Groups rafting down the American River.

American River Rafting

A group rafts the South Fork of the American River.

OARS was among the first outfitters to offer American River rafting trips, and more than 50 years later from our riverside Outpost in Lotus, CA, we’re still at it. Today, the American River, which is easily accessible from Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, and the San Francisco Bay Area, is considered the epicenter of California whitewater rafting, with abundant opportunities for first-timers and experienced paddlers alike.

Whether you’re looking for a day of bouncy fun in the sun on a South Fork American River rafting trip, you want to spice things up on a Middle Fork of the American River, or take on the wild and untamed North Fork of the American River, there’s truly something for everyone.

Rafting on the American River is undoubtedly one of California’s top adventures. From short and sweet half-day trips to two-day getaways, explore your options below, grab your crew, and #LetsGoRafting!

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Why raft with OARS on the American River?

Our Experience: Since 1969, we’ve been running whitewater rafting trips in California, across the western U.S., and around the world. From half-day South Fork American River rafting trips to 18-day adventures down Grand Canyon, we have the know-how and expertise to run great trips!

Dedicated Guides & Staff: We are proud to have earned the reputation for having the most experienced, professional, and customer-focused crews on the water. No other company’s guides do as much as ours to ensure you’re having the best trip possible, and we back that up with dedicated regional managers and year-round office staff.

Quality Equipment: We invest in our gear and use top-of-the-line equipment that’s well-maintained. On every American River rafting trip with OARS, you’ll head downstream on the best rafts and be geared up with top-notch equipment, including paddles, helmets, and PFDs.

Commitment to Diversity: We are proud to be an equal opportunity provider. We seek out the best guides and employees regardless of gender or ethnicity and embrace diversity in every customer we serve. We also support various LGBTQ+ and racial justice initiatives and offer programs to get under-resourced youth on the river through our Foundation, all in an effort to help create a more welcoming and inclusive river community.

Environmental Stewardship: We are committed to environmental stewardship and have been since our humble beginning. We support the communities in which we operate, practice Leave No Trace principles, and, in partnership with our guests, we have contributed more than $6 million toward the preservation of the environment.

Family Owned: Although we have a reputation for being a global leader in the adventure travel industry, we are a second-generation family-owned company, and it shows. From your first call to our office to the happy conclusion of your American River rafting trip, we strive to offer a personal experience to every one of our guests – from our family to yours!

Which section of the American River is right for me?

Our American River whitewater rafting options include more than a dozen unique itineraries on all three forks of the American River ranging from a laid back half-day float on the Chili Bar stretch of the South Fork to an intensive 9-day Whitewater Guide School.

South Fork American River Rafting: Best for Beginners and Intermediate Rafters

The Class III South Fork of the American River offers crisp, clear, refreshing water flowing over spectacular granite rocks and boulders. It’s an ideal balance of adventure and fun for families with kids as young as eight (10-12 during high water). We offer half-day trips on the Chili Bar section, full-day trips through The Gorge with lunch included, the Super 1-day with a night of camping and a hearty breakfast and lunch, as well as wildly fun two-day adventures from April – September. 

Middle Fork American River Rafting: Best for Experienced Paddlers & Adventurous First-Timers

For paddlers who want to kick things up a notch, a Middle Fork American River trip is the choice rafting experience. On this full-day adventure near Auburn, you’ll plunge down a beautiful, boulder-strewn stretch of Class III-IV whitewater, interspersed with scenic calm stretches. It’s the whole package: stunning views, cool Gold Rush history, and adrenaline-inducing rapids like Tunnel Chute, Texas Chainsaw, and Kanaka Falls. We offer one-day trips, as well as two-day trips with a night of riverside camping. Minimum Age: 14 years (16 at high water)

North Fork American River Rafting: Spring Whitewater Best for Experienced Paddlers Looking for Big Thrills

When this wild and untamed stretch of river roars to life from spring runoff, North Fork American River trips offer up some of the best action-packed Class IV+ whitewater in the Sierra Nevada for rafters ages 14 and up (16 at high water). On this challenging early-season run, intricate boulder gardens, rushing falls, and staircase drops promise intense paddling and plenty of adrenaline-inspiring thrills in exhilarating rapids like Slaughter’s Sluice, Chamberlain Falls, and Bogus Thunder. Minimum Age: 14 years (16 at high water).

