California's Best Summer Rafting Trips - South Fork American River
If you live in Central California odds are that you have experienced this amazing stretch of whitewater. The South Fork of the American River offers 21 miles of class III whitewater to enjoy. The heart of this popular river resides in the town of Coloma California. This river was pioneered in the early 1970s by a handful of outfitters looking for a new boating resource after the Main Stanislaus was dammed. Most American River rafting companies offer 1 and 2 day trips between the two sections of river. Both sections of the American River are great all around trips for ages 8+ and it also makes a really great team building adventure.
This is the lower half of the river from Coloma to Folsom Lake and is the one most often paddled by first timers. This is also the section that you will run on your first day of a 2 day trip. Rafting Companies will start out the trip near the town of Coloma from their rafting camp. You have a fun class II segment of river that meanders through rolling forested hills, and there are plenty of swim and play spots on the river where your guide can introduce you to the fundamentals of rafting. After lunch you will drop into the gorge and the numerous class III rapids; starting with Fowler’s Rock, the rapids come in quick succession through the gorge. You will run several classic class III rapids including Satan's Cesspool, Bouncing rock, and Hospital Bar as you paddle down to Folsom Lake. Late in the season and in low water years you get a few additional rapids all the way to take out. If the lake is up you will find jet skis waiting to tow you out at the end. It is a short bus ride from your takeout at Salmon Falls back to camp.
The upper part of the river is called the Chili Bar Section and runs from Chili Bar near the quaint gold rush town of Placerville down to Coloma. The trip is between 8 and 10 miles depending upon where the company’s camp is located. This section starts off really quick with your first big class III rapid early on in the day. The river goes pretty quick in the canyon until it starts to open up in the Coloma valley. The last major rapid is the infamous Trouble Maker. After this, you experience a fun float back to camp with lots of play and swim areas.
During your time on the river, you will get to enjoy the company’s rafting camp as well. There really is no better place to unwind and relax during your rafting trip than in camp. You can unplug from work, enjoy the company of your fellow rafters, meet new friends, swap some stories by the campfire, or just sit by the river and watch the world float by. Camp offers all of this with the comfort of modern facilities and guides to cater to you. Most companies offer all-inclusive camping, rafting, and meal plans.
Why we LOVE this river
The South Fork of the American River really is a California classic, because it is so easy to enjoy and the miles of family friendly whitewater. You will find great guides, excellent rafting camps, and quality trips out here. If you live in central California there is a good bet that this river is within a 4 hour drive of you, and if you live in and around the San Francisco Bay Area this river is about 3 hours away. Perfect for an overnight trip to get out of the city and get back to nature. If you are 8 or 80 you can still get on this remarkable stretch of river and have a good time. Also, since it is Dam Controlled you can enjoy this river all year round with reliable summer flows even in the driest of years.
Or you can learn more about what this amazing place has to offer from our Coloma destination guide.