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Real-Time Flow Reports for California Rivers

Last Modified on Monday, March 16, 2015

California Rafting Flow InformationThis page features real-time flow updates and helpful information about 10 of California's best whitewater rafting rivers.

During the off-season winter months of November through March, rafting trips are possible on the South Fork of the American River on Saturdays only when raftable flows are guaranteed thanks to water releases from upstream reservoirs. We offer Express Upper “Chili Bar” South Fork trips for those looking for a unique rafting experience. Contact us for more information about off-season rafting trips.

After a relatively dry November, stormy December brought in the first significant rain and snowfall of the 2014-15 wet season. Two weeks of major storms delivered much needed precipitation across the state. Following an exceptionally wet December, the first month of 2015 was extremely dry. A resilient ridge of high atmospheric pressure off the California coast re-routed the Pacific jet stream (and the precipitation it carries) either to the north or south of our state. In early February, the dry pattern was broken by an atmospheric river-like storm, aka the Pineapple Express, which dumped huge amounts of rain and snow across the northern portion of California.

This rain and snow we have been receiving has helped refill the high elevation reservoirs above the sections of the rivers we raft. The mega reservoirs which supply most of California with agricultural and urban water needs are below the sections of rivers we raft. These reservoirs also received much needed water, but because of their large size they are still critically low and are the ones you hear about in the news when California drought is discussed. To keep these reservoirs full we need a series of consistent normal to above normal snowpack/precipitation winters which we have not had. In contrast, the smaller, higher elevation reservoirs we rely on for rafting flows have received enough rain and snow runoff to provide consistent water releases to meet downstream water contract obligations and provide us with good, reliable rafting flows for the coming season as they did in 2014.

Just as in 2014 (another drought year), dam-controlled rivers such as the South Fork American, Middle Fork American, Tuolumne, and Cherry Creek will have solid flows thanks to reliable water releases from the upstream reservoirs. These four rivers alone offer the full range of rafting opportunities from gentle Class I-II float trips to super challenging and technical Class V adventures, from a quick morning or afternoon 1-Day trip to multi-day mini-vacations.

At this time it is hard to predict what the rafting seasons will look like on free-flowing rivers. Rafting on rivers without any upstream reservoirs solely depends on melting snow. If March and April storms produce very little precipitation, we will have a short season on some of our snowmelt dependent rivers, such as the Merced, and other free-flowing rivers, such as the North Fork Stanislaus, will not run at all.

In summary, you can count on our dam-controlled rivers (the four listed above) that rely on water releases from upstream reservoirs to have solid seasons in 2015. March and April weather will determine the type and length of rafting season of our free-flowing rivers which have no upstream reservoirs and rely 100% on snowmelt.

Information on this page will be updated throughout the rest of the winter and early spring. For more details on why 2015 will be a great year for whitewater rafting read AO Blog article When in Drought, There’s Still Water for Rafting.

This page gives you real-time and up-to-date flows so first check out the graph's "cold hard facts" and then read our analysis to perfect your understanding of California rivers.

To stay connected and up-to-date on all California river flow information, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, subscribe to the AO Blog or sign up for the AO eNews.

The measurement used to determine the flow in a river is “CFS”, which is Cubic Feet per Second. Gauges along the river indicate how much water is moving past a given point. The higher the “CFS” the higher the flow. Most of the time, higher flows (higher CFS) means more exciting and challenging rafting trips.

Click on your favorite California river below to see real-time water levels and season predictions!




South Fork of the American River (Beginner - Intermediate / Class III+):

The South Fork of the American River is a classic "dam-controlled" river with six reservoirs upstream of the whitewater section. Due to the large amount of stored water, these upstream reservoirs are able to release water year round on select days of the week. Regardless of the snowpack situation, the river will have regular scheduled water releases throughout the 2015 rafting season. Starting in April raftable water flows will be released on the weekends and Mondays only. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day normal flows at around 1300 CFS will be guaranteed 5 days a week Thursday - Monday. These normal flows will continue in September on the weekends. Starting in October the release pattern will likely shift into just one day a week - Saturday. If California receives significant amount of snow in the next few months, the release schedule might be expanded in terms of additional days of week and/or higher flows.

* No matter what kind of winter California has - lots or little precipitation, the South Fork of the American's constant flows, many fun and exciting rapids, and relatively low cost make it one of our best whitewater rivers.

South Fork American Graph

1200 - 3000 CFS = Normal flows, usually associated with summer and fall. Plenty of fun Class II & III whitewater and beautiful scenery. Great flow for first timers, groups and families, yet still enjoyable for experienced boaters. Wetsuits only required during cooler months. Usual minimum age: 8 years and minimum weight 50 lbs.