For groups looking for a longer adventure, there’s also a number of overnight and combination trip options, some of which include camping and catered meals at OARS American River Outpost or our nearby sister property, EarthTrek

Can you combine rafting trips on different sections of the American River?

Yes, OARS American River Outpost’s convenient and accessible location in Coloma, CA makes it easy for people to explore multiple forks of the American River on the same trip. These are the most popular 2-day combination trips: 

1. South Fork / Middle Fork Rafting Combo

Raft the popular Gorge section of the South Fork of the American River before stepping up the action on a Middle Fork American River rafting trip for the ultimate two-day California whitewater adventure. This hassle-free getaway includes guide-prepared meals and a night of catered camping at our Outpost.

2. Middle Fork / South Fork Chili Bar Combo

This exciting two-day adventure combines a thrilling Class IV Middle Fork American River rafting trip on day one with the splashy, fun South Fork American River Chili Bar run, which gets you off the river by noon on day two, so you can head home or on to your next adventure. Between trips, enjoy a hot shower, camp games, and a night of catered camping so you can kick back with your crew.

3. South Fork / North Fork Rafting Combo

This one-of-a-kind California whitewater adventure begins with a day of warm-up rapids on the Gorge stretch of the South Fork American River before cranking things up the next day on an exhilarating North Fork American rafting trip. In between trips, kick back at the Outpost and enjoy guide-prepared meals and a night of catered camping.

When is the best time raft the American River?

The rafting season on the American River runs April through September or early-October, though the season varies for each individual trip.

The free-flowing North Fork of the American River is a spring rafting trip that’s completely dependent on snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada, therefore the rafting season is typically limited to mid-April through late May, though can occasionally run into June if the conditions are right. 

The South Fork of the American, which relies on scheduled water releases from upstream reservoirs in the summer months, is generally a reliable whitewater trip all season long from April through early-October. On the Middle Fork of the American, which also relies on upstream reservoir releases, the whitewater rafting season traditionally begins Memorial Day Weekend and runs through September. 

What class rapids are on the American River?

The rapids on the American River are rated on the standard scale of I-VI. Everyone from beginners and families to thrill seekers and seasoned river runners can find an American River white water adventure that caters to their experience level. 

The South Fork of the American River is considered a Class II-III whitewater adventure, while the more challenging Middle and North Forks are rated Class IV-IV+. However, river ratings and adventure levels can vary by water levels and season. During peak river flows on the American River, minimum ages for these trips may be increased.

What is the minimum age for American River rafting trips?

On beginner-friendly stretches of the American River like the South Fork, the minimum age for OARS trips is 8 and up (10-12 during high water, typically mid-May – early-June). On more challenging, technical stretches of whitewater like the Middle Fork American or the North Fork American, minimum ages begin at 14 (16 during high water). Refer to trip pages for minimum age requirements for each adventure. 

What should I wear for rafting on the American River?

For American River day trips with OARS the following items are recommended:

  • Water bottle
  • Sunscreen & lip protection
  • Shade hat/visor
  • Sunglasses with securing strap
  • Bathing suit and/or shorts and a quick drying top
  • River/tennis shoes or river sandals with an ankle strap
  • Dry clothes and shoes to change into after your trip

Additionally, on spring trips you should always be prepared for quick-changing weather. Bring layers, and avoid bringing cotton clothing, which does not keep you warm once it gets wet. On early-season trips on the American River, OARS will supply you with a wetsuit and splash jacket.

We encourage you to watch our What to Wear & Bring on a 1-Day Rafting Trip video for more details.

What amenities does the OARS American River Outpost have?

The OARS American River Outpost is a riverside campground located in Lotus, California owned and operated by OARS. The Outpost offers both traditional tent sites for groups and individuals, as well as a limited number of pre-set platform tents, and a number of other amenities that offer campers comfort and convenience:

  • Restrooms with flush toilets
  • Changing rooms and free hot showers
  • Riverside camping (on a limited basis)
  • Beach access for swimming in the river
  • Games, including horseshoes and a giant chess board
  • Easy walking distance to local cafes, restaurants and convenience store
  • Free WiFi
  • Camp store with t-shirts, water bottles & clips, sunglasses & Chums, water shoes, towels, sunblock, flashlights, batteries, soft drinks, ice cream, and more!
  • Meal packages

The Outpost is an ideal venue for group trips, families and couples looking for a hassle-free night of camping under the stars. 

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Group white water rafting in the American River.

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