Whitewater Rafting in the Sacramento Region

The best places to ride the rapids near Sacramento

Sacramento is home to the Sacramento River, which plenty of locals casually float down each summer with their raft and often a beer in hand. However, the nearby American River - along with its sister rivers North Yuba and Stanislaus - set the stage for a rip roaring whitewater rafting adventure that really puts Sacramento on the map with adrenaline junkies.

The American River is made up of three different forks - South, Middle and North. Located in gold country near Sacramento, each section of the river offers a completely different whitewater rafting experience. This means that families in Sacramento can go whitewater rafting with young children at some points, while true adventures can experience the best of Sacramento rafting on a different section of water.
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    ••• The Tunnelshoot of the North Fork American River is challenging and exhilerating. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

    The North Fork of the American River is where early rafters go for a springtime adventure. With Class 4 rapids, stunning scenery is found all along the river bank as you navigate through various punches of water the North Fork has to offer. The North Fork of the American River is produced by snow melt off, and so the more snow that falls in the Tahoe region during the winter, the better the rafting will be in the springtime. Rafting trips traditionally begin on the North Fork in April, and can stretch all the way into June if there has been heavy snowfall.

    The North Fork is not recommended for novices – the rapids are Class 4, which means they are appropriate for intermediate and advanced river rafters. Going with a guide is always recommended for those who are not considered to be expert rafters.

    A North Fork whitewater rafting trip can take on a few different forms. The half day excursions tend to be the most popular in the region, which includes approximately 9 miles of rafting. In...MORE going with a professional rafting company, the half day trips are expedited and barebones – no lunch, hiking or nature exploration are included. Of course, you will take in plenty of nature’s best scenery as you blur past in your raft.

    Two-day trips are also available on the North Fork, and usually involve one day on the other sections of river first, followed by the North Fork the next day. Or, at times advanced rafters combine the North Fork with a day on the Yuba River’s North Fork first.

    Finally, double runs are acceptable in a single day if the group is well-seasoned in whitewater rafting in the Sacramento region and are considered to be able-bodied enough to take on such a feat.

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    ••• The Middle Fork of the American River is great for physically fit beginners. Image courtesy of Vlad & Marina Butsky
    The American River's Middle Fork is one of the most popular rafting destinations in Sacramento, as it is home to both challenging Class 4 rapids and continuous pools. It is also the most reliable in terms of its patterns and has a long season.

    It is often described as appropriate for a physically fit first time rafter, or for those who would like a challenge above the South Fork but below what the North Fork offers. The area surrounding the Middle Fork is rugged and picturesque, and many professional whitewater rafting companies offer either a one day excursion or extended 2-3 day camping trips.

    While the names of some of the rapids can be rather intimidating (Last Chance and Submarine Hole are a couple examples), rafters can opt to avoid the fiercest of rapids if they’re feeling a bit timid. Be on the lookout for a lot of wildlife, including bears and fish.

    Since the Middle Fork is easier to maneuver than the North Fork, your tour guide will likely pair a one day trip with a lunch...MORE stop and short hikes for land lovers.

    Your Middle Fork adventure will begin in Auburn – just past Sacramento. Trips longer than a single day usually include a jaunt down the South Fork or opportunities to swim, fish or just take a nap in solitude.
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    ••• The South Fork of the American River is the most popular portion for whitewater rafting near Sacramento. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

    The South Fork of the American River is the most popular whitewater rafting destinations in all of California. This is mainly because the South Fork stays full and active the longest, with a long season spanning from April through September. It is one of the only destinations where you can catch an exhilarating ride over Labor Day weekend. Water is released from a dam, which makes ideal rapids practically a 100% guarantee when every other body of water is winding down for the summer.

    The South Fork is also the most ideal for beginners – it’s the safest for families, girl scout troops and just about any other group of people you would ever think of putting in a raft and sending down a river.

    The various sections of the South Fork are probably the most recognizable by name because of its frequent amount of visitors each season. The Lotus Run, for example, is ideal for young children and seniors. Only 4 miles of water makes this a brief yet still exciting ride, with rapids reaching only...MORE Class 2.

    The Chili Bar is 11 miles long and starts around the city of Placerville. You’ll experience some Class 3s in this stretch – usually for about 5 miles of your journey.

    Whichever path you choose, the South Fork of the American River is an awesome experience for adventurers of all ages and backgrounds. Try an overnight trip to experience as much of the river as you can, or opt for a quick day trip if you’re feeling a bit timid.