2017 California Rafting Season Update. Learn More!

California High Water Rafting With All-Outdoors

You've been hearing a lot about high water levels on California's rivers. But what exactly is "high water" and how does it change a river trip? Let's explore these questions in greater detail.

What is "High Water"?

High water means different things on different rivers. What all rivers at high water have in common are the unique and exciting ways the river changes. In general, the river flows much faster and waves and hydraulics become larger and more powerful. Sometimes, the well-known rapids on the river become tamer or "washed out" (the high water fills in the rapid, creating a mellower ride) while normally calm parts of the river erupt in the challenging rapids. One thing is always a constant - your ride will be boisterous, dynamic, and swift. You'll find your way through one rapid and be at the entrance of another. At times, the entire river may feel like one long rapid. It's a vigorous, spirited ride


Who Should Go Rafting on a High Water Rafting Trip?

While rafting high water on California's rivers is exhilarating fun, it's not for everyone. Anyone who is even slightly afraid of water or a non-swimmer should not go on a high-water rafting trip. Young people - those less than 14 years of age, depending on water levels - should also wait for flows to recede before going rafting. On the flip side, adventurous, athletic people with previous whitewater experience (preferably) will have the time of their lives. The big question to ask yourself is how willing are you to invite a little of the unknown into your rafting experience? Because flipping, wrapping, and swimming is more common on high water trips, you'll need to be ready for - and excited about - the possibility of challenging circumstances. Guests need to be able to paddle aggressively and react quickly. The most ideal high water rafter is someone who is active, a good swimmer, and has a fun-loving, adventurous attitude.


How Will High Water Change My Rafting Trip?

High water levels will change your trip in three basic ways:

First, if you made a reservation on one of the rivers that is running too high to feasibly raft, your trip may be cancelled. Never fear though - you will have the option of re-scheduling for a later date or switching to another river.

Secondly, in time of high flows, the water moves much faster - this usually means your on-water time will pass much more swiftly. For this reason, if you're rafting the South Fork American, you might want to look into doing a "Whole River" trip instead of just the "Upper" or "Gorge" section - doing so will comfortably extend your on-water day.

Lastly, as we've already discussed some well-known rapids will get "washed out" while lesser-known parts of the river will seethe with rapids. This is because rocks that were normally dry are now covered with water, creating big hydraulics. Or perhaps the river is now flowing over a bend that was once dry. All these things create new rapids and give each rafting trip an exciting flair.

How is All-Outdoors Preparing for These High Water Trips?

All-Outdoors is preparing for the high water season in many ways. First and foremost, we are monitoring the changing water levels constantly. From our headquarters in Walnut Creek, we incessantly track flows on the ten rivers we run, looking for potential concerns and alerting our guests if we come upon any.

In terms of the actual operation of our trips, here are a few of the precautions we're taking:

  • When appropriate, we've switched from paddle rafts to oar-paddle combination rafts for more power and maneuverability
  • We've organized specialized high water training trips for our guides
  • We're requiring the use of wetsuits on all rivers because of the added protection and warmth they provide
  • We've increased our guide-to-guest ratio on all trips
  • We've raised the recommended minimum age on all our rivers

In short, we respect the river's power by understanding it and working with it.


How Long Will High Water Last and What Are Conditions Like Right Now?

It's difficult to say how long the high water will last. Water levels have already receded slightly on rivers flowing into the Sacramento Delta. However, with forecasts of continued hot weather, the snow in the mountains will keep melting. Depending on how quickly the snow melts, we could be looking at four to six more weeks of high flows. The quicker the melt, the sooner river levels will peak and then recede. A more gradual melt will extend the high water season. Therefore, depending on the river, high flows may last into mid-June or mid-July.

To see how high the water levels are on your favorite river, check out our flows page. You'll get detailed, up-to-the-minute information on conditions for the ten California Rivers we run.