3000 - 5000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Challenging Class III+ whitewater, exciting for first timers and veterans alike. Big waves and swift moving water. Wetsuits usually required. Usual minimum age increased to 10 years.

5000 -8000 CFS = High flows. Challenging Class III+ whitewater. Fast moving water, with powerful waves and long rapids. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age increased to 12 and 90 lbs.

Above 8000 CFS = Extreme flows. The river changes into an Intermediate Class IV river at these unusually high flows. Fast moving water, with powerful waves and long rapids. Wetsuits required. Trips at these flows are best for adventurous, athletic people who are not afraid of water. Usual minimum age increased to 15 years.

 

Middle Fork of the American (Intermediate / Class III - IV):

Due to two reservoirs above this run, rafting flows on this beautiful river typically occur seven days a week starting in May. In 2015 this consistent water release schedule is expected to begin on Memorial Day weekend (May 23). At this time we are waiting to hear whether raftable flows will be also released in May prior to the 23rd. Normal flows (900 CFS) will continue during the rafting season through September.

During years with less than normal precipitation in California, the Middle Fork becomes one of the best options for 1-, 2-, and 3-Day wilderness trips. Consistent water releases from the Oxbow PG&E Power House just above the run create a wonderful opportunity for Class III - IV rafting inside a 2000' deep wilderness canyon.

Middle Fork American Graph

850 - 1300 CFS = Normal flows. Perfect for aggressive first timers or experienced paddlers. An excellent opportunity to experience Class IV whitewater while enjoying the stunning beauty of the Middle Fork canyon. Usual minimum age: 12 years old and 90 lbs.

1300 - 2000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. More challenging Class IV whitewater, yet suitable for a wide range of skill levels. Wetsuits may be required during cooler months. Usual minimum age may be increased.

2000 - 4000 CFS = High flows. Portages required around several major rapids. Trips are not usually offered during periods of high flows due to the number of portages.

Above 4000 CFS = Extreme flows. Not advisable

 

Merced River (Intermediate / Class III - IV):

The Merced River is free-flowing and has no dams above the whitewater section. When winter snows begin to melt the Merced begins to run. Normally the river becomes runnable in April and continues through mid-July. This year the river is expected to run at normal to low flows through May and possibly into early June.

600 - 1500 CFS = Lower flows. Great for eager first timers and experienced rafters. Class III+ whitewater. Wetsuits only required during cooler months. Usual minimum age: 12 and 90 lbs.

1500 - 4000 CFS = Normal flows. Great for aggressive first timers and experienced rafters. Plenty of Class III & IV whitewater. Wetsuits required at higher flows and/or in cooler months.

4000 - 6000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Challenging Class IV whitewater, exciting for experienced rafters. Bigger waves and swift moving water. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age increased from 12 to 15 years.

6000 - 8000 CFS = High flows. Speed of the water picks up dramatically. Rapids lengthen and calms are shorter. Out of boat experiences (unplanned swims) become more challenging. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age is 15 years.

Above 8000 CFS = Extreme flows. Big fast powerful moving water, with very large waves and long rapids. Calm stretches are very swift. Experience is highly recommended. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age is 15 years.

 

Tuolumne (Intermediate - Advanced / Class IV+):

The Tuolumne is a dam-controlled river and will have reliable flows from April through Labor Day in early September. Despite the dry winter conditions, there is enough water stored in the upstream reservoirs to release water for a healthy rafting season in 2015. Raftable flows will be released 7 days a week except for every other Wednesday beginning in June. These ideal flows will continue through Monday, September 7th (Labor Day), when water releases from upstream reservoirs become too low for rafting.

800 - 1200 CFS = Low flows. Technical rafting through smooth boulders above the water and smaller ones under the surface. Quick maneuvering and agile paddling required, as well as good balance and the ability to respond quickly to commands given by the guide. Rapids are abrupt and steep.

1200 - 3000 CFS = Normal flows. Great for aggressive first timers and experienced rafters. Plenty of Class III & IV whitewater. Wetsuits required during cooler months. Usual minimum age: 13 years old.

3000 - 5000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Great for experienced rafters and a few aggressive first timers. Significant amount of Class III & IV+ whitewater. Wetsuits required during cooler months and higher flows. Usual minimum age may be increased to 15 years old.

5000 - 8000 CFS = High flows. Challenging Class IV+ whitewater, exciting for experienced rafters. Big waves and swift moving water. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age increased to 15 years old.

