OARS 2017 Whitewater Forecast: Big Water Coming to the West

Thanks to a higher-than-average snowpack across the western U.S., outfitters are expecting the biggest whitewater season since 2011, especially in California.

There’s no doubt this will be the best year we’ve seen since 2011,” says Chris Moore, OARS’ California Regional Manager and longtime river guide. With the snowpack for much of the Sierra sitting at close to 200% of average as of Sunday and more precipitation in the forecast, California could set a new mark for the all-time wettest water year on record.


    With a massive snowpack across the Sierra, California whitewater will provide big excitement all season long. Rafters should be prepared for high-water rafting conditions that will likely last into early July on many popular rivers in Central California, including the South Fork of the American, North Fork of the American, Tuolumne River and Merced. “It’s going to be the experience of a lifetime,” says Moore. Additionally, outfitters on the Kern, Kings and Kaweah Rivers in the Southern Sierra are expecting a banner whitewater year, which has been a long time coming after several years of extreme drought.
    According to Curt Chang, OARS. Idaho Regional Manager, it’s best-case scenario for Idaho rivers this season with snowpack data showing more water and more coverage than in the previous five seasons. High-water trips are expected on the Salmon and Snake Rivers in May and June and ideal conditions will continue on these rivers throughout the summer. Chang says thrill seekers should expect exceptional big-water conditions on the Main Salmon this season and on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, high water and big rides will be the name of the game through June.
  • UTAH
    Once-in-a-decade conditions are anticipated on Utah’s Green River through the Gates of Lodore in Dinosaur National Monument and on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands National Park. The weather over the next month or so will determine exactly how things will play out, but this season is being likened to other record-setting high-water years, most recently in 2011. “Current snowpack for the Green river is the highest on record,” Bruce Lavoie, OARS. Dinosaur Regional Manager, said. “This is an exciting year to run the Gates of Lodore. Many have waited years for this level.” After peak flows subside in June or July, the more moderate family-friendly flows will continue into September.

For those who can’t wait to get their family out on the river, several rivers provide earlier-season adventure for children as young as age four. Families looking to go rafting before July should look to Northern California’s Class II Lower Klamath River or Utah’s incredibly scenic San Juan River. While high-water conditions will keep younger kids off many rivers in the West until flows return to normal, these family-friendly rivers will be great for kids, even during higher flows. In addition, thanks to controlled releases from upstream dams, the Rogue River in Oregon and Idaho’s Snake River through Hells Canyon should be good options for the less adventurous and for families with kids as young as seven.