vary widely from early May into July. High-water trips equate to a more intense whitewater experience; a high level of physical fitness is recommended. Water temperatures are coldest during the high water period and wetsuits will be required. In reality, the water is quite cold even in late summer, but lower flows and warm air temperatures mitigate the risk of hypothermia.

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.

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. operates on the Tuolumne River as a permitted outfitter of the Stanislaus National Forest

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 Tuolumne River from Meral’s Pool to Wards Ferry Bridge, we acknowledge the territories of the Central Sierra Me-wuk.

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