Featured in Foothill Magazine

Rafting the American River

By: Staff report
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8 Tips for the best rafting experience

  1. Pick an experienced, permitted, licensed and insured outfitter.
  2. Visit the company’s website. A good rafting company will have a great website full of valuable information.
  3. Read online reviews and see what others thought of their experiences.
  4. Call the outfitter and seek advice on an appropriate trip for your group’s athletic ability, age, and experience level.
  5. Ask about lunch — the best rafting companies serve delicious cuisine.
  6. Dress for success. Wear a (raft-company-provided) wetsuit in cold months like April, May, September and October and plenty of sunscreen and a hat or visor under your helmet in summer months. Don’t wear cotton. And make sure your sneakers or sandals are comfortable and have heels or backstraps.
  7. Visit the photo companies after your trip. Hotshot Images and Sierra Nevada Photos take awesome pictures that will preserve your memories for a lifetime.
  8. And finally, have fun. After all, that’s the main goal of whitewater rafting!

– Deric Rothe, owner-guide, Sierra Whitewater

In the summer there is nothing better than using a boat as a platform for swimming the river, floating the gentle rapids or fishing for trout on a hot summer day. Side streams provide waterfalls, good lunch stops and opportunities for exploring and learning more in-depth details about American River ecology, life cycles and food webs.

“The canyons are a mosiac of native trees and shrubs that are specifically adapted to our climate,” Eric Peach of Protect the American River Canyons said. “Deeper exploration reveals bedrock mortars along the river that were used by the native Nisenan Maidu for preparing acorn meal and other seeds for cooking. More recent Gold Rush history is revealed in the cobble rock piles left behind in search of gold along the river channel.”

If you are a beginner, go with seasoned paddlers or commercial companies to learn how to safely outfit a raft or inflatable kayak. It is also very important to learn from experienced paddlers how to “read” the rapids for the safest route and how to deal with unexpected challenges. Some rapids like Murderers Bar are rated Class V-VI and are not considered safe at any flow level. Alcohol consumption or smoking pot is not recommended on rafting trips.

Peach recommends taking time to enjoy the wilderness scenery and history of the American River.

Safety first

The rafting season starts in the spring but one must take care to consider that the river is running cold and swift even though air temperatures are warm. Check on one of the websites like that flow levels are safe and not too high for your skill level. Rapids are rated from Class I easy to Class V very difficult but at high flows even an easy rapid can turn into a Class IV or V.
An appropriate rafting life jacket, PDF, is essential for any river paddling trip. In the spring wear appropriate protective clothing like a wetsuit with a spray jacket or a dry suit to stay warm. Wear polypro, fleece or synthetic under clothing. Cotton wicks the cold water and doesn’t warm easily. The water temperature is in the mid-50 degree range so hypothermia is a real consideration. Conversely, in the summer the cold water is a welcome refreshing feeling on a hot summer day. The raft provides a fun river swim platform.