Above 8000 CFS = Extreme flows. Fast moving water, with powerful waves and long rapids. Experience is highly recommended. Trips at these levels are best for very aggressive people who are not afraid of falling into a very fast river with long rapids. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age may be increased.


 

North Fork of the Stanislaus (Intermediate - Advanced / Class IV+):

The North Fork of the Stanislaus River acts like a free-flowing river, even though Spicer Reservoir is located 14 miles upstream at an elevation of 6300 feet. Melting snow below the reservoir feeds this beautiful river during spring. Usually the season is short, lasting from late April to late May. At this time it is too early to tell what the 2015 North Stan rafting season will be like, or whether there even will be one. We are waiting to see how the rest of the wet season shapes up before we can make any predictions.

flow chart for the North Fork Stanislaus

450 - 500 CFS = Low flows. Very technical rafting through boulders and narrow chutes. Many rapids start with blind turns and require quick and powerful maneuvers. Rapids and drops are abrupt and radical in regard to changes in elevation and speed. Boats remain light with 4 to 5 people per raft at the most.

500 - 700 CFS = Normal flows. Technical Class IV+ rafting through tight chutes, and over radical drops. At these flows the river resembles a trout stream at a high elevation complete with boulders, fallen trees and small pools. Wetsuits are required. Usual minimum age: 15 years old.

700 - 1000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Less boulders and more drops. The river becomes more powerful and rapids increase in length. Plenty of Class IV+ whitewater. Wetsuits required.

1000 - 2000 CFS = High flows. Rapids become longer and more powerful and calms become very short. The obstacles change from boulders to stomping hydraulics and holes. Oar-paddle raft option may be utilized. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age may be increased.

Above 2000 CFS = Extreme flows. Rapids begin to "link" with one another and become very challenging. Calms between the rapids become shorter and some disappear. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age will be increased.

 

Kaweah (Intermediate - Advanced / Class IV+):

The Kaweah is a free-flowing river with no dams above the whitewater section. Typically the season runs from mid-April to June or early July. At this time it is too early to tell what the 2015 Kaweah rafting season will be like. We are waiting to see how the rest of the wet season shapes up before we can make any predictions.

Kaweah River Graph

700 - 1200 CFS = Low flows. Technical rafting through boulder filled rapids and narrow exciting passages. Drops are abrupt, sharp and involve significant changes in elevation. Good balance and the ability to respond to commands quickly and paddle hard are necessary.

1200 - 1800 CFS = Normal flows. Challenging Class IV+ whitewater. These flows are most appropriate for aggressive and experienced rafters. The river is filled with big waves and long rapids with very short calms in between. Wetsuits often required.

1800 - 3000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Fast moving water with powerful waves and very long rapids. Wetsuits required. Possibility of falling out of the raft and swimming in a rapid is good. Usual minimum age may be increased.

3000 - 4000 CFS = High flows. Fast moving water with powerful waves and very long rapids. Wetsuits required. Oar-Paddle Combo rafts used most often. Only for aggressive, athletic people, who are not afraid of swimming in turbulent water. Usual minimum age will be increased.

Above 4000 CFS = Extreme flows. Very long rapids with very short, even non existent calms. Boulders are replaced by big pour-overs where water plunges downward into turbulent, violent water. Trips at these high flows are not for the faint hearted. The river rarely gets to these levels.

 

North Fork of the American (Intermediate - Advanced / Class IV+):

The North Fork is a free-flowing river and runs only in the spring when the winter snowpack begins to melt. It has a relatively low and small drainage so the season is shorter than other rivers and usually only lasts until the middle or end of May. At this time it is too early to tell what the 2015 North Fork rafting season will be like. We are waiting to see how the rest of the wet season shapes up before we can make any predictions.

For real time flow information, click here.


600 - 1200 CFS = Low flows. Forgiving Class IV whitewater. Best for experienced rafters who like the challenge of difficult paddling and maneuvers. Wetsuits only required during cooler months. Usual minimum age: 15 years old.

1200 - 1800 CFS = Normal flows. Challenging Class IV+ whitewater, exciting for veterans. Previous experience preferred and helpful. Bigger waves and swift moving water. Wetsuits required.

1800 - 2200 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Challenging Class IV+ whitewater, fast moving water, with powerful waves and long rapids. Calms between rapids are short and swift. Participants should be athletic individuals with previous experience. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age may be increased.

2200 - 3500 CFS = High flows. Very challenging Class IV+ whitewater with some Class V rapids. Very fast moving water, with powerful waves and rapids that "link" together. Participants should be very aggressive and athletic individuals with previous experience, and not afraid of falling into the river and swimming through very turbulent water. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age will be increased.

