Getting the most adventure out of your white water rafting California trip means being prepared before you go. Here’s are tips from the experts about how to have and make the memories of a lifetime on any trip.
Create a Wishlist For Your White Water Rafting Trip in California
This may seem too simple, but it’s not. Of course you’re going white water rafting in California. What’s to wish for? This is more about getting your expectations in line. Do you want to camp too? Zipline? Ziplines are a very popular addition to most white water adventures and more and more places are offering them. Do you want to go out to dinner? Walk on the beach? Sightsee? Think about what you want to get out of your trip so you don’t feel disappointed if you get there, want to do more, but didn’t make the reservations or bring the right gear to do so. It doesn’t have to be complex, but do think about what you want to get out of your adventure.
Have a Plan, But Be Flexible
There are three kinds of travelers – (A) People who plan everything, right down to where they’ll eat while driving to their destination, 400 miles away. They don’t like surprises. (B) People who plan part of their vacation or trip, like hotels, or tickets to an event, but who are flexible enough to go with the flow on other aspects. And finally, there is (C ) People who don’t plan anything.
They point themselves in a direction and let the adventures find them as they go. To truly enjoy your trip, especially if you’re white water rafting in California, you have to be somewhat flexible because if you’re not, you’ll miss a lot of great opportunities. So, if you’re a planner, by all means plan! But be willing to change your plan if something awesome pops up unexpectedly. If you’re a B or C type traveler, you know how the world works, so enjoy.
Have a Plan B
Life doesn’t always go as planned, even when you plan the heck out of your trip. The solution? Have a Plan B, or alternative plan in case something happens. Your car may die, or you may have a flat tire and miss your flight. There may be a zombie apocalypse. (It could happen!) The venue where you’re going may have to close for some unforeseen reason. A member of your family or group may get sick. Maybe you wanted to go Zip Lining after your raft trip, but the day you picked was a day when inspectors showed up to test the zip lines and shut it down. There are a thousand things that can, and do, go wrong. Be prepared with an alternative plan. When you research your main trip, make note of alternatives.
If the company you’re planning to go white water rafting with has a zipline, and you really want to go ziplining, explore other companies in the area that offer that adventure. You may find the company you’re rafting with has an awesome raft trip, but their zip line adventure is lame. You know that because you’ve researched the reviews, checked out photos and videos of all the ziplines in the area, and you’ve actually ranked the top 3-to-5 places in case the lines are longer than you care to wait in.
Do Your Research
You may have noticed that every website and white water rafting company on the Internet describes their trips, company, adventures, zip line, or tour as “the best, the most exciting,” etc. in the state. And, while they may be an awesome experience they’re not going to tell you that parking is limited, or that you’ll spend 30 minutes on an old smelly school bus driving to the put-in, and another hour driving back to the outfitter’s base. They won’t tell you their equipment is still technically legal and safe, but that it’s also uncomfortable, stiff, and miserable to wear. Those are the kinds of comments you’ll find in the reviews of their business. So don’t just take the company’s word for it, read what real customers have to say about their experience.
Where and How to Do Your Research
Doing your research on any destination spot means starting with Google, but don’t stop there! Go to the top social media sites for reviews as well:
- Trip Advisor https://www.tripadvisor.com/
- Google Reviews https://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Review-on-Google
- Yelp Reviews https://www.yelp.com/
- Youtube https://www.youtube.com/
- Facebook https://www.yelp.com/
- Twitter https://twitter.com/travel?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor
- Instagram https://www.instagram.com/travelandleisure/?hl=en
- Reddit https://www.reddit.com/r/travel/
Make sure to ask your Facebook friends, or social media followers for their recommendations as well. Search hashtags with both #whitewaterrafting and #california. Look at Youtube for videos about the river you’re planning to raft. Search for the names of rafting companies and their videos as well as the videos posted by people who have run the river with and without a rafting company. A video of Kayakers on the American River will give you just as good a picture of the river as a rafting video.
Make Your Whitewater Reservations in Advance
Once you find what you think will be your ideal California white water adventure, seal the deal. Put a ring on it. Do whatever you have to do to make your reservation and pay for the raft trip in advance. Almost all rafting companies run rain or shine unless the rain is prolonged and creating dangerous rafting conditions. Neither you or the rafting company will know this in advance. They may even make the decision to suspend all trips just as you’re walking in the door. Don’t freak out and get angry with them. They’re doing what they need to do to protect you, the customer.
The advantage to paying for the reservation in advance means your spot will be there when you show up. I’ve worked for companies who considered a paying customer at the counter, cash in hand, as more viable than someone who made a reservation online, but didn’t leave a deposit. It happens. So pay in advance. Check the outfitter’s return or reschedule policies, but in general you’re better off paying for the trip when you make the reservation. Most outfitters will accept a hefty deposit if you have a large group, but they’re all different.
