Coloma visitor's guide
The Coloma Valley...this place has got to be my favorite river town. Most river towns have their charm, but you won't find a more eccentric and bustling hub of whitewater boating in all of California. Coloma is at heart of California's boating scene because of several factors: reliable dam releases, a long history of established rafting companies, and literally hundreds of world class sections of river within a 2 hour drive. If you are looking for a trip with a rafting company, this is your guide to this gem of a river town. If you are an expert boater or world traveler see our Pro-tips - River Towns section.
If you are in Coloma you are here to boat...unless you are in 4th grade then you are here for Gold Rush Land (See Culture). The South Fork of the American runs right through the town with two great Class III sections of whitewater upstream and downstream of the town respectively. Most rafting Companies based out of Coloma run commercial trips on the North Middle and South Forks of the American. The North and Middle Forks offer Class IV day trips for the more adventurous paddler. If you live in the Sacramento or San Francisco areas this is your go-to for whitewater rafting. There are great river trips to be had in the area and since there are so many companies on the 3 forks of the American River, prices tend to be reasonable.
Coloma is an old Native American settlement that found itself at the heart of the Gold Rush of the 1850's. The town is beset every spring by hordes of 4th graders on tour buses here for the theme park of sorts that has sprung up in town. Despite this, Coloma is an amazing melting pot of cultures from around the world. I have heard guides speaking languages from all corners of the world, and have met boaters from all over the US, Canada, Mexico, France, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Costa Rica, India, and dozens of other countries. You can find a guide who speaks nearly any language and has run rivers all over the world. The skills, companies, and trips are as varied as the folks who run them. Companies often specialize in trips for different demographics: budget trips, luxury adventures, LGBT trips, Christian adventure camp, and corporate team-building companies can all be found here.
Coloma is not the most spectacularly developed town. It is located in the heart of El Dorado County whose residents prefer their peace and solitude. The State Park is charming and quaint, while the business are located just over the hill and across the bridge. Two small shopping centers house practically every business in the town that is not a rafting company. There are a few good small restaurants in town, one super fancy gourmet restaurant, and Sierra Rising Bakery which is an awesome coffee shop packed with people in the morning. There are also a couple photo companies in town that sell rafting photos. If you are here on an overnight there are two bars in town. The River Shack is a decent sandwich shop with an incredible selection of beer on tap. This place tends to be the local hangout, and you will find a lot of local flavor here in the early evening after the rafting trips conclude. The Coloma Club is a bit more touristy with the feel of a mid-western roadhouse and is very popular on Saturday nights with rafting guests.
Coloma is not only a melting pot of cultures for guides. Rafting guests from around the world come here to run the Forks of the American. When you stay in a rafting camp you never know who you will camp next to or who will be in your boat. The last commercial trip I was on had a Mother from Louisiana, her son who was studying in Europe, an two Chinese law students from UC Irvine. By the end of the trip everyone was talking and laughing like old friends. The river really brings people together in a way that create life long friendships.
One of the best parts about Coloma is the wide range of camping facilities. Some camps are clearly better than others, but by and large you can find accommodations to suit any preference. Some outfitters offer river front cabins in a well developed camp setting. Other camps offer some great glamping opportunities with excellent amenities while preserving the camp feel. If you feel like you want to rough it there are some campgrounds that offer basic camping in beautiful camp settings, but you may need to bring your own tent. Some outfitters even offer wilderness trips where you will spend the night in a pristine river canyon miles away from civilization. Ask your group what they want from the trip and consult with your rafting company to find your ideal accommodations.