California > South Fork American River Rafting

South Fork American River Rafting

½ or 1 Day from $109
Trip Highlights
  • South Fork American River rafting 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 fun rapids & calm pools
  • Splashy, fun whitewater rafting through rolling, wooded hills & rocky gorges
  • FREE camping, showers & restrooms available at O.A.R.S. River Park Adventure Campground
Reserve This Trip

(69 reviews)

Outside Travel Awards 'Best Outfitter' Runner Up National Geographic Adventure Magazine - Best River & Sea Outfitter on Earth As Featured On 50 Tours of a Lifetime - National Geographic Traveller Best of the Bay Area Winner

Call Toll Free: 800-346-6277 or enter the month and year you want to go on this trip.
The season runs April - September.

Travel Months *
April May June
July August September

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Departure Dates

Thursday through Monday April - September

Chili Bar Half-Day: 9:00AM - 12:00PM
Gorge One-Day: 10:30AM - 5:00PM Includes lunch!

21-Miler: Full river trip available by request for groups of 10 or more. Call for details.

Meeting Place

O.A.R.S. River Park Adventure Campground

7330 River Park Drive, Lotus, CA 95651

38.806327, -120.903538

Adjacent to where Hwy 49 crosses the river, behind Hotshot Imaging and the River Park shopping center

Ask about our free camping for rafters!



20% Discount for Groups of 12 or More! (call for details)

Chili Bar Half-Day - 8 miles:

Weekdays $109
Sundays: $119
Saturdays: $129

Gorge One-Day - 13 miles: Includes Deli Lunch!

Weekdays $125
Sundays: $135
Saturdays: $145

Additional Cost:

$8 per person federal, state and local access fees

Ask about our free camping for rafters!*

Rental Options:

  • Sleep Kit (sleeping bag, pad, pillow & sheet): $25 per person for up to 2 nights
  • 2-Person Tent: $30 for up to 2 nights
  • 4-Person Family Tent: $50 for up to 2 nights
  • 2-Person Pre-set Platform Tent (with 2 cots & sleep kits):
    Monday - Thursday: $85 per night
    Friday & Saturday: $100 per night

*Camping for non-rafters: $10 per person per night

River Rating Minimum Age
Class III7 (12 during high water)
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South Fork American River Rafting Near Sacramento

Download Itinerary

Grab a paddle, hop into a big yellow raft, and get ready for some wet, wild and adventurous fun on the South Fork of the American River near Sacramento, CA! Don't let names like Meatgrinder, Troublemaker, Satan's Cesspool and Dead Man's Drop scare you; the South Fork of the American River offers some of the most exciting Class III whitewater in California and is perfect for beginners, families and anyone who just wants a day out paddling in the California sunshine. Our South Fork American River rafting trips through the rolling Sierra Foothills offer the perfect way to cool off on a warm California day. Whether you're new to rafting and just want to "get your feet wet," or you just don't have time to fit a multi-day adventure trip into your schedule, one of our South Fork American River rafting trip options will surely be the perfect choice. About an hour from Sacramento, and just an hour and a half from Lake Tahoe, rafting the South Fork American River is a quick and relatively easy option for an exciting family or group adventure. Whether paddling through thrilling rapids or swimming alongside the raft, lots of splashy good times are guaranteed.

20% Discount for Groups of 12 or More!
Call 1.800.446.7238 or 1.209.736.2597


Show Mile By Mile Guide

Rafting the South Fork of the American River:
Mile by Mile Guide

Our 21-Miler includes both the Chili Bar Run & Gorge Run!