Read the Company’s Website Thoroughly
Not all whitewater rafting outfitters websites will have all the information you want, but the good ones will have most of it. Once you have your short list of places to visit, go back and read the website thoroughly. Make a note of their policies, what you must wear, cancellation policies, what gear they have, what gear is included in the price of the trip, what gear they rent (usually wetsuits and cold weather gear). Age and/or weight requirements of rafters.
You should be able to see videos, photos, reviews and a description of the river on the company’s website. Read and understand the classifications of water, Class I, Class II, Class III etc. Be honest about whether you’re a total novice, a beginner, intermediate etc. If you have children, make sure they’ll be able to go on the trip with you. Most outfitters have an age, and/or weight restriction limit for children. Nothing says total misery and the future need for a couple of family therapy sessions like showing up to raft only to find your child is a year too young, or 20 pounds too lightweight, to go on the trip. Check on their food, alcohol, smoking, drug, health and other policies while you’re there.
Whitewater Rafting California Rivers
The American River and The Yosemite Rivers which are The Merced, The Tuolumne or The Cherry Creek River. They are the most popular of the California whitewater rafting rivers). Most people visiting Yosemite National Park choose one of the Yosemite rivers to visit and often also run The American while they’re there.
The American River runs 120 miles through California from the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range to the confluence with the Sacramento River in the Sacramento Valley. It is fed by melting snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The American River has three main tributaries, the North Fork, Middle Fork and South Fork, all of which are popular white water rafting California destinations in and of themselves.
White Water Rafting Near San Francisco –
The South Fork, is only about an hour outside San Francisco. As a result, it’s the go-to river for whitewater rafting for beginning rafters, families and groups. Although it contains some of the most exciting Class III rapids in California, rapids with names like Meatgrinder, Troublemaker, and Satan’s Cesspool, it’s not as scary as it sounds, and is a good, safe river for beginners to intermediate rafters.
If you’re a beginning rafter, but adventurous and in good physical shape, or you’re a more experienced intermediate rafter, you’ll enjoy the Middle Fork. This is a dam-controlled river with great scenery, crystal clear water and the bonus of a side hike to a waterfall.
If you’re intermediate to more advanced rafters and want to kayak as well as a raft, The North Fork is an exciting river full of technical rapids – at least in the spring. The North Fork is a free-flowing river and along with the South Fork and Middle is one of the most popular whitewater rafting destinations in California.
The upper portion of the river drops 50 feet per mile through a steep and narrow granite canyon resulting in some dramatic technical rapids for experienced rafters.
Taken together, the South, Middle, and North Fork of the American River provide whitewater rafting experiences for all levels of rafters. The three forks merge into Folsom Reservoir and leave there as the “main” American River, joining the Sacramento River near the center of Sacramento.
Whitewater Rafting California Outfitters
All Outdoors Rafting – White Water Rafting California
All Outdoors Rafting has white water rafting California trips on 10 rivers. An infographic that spells out just what to expect on each river, and suggestions for easy beginner, beginner-intermediate, intermediate-advanced, and advanced.
This website sets the standard for what a white water rafting website should be. No question is left unanswered, and the site is rich with answers for even the most curious white water prospect. All Outdoors Rafting runs trips on:
- The South Fork of the American River – Novice and experienced beginners Class I-III
- Tom Sawyer Float Trips Through Coloma – Novice Class I and II
- The Middle Fork of the American River – Intermediate Class III to IV
- The Tuolumne River – Intermediate to Advanced Class IV + water
- North Fork Stanislaus River – Intermediate to Advanced Class IV + water
- Kaweah River – Intermediate to Advanced Class IV + water
- North Fork American River – Intermediate to Advanced Class IV + water
- Goodwin Canyon / Stanislaus River – Intermediate to Advanced Class IV + water
- The Merced – Intermediate Class III-IV
- Cherry Creek – (Upper Tuolumne) Advanced rafters only. Class V water
- California Salmon River – Advanced rafters only. Class V water
- The Tuolumne / Cherry Creek Combo – Advanced rafters only. Class V water
White Water Tours- White Water Rafting California
The Yuba River, when the water is peak levels, is some of the best Class 4 & 5 spring whitewater in California. White Water Tours offer both veterans and active first-timers. A variety of whitewater rafting thrills on over 28 miles of the North Fork of the Yuba River.
North Fork Yuba River – Strong swimming skills and previous Class 4 paddling experience required. There are several combinations of trips available on the North Fork of the Yuba. All require strong swimming skills required especially during higher flows, and wetsuits. Check White Water Tours website for more information, details and length of trip, pricing.
Kern River Outfitters – White Water Rafting California
Kern River Outfitters is a good choice for families, groups, schools, and beginning rafters. They offer trips on the Upper, Lower, and Middle fork of the Kern River. However, the waters on their trips varies. They have Class I-III, but also offer Class V. The Kern River is the closest rafting option to LA, only 3 hours away. As a result, their trips get rave reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Facebook and Google.
