California River Rafting
TOP SPOT: Splurge Worthy
STORY BY: Veronica Hill
Summary: Craving excitement and adventure? Head to the whitewater rapids for a California river rafting trip.
For the ultimate outdoor adventure travel, nothing beats a California river rafting trip. River rafting in California is best between April and September, when the snowpack begins to melt into roaring whitewater rapids. Second only to Idaho in total river rafting miles, California boasts almost 10 different rivers, catering to every level of experience.
When choosing a California river rafting adventure, pay close attention to its class. For example, a Class I river rafting adventure is mostly a float, with only slight maneuvering required. Class II rafting requires only basic paddling skills with some portions of heavy rapids. Class III whitewater rapids might include small drops and waves, with some maneuvers and paddling. Class IV rapids have rocks, big drops and medium-sized waves with sharp maneuvering skills required. Finally, Class V whitewater trips are the most challenging, with high-intensity rapids, large waves, hazards and drops. Class VI rapids are only for the most experienced rafters and are rarely offered on rafting trips.
Following is a guide to some of the best river rafting in California.
River Rafting Northern California
- River rafting in Northern California is a thrilling experience, and one of the best outfitters for river rafting Northern California is O.A.R.S. (800-346-6277), which offers 16 unique adventures along nine different California rivers. Their California whitewater rafting trips vary from unique gourmet river rafting excursions (complete with specialty wines and a private chef) to basic California river rafting trips tailored to beginners and experts. Children as young as 4 are welcome on the O.A.R.S.family rafting trips, and the ability to swim is not required. Life jackets are included for each participant.
- Upper Klamath River: Considered California’s second-largest river, the Klamath River is located in Northern California’s Klamath Mountains near Mount Shasta. Some of the most trubulent Upper Klamath river rafting is found along rapids such as Ambush, Snag Island Falls and Hell’s Corner. The 150-foot-long Caldera Chute (class IV) guarantees thrills around every bend as it plunges through a rocky volcanic canyon. Gentler Class III rapids are found a few miles below the J.C. Boyle Dam and Powerhouse.
- Lower Klamath River: Located near the Oregon border, the Lower Klamath River offers plenty of bouncing waves that are perfect for families with young children. These Class II rapids, combined with with plenty of warm swimming holes, are the perfect introduction to California river rafting. During the trip, you’ll pass several old mining sites — perfect for an impromptu history lesson on the California Gold Rush. View Tours.
- California Salmon River: For expert river rafting, the Cal Salmon River offers a thrilling ride, providing white-knuckle challenges around every bend. Designated a class IV-V river, the Cal Salmon traverses through tight granite gorges, down plunging waterfalls and along quick-moving currents. Be sure to take time to enjoy the scenery — if you can. this stretch of the Salmon Trinity Wilderness Area is home to a large population of bald eagles.
- Tuolumne River: One of California’s most spectacular rapids, the Tuolumne River is located at the northern entrance to Yosemite National Park. And during the spring snowmelt, there’s no better place to be. Cascading through scenic canyons,Tuolumne River Rafting is rated Class IV-V, depending on the time you visit.
- American River: Located near Sacramento in California’s gold country, the American River is a perfect place for beginners. Choose from South Fork American River rafting, with Class III rides and lazy swims along the raft, or join a Middle Fork American River rafting adventure, which traverses through secluded canyons along the Sierra Nevada foothills. Designated a Class IV adventure, Middle Fork river rafting is packed with thrills. Be sure to check out Tunnel Chute, created when Gold Rush miners blasted a tunnel that created one of the most exciting whitewater rapids in California. North American River Rafting takes you through pine forests and canyons, framed by 2,000-foot-high cliffs.
- Merced River: Known for its rollercoaster-like “wave trains,” the Merced River is filled with Class III-IV rapids. April and May are the best times to enjoy the most thrilling Merced River rafting. Located near Yosemite National Park, the Merced River boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in California. Here, you’ll be surrounded by sandy beaches, colorful wildflowers, fragrant pine forests and lovely picnic areas. View Tours.
- Stanislaus River: Nicknamed “The Stan,” the North Fork Stanislaus River is a picturesque journey through some of California’s most breathtaking wilderness. The river, which hurtles at a 70-feet-per-mile slope, rushes past ancient Miwok Indian sites, through the giant sequoia groves of Calaveras Big Trees State Park, and through narrow rock gorges. You’ll enjoy plenty of thrills on this Class IV California river, including the 15-foot-drop at Beginner’s Luck, to the turbulent and churning waters of Rattlesnake, Whiteout and Dig Dog. Stanislaus River Rafting is among the best whitewater in California.