Upper South Fork American ~ Chili Bar Run

Mile 0
Put-in (start) for O.A.R.S. Upper South Fork American River Chili Bar rafting trips.
Mile 0.3
CHILI BAR HOLE (II) For many years Chili Bar Hole was the site of the Chili Bar Rodeo. On low-water years, the competition moved downstream to First Threat Rapid. Chili Bar was named after the Chilean road builders during the early Gold Rush days. A 'hole' is created when the river current drops over a rock or ledge and circulates instead of continuing its downstream flow.
Mile 0.6
MEATGRINDER (III) A long rock garden with big waves and a hidden boulder at the bottom. Meatgrinder is also known as "Quarter Mile Rapid" because of its length. At high flows, this rapid has some huge waves and holes.
Mile 1.3
RACEHORSE BEND (II+) At Racehorse Bend rapid, the river drops and bends left, pushing current into the right wall.
Mile 1.5
MAYA (II-III) There is normally a pretty easy run down the middle, but there is a big hole at higher flows. There is a sneak route on the far right.
Mile 1.8
ROCK GARDEN (II) As its name implies, this is a rock garden to be maneuvered through with skill.
Mile 3.0
Site of old miner's cabin on right bank.
Mile 3.1
TRIPLE THREAT (III) Three separate drops, and all three can be run down the middle - with lots of bouncy, splashy fun. First Threat Rapid is a favorite kayak surfing hole and site of the American River Festival Rodeo. The third drop is after a sharp left-hand bend.
Mile 5.1
TROUBLEMAKER (III+) This is the biggest rapid on the upper section of this whitewater rafting trip. The river bends sharply right and then left, passing Gunsight Rock. It's also sometimes referred to as "S-Turn" rapid. Professional photographers frequently are stationed riverside, as are a host of whitewater enthusiasts, often cheering and applauding as you pass through the rapid. You may review and/or purchase photos after completing your American River rafting experience.
Mile 5.2 - 10.6
Easy Class I and II rapids. Pass the historic Gold Rush town of Coloma.
Mile 5.2
American River Resort. A short drive on Hwy 49 from the James Marshall Gold Discovery State Park, the resort offers riverside lodging, camping and hookup sites.
Mile 5.5
Coloma Resort. This is located on the banks of the American River and is adjacent to the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.
Mile 5.6
Coloma Bridge. Built in 1917, also known as the "one-way bridge."
Mile 6.0
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historical Park. The park is located where gold was first discovered in California and sprawls across both sides of the highway, encompassing a museum, a full-scale replica of Sutter's Mill as well as a ghost town of restored period buildings and Gold Rush artifacts. At the museum you can learn how to pan for gold. Bekeart's Gun Shop, located in the Park, offers similar activities and old-fashioned trade goods.
Mile 6.6
BEGINNER'S HOLE RAPID (II) Also known as "Taco Bender," this is a fun play spot for kayakers.
Mile 7.1
OLD SCARY (II) The river bends sharply left, with an island midstream. Old Scary used to be one of the most difficult rapids on the Chili Bar-to-Coloma section of the South Fork until high water in 1982 changed the rapid.
Mile 7.3
LAUGHING EDDY (II) Also known as "Blue House Eddy" or "Whiplash." There is a sharp-edged eddy on river left, at the blue house shortly above the bridge. An eddy is an area of usually calm water behind or downstream of an obstruction in the main current, such as a rock, where water flows counter to that of the main current.
Mile 7.4
Highway 49 bridge and highway access.
Mile 8.0
TAKE OUT (end) for O.A.R.S. Chili Bar trips.
TAKE OUT for the South Fork American River Chili Bar Run is at O.A.R.S. River Park Adventure Campground.