- They have a wide selection of river trips of varying length and excitement from just a few hours to a one or two days trip
- Their permit allows them to take big groups
- Parking at the Rafting Center is free
- Our guides are fun, interesting, and family friendly.
- They use top-notch, carefully maintained equipment
White Water Excitement – White Water Rafting California
Unlike many outfitters where you have to drive back to a campground. White Water Excitement offers rafters the added bonus of a deluxe private riverside campground with tent sites, platform tents, and RV parking along the river. The campground includes bathrooms, hot showers, shaded riverside campsites, horseshoe courts, green grass, volleyball, and riverside access and views. The view across the South Fork of the American is total wilderness, not even a hint of development. Therefore, this company focuses on running trips on only five white water rafting California rivers. Ensuring you get guides who know their trips inside and out. They have fewer people in each raft, making your rafting experience even better.
- South Fork American River
- South Fork American River Gorge Run
- Middle Fork American River
- North Fork American River
- The Merced River
OARS – White Water Rafting California
OARS has been providing whitewater rafters with rafting adventures on the American River near Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. the Merced or Tuolumne River near Yosemite, or the legendary Stanislaus River into Big Trees State Park for more than 45 years. Their rafting trips include six Northern California rivers, rated Class II-IV+. Beginner or an expert, they have a trip to suit your experience or lack of it. However, like most California outfitters, OARS provides alternative adventures – but unlike other outfitters.
They combine the adventure – as in their rafting and hiking package. Rafters head down the river, getting the thrill of the rapids, but then stop along the way to hike, picnic and camp in the looming presence of Half Dome and El Capitan. Two of the Park’s most-famous rock monoliths. Rafters then travel to the less-crowded Tuolumne Meadows, and may even take the 15-mile hike up to Cloud’s Rest for a 360° vista of Yosemite National Park. Therefore, when not camping on the river, nights are spent in comfortable lodges and cabins in the Yosemite area. For their full raft and hike itinerary.
OARS also offers a beer-friendly rafting trip CLICK FOR MORE INFO HERE
They recognize that nothing tastes better than a good, cold beer after a long day on the river. As a result, they provide rafters the chance to sample hand-selected microbrews on the banks the river on selected overnight rafting trips on their Tuolumne River white water rafting California trip Near Yosemite National Park.
Russian River Adventures (Dog-Friendly Raft Trips) – White Water Rafting California
Sonoma’s Russian River Adventures offers self-guided trips for rafters who want a more leisurely-paced river rafting experience, with or without their dog. That’s right. Full day trips on the river are dog-friendly for rafters wanting to spend quality time with their friends and their dog. There are no dogs allowed on half-day trip.
Paddles and life jackets are provided. Rafters are responsible for bringing their own drinks, lunch, and snacks. However, you won’t have a guide, but you won’t need one. Russian River provides:
- A SOAR Inflatable canoe
- 2 paddles
- Pfds (Life jackets) for all passengers
- 1 dry bag per canoe to keep your personal articles dry
- 15 minute pre-trip riverside orientation
- Return shuttle ride from the take-out back to your car
- Rinse station, bathrooms and changing facilities at our location
W.E.T River Trips – White Water Rafting California
Sacramento whitewater rafting outfitter W.E.T. River Trips is one of the few white water rafting California river outfitters offering rafting trips for people with visual and auditory impairments, as well as those who have physical and intellectual disabilities. Although their website says nothing about their accommodations for disabled or physically challenged rafters, the Sacramento Bee ran an article in 2015, that said W.E.T. has been accommodating physically challenged rafters throughout its 37 years of operations.
Changes to adventure venues in California are a result of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Lawsuits across the state that have forced a variety of changes to California’s outdoor adventure destinations. A total of 75 California public beaches now offer specialized beach wheelchairs with thicker tires and powerful motors to move at a reasonable pace across sand, but for that intent on river rafting, there’s W.E.T. River Trips – who was accommodating the disabled long before anyone demanded they do so.
Company Info –
The company uses paddle boats, most commonly used for whitewater rafting, as well as special oar boats featuring wheelchair-accessible decks. Floatation devices that prop its users into a “California lounge chair position” give people a downstream view and let them keep their arms and head above surface level.
Each year the company hires several rafting guides with backgrounds in education – ranging from special education to outdoor activities. Having an educational background means the guides are better on rafting and guiding tours for other-abled, or disabled people, particularly those on the autism spectrum or with other mental disabilities. Accessible rafting trips – those accommodating people with disabilities – are most often hosted on novice and intermediate rapids – Class I, II, and III, along the American River.
There may be less than a dozen white water rafting California rivers, but they make the most of them, and in a variety of ways not found across the country. Therefore, take your time, do the research and be prepared to have the time of your life.