Lower South Fork American ~ Gorge One-Day

Mile 8.0
The meeting location and put-in (start) of our Lower South Fork American River Gorge One-Day trip is the private O.A.R.S. River Park Adventure Campground 7330 River Park Drive, Lotus, CA  95651: Located on eleven gorgeous acres, stretching over a third of a mile on the riverfront, offers modern shower and bathroom facilities, a sand volleyball court, horseshoe rings, tons of lawn game sets, and an unequalled list of amenities for your comfort.
Mile 8.5
LOTUS LEDGE SURFING HOLE (II) This used to be a fun little ledge hole, but it was wiped out in the flood of January 1997, and is now simply a riffle. A riffle is a shallow stretch in the river where water forms small rippled waves.
Mile 9.0
Camp Lotus. Located two miles from historic Coloma, this campground is situated along the South Fork of the American River.
Mile 9.0
BARKING DOG RAPID (II) This is a fun little surfing wave where kayakers like to practice their rolling skills.
Mile 10.6
Mile 11.1
HIGHWAY RAPID (II+) A long, curving rock garden..
Mile 11.5
SWIMMER’S RAPID (II) Swimmer's Rapid is a great spot for rafting passengers to jump in and experience what it feels like to swim a rapid.  It is a fun wave train rapid.
Mile 12.2
Public restrooms.  These are the only public facilities on the South Fork American River whitewater rafting trip.
Mile 13.9
Gorilla Rock.  This rock, sometimes referred to as Convict Rock, really looks like a gorilla.
Mile 15.8
FOWLER’S ROCK (III).  Fowler's Rock is the first big rapid on the South Fork’s lower section.  The river bends left into a short pool then back to the right where a boulder cluster marks the entry to the rapid.

Interesting fact: Entrance to ‘The Gorge’ occurs after the third sighting of the Lollipop Tree.  This tree can be spotted atop a distant hill and does indeed resemble a lollipop.
Mile 16.9
SATAN’S CESSPOOL (III+)  Satan’s is the biggest rapid in the Gorge Run of the South Fork American River. A rock above the final drop provides a good vantage point for photographers and spectators.  Professional photographers are frequently stationed here with their cameras.
Mile 17.0
Mile 17.4
SCISSORS (III)  The river turns left down a narrow, rocky chute with big, irregular waves.
Mile 17.6
LOWER HAYSTACK CANYON (II+)  A fun, bouncy rapid with big standing waves and short drops in a narrow section of the river canyon.
Mile 18.1
Weber Creek – a large, year-round creek on river left.
Mile 18.2
BOUNCING ROCK (II+)  This rapid provides a bouncy whitewater ride.
Mile 18.6
HOSPITAL BAR (III)  Named for a medical tent set up here during the Gold Rush, this is the last big, splashy rapid on The Gorge Run.  The rapid is a rock chute that bends left and then right.  It provides surprising whitewater fun.  Professional photographers are sometimes stationed here with their cameras.
Mile 18.8
RECOVERY ROOM (II+)  Big, fun waves and clean drops.
Mile 19.4
SURPRISE RAPID (II)  If the Folsom Reservoir is full, there will be a flat-water paddle or a tow-out, and this rapid will be under water. Class II rapids continue to mile 20 if the reservoir is low. It is a treat to find Surprise Rapid uncovered!
Mile 20.5
TAKE OUT (end) for O.A.R.S. Gorge One-Day trips.
TAKE OUT for the South Fork American River Gorge Run is at Salmon Falls Bridge at Folsom Reservoir.

Information for this Mile by Mile guide was gathered from the books “California Whitewater” and “A Guide to the Best Whitewater in the State of California,” as well as from a variety of sources on the Internet.


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  • Legend
  • Directions

From Sacramento on U.S. Hwy 50

Follow Hwy 50 east toward Placerville and South Lake Tahoe. Take the Ponderosa Rd exit (Exit #37), turn left onto Ponderosa/S. Shingle Rd and cross over the freeway. At the second stop light, take the right turn on N. Shingle Rd toward Coloma/Lotus.

After about 4.5 miles N. Shingle Rd turns into Lotus Rd—continue going straight for about 6 more miles. As you approach Lotus, pass through the town’s first stop sign and continue to the 3-way stop sign intersection with Hwy 49. Turn left onto Hwy 49 (north) and cross the bridge over the South Fork of the American. Right after crossing the river, you will see the “River Park” shopping center on the left, with signs for Hotshot Imaging. Please use the center’s second entrance, where a left-turn lane is provided at River Park Dr. Look to the back of the center, where you will see the entrance to our River Park Adventure Campground.

From South Lake Tahoe

Take Hwy 50 west to Placerville. Turn right on Hwy 49 (north) and follow the directions from Placerville listed below.

From Placerville

Proceed north on winding Hwy 49 for about 9.5 miles (about 20—25 minutes) through the town of Coloma. Just past Coloma and the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, cross the bridge over the South Fork of the American. Right after crossing the river, you will see the “River Park” shopping center on the left, with signs for Hotshot Imaging. Please use the center’s second entrance, where a left-turn lane is provided at River Park Dr. Look to the back of the center, where you will see the entrance to our campground.

From Reno, Nevada/North Lake Tahoe:

Take Interstate 80 west to Auburn. Take Hwy 49 south from Auburn for about 17 miles (about 30 minutes), arriving in the Coloma/Lotus area. After passing through Lotus’ 3-way stop sign (intersection with Marshall Grade Rd), continue past the gas station and look for us behind the “River Park” shopping center on the right. Before Hotshot Imaging’s building, turn right onto River Park Dr and look for the entrance to our campground in the back of the retail center.

By Air

Many people enjoy the time saved by flying into Sacramento, which is accessed my most major airlines. A variety of car rental companies are available at the airport.

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“I was completely impressed with the professionalism and care that my guides exhibited. They worked really hard, always had a smile, always put our safety first and made sure we were having fun as well. I never worried. They were terrific. I can't say enough good things.”
Stella Plunkett ~ Laguna Niguel, CA

“I have rafted the South Fork American a few times with different companies. My experience with O.A.R.S. was by far the best!”
Nancy Davis ~ Redwood City, CA

“My family and I just returned from our first whitewater rafting trip down the American River and we had so much fun. It was truly an experience we will never forget and a big part of that was because of your wonderful employees. Our guide made our trip so enjoyable that I'm sure we'll be back again. I was constantly amazed at his knowledge of the river and his genuine concern that my family and I have a memorable experience. And boy, did we! He always challenged us but never to the point where I felt we were in danger ( just to the edge of it, ha!). I felt we were in very capable hands and totally trusted him. All I have to do is howl (aahhoo) and we are right back on the river surrounded by all of God's glory and having the time of our lives. Thank you so much for the wonderful vacation.”
Debbie Egbert and Family ~ Antioch, CA

South Fork American River Rafting - 1 or ½ Day Trip Planner

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Local Weather & Current Conditions

Average Temperatures
Month Days Nights
June 85° 57°
July 95° 63°
August 100° 62°
September 85° 59°
Water Temperatures
Seasonal Average: 50° - 60° F

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Company Info

O.A.R.S. is an author ized concessioner of Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon and Grand Te ton National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument.
Outside Travel Awards 'Best Outfitter' Runner Up National Geographic Adventure Magazine - Best River & Sea Outfitter on Earth As Featured On 50 Tours of a Lifetime - National Geographic Traveler Mindy Gleason, O.A.R.S. Reservations Manager Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist 2007-2013 (River Rafting) Best of the Bay Area Winner

For consecutive years, O.A.R.S. has been named the "Best River & Sea Outfitter on Earth" by National Geographic Adventure and one of the top two outfitters in the world by Outside Magazine in its annual Active Travel Awards recognition program. In multiple years, O.A.R.S.trips have been honored as "50 Tours of a Lifetime" by National Geographic Traveler and since 2007, Condé Nast Traveler has recognized Mindy Gleason, O.A.R.S. Reservation Manager and International Adventure Travel Consultant, as Condé Nast Traveler's standalone Top Travel Specialist in the River Rafting category.

Questions about trips or making reservations? Contact or call 800-346-6277 in the USA or Canada or 1-209-736-4677 if outside the USA or Canada.
O.A.R.S. Companies Inc.,
PO Box 67, Angels Camp, CA 95222