3500 CFS = Extreme flows. The North Fork rarely gets to these flows due to the small drainage and relatively low elevation of melting snows. When the river reaches these levels it changes character and becomes a "pin ball" type run with water bouncing off the walls of its narrow canyon. Rapids become very challenging and the river itself very swift. Experienced rafters are best suited for trips at these flows. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age will be increased.

 

Goodwin Canyon / Stanislaus River (Intermediate - Advanced / Class IV+):

The Goodwin Canyon section of the Stanislaus River is a dam-controlled river. There is usually a window of raftable water releases during the spring snowmelt, however we don’t always raft this river in spring time. During the summer time, most of the water from upstream reservoir is diverted into large canals just upstream from the whitewater section. These canals bring water to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. In October water releases are typically increased for two weeks to signal salmon to return for spawning. 2015 dates are expected to be announced in August. If you are interested in joining us in the fall for some great scenery and wild Class IV+ whitewater, be sure to read about our Goodwin Canyon Double Days trips.

Goodwin Canyon Graph

500 - 700 CFS = Low flows. Very technical rafting through boulders and narrow chutes. Many rapids require quick and powerful maneuvers. Rapids and drops are abrupt and radical in regard to changes in elevation and speed. Boats remain light with 4 to 6 people per raft at the most.

700 - 1500 CFS = Normal flows. Technical Class IV+ rafting through tight chutes, and over radical drops. At these flows the river moves slower in the calms but very quick through the drops. Usual minimum age: 15 years old.

1500 - 2000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Less boulders inside the drops. More powerful hydraulics and large impressive waves. More boulders are covered up with water eliminating some obstacles and creating more holes to thrill or avoid. Several Class IV+ rapids are approaching Class V.

2000 - 3000 CFS = High flows. Rapids remain the same length but become even more powerful. Calms are swift. The obstacles change from boulders to stomping hydraulics and holes. Usual minimum age may be increased.

Above 3000 CFS = Extreme flows. Rapids are intimidating. The possibility of unplanned swims and upside down rafts more likely. Usual minimum age will be increased.


Cal Salmon (Advanced / Class V):

The Cal Salmon is a free-flowing river and usually only runs in the spring when the winter snowpack is melting. In 2015 the river is expected to run at low to normal flows from early April through May.

For real time flow information, click here.


1000 - 1400 CFS = Low flows. Forgiving Class IV and some Class V whitewater. Best for experienced rafters who like the challenge of difficult paddling and maneuvers. Wetsuits only required during cooler months. Usual minimum age: 15 years old.

1400 - 3000 CFS = Normal flows. Challenging Class IV+ and Class V whitewater, exciting for veterans. Previous experience preferred and helpful. Bigger waves and swift moving water. Wetsuits required.

3000 - 4000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Challenging Class V whitewater, fast moving water, with powerful waves and long rapids. Calms between rapids are short and swift. Participants should be athletic individuals with previous experience. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age may be increased.

4000-5000 CFS = High flows. Very challenging Class V whitewater. Fast moving water, with powerful waves and rapids with large hydraulics and difficult maneuvers. Participants should be very aggressive and athletic individuals with previous experience, and should not be afraid of falling into the river and swimming through very turbulent water. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age will be increased.

Above 5000 CFS = Extreme flows. The river does not reach these high flows very often. When it does it is wild. The canyon is narrow so at high flows the water rushes through the canyon at high speeds. Rapids become long and very challenging and powerful. Swims are difficult. Anyone involved in trips at these levels must be physically fit, a good swimmer, and an experienced rafter.

Cherry Creek (Advanced / Class V+):

Cherry Creek is the upper stretch of the Tuolumne River and considered by many experienced rafters to be the most difficult commercial rafting trip in the U.S. In most years, the water flows are too high in spring and early summer. In low snowpack years, the Cherry Creek season begins earlier as soon as the flows drop below 2000 CFS. In 2015 this will likely happen in the beginning of May. Raftable flows will be released 7 days a week except for every other Wednesday beginning in June. These ideal flows will continue through Monday, September 7th (Labor Day), when water releases from upstream reservoirs become too low for rafting.

 

Real-Time Flows for Cherry Creek

1000 - 1500 CFS = Medium flows. Challenging Class V+ whitewater, exciting for veterans. Previous experience needed. Big drops over and around huge boulders mean quick maneuvering around powerful obstacles. Difficult and long swims are possible should someone fall out of the raft. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age: 17 years old.

1500 - 2200 CFS = High flows. Very challenging Class V+ whitewater, with powerful and fast moving water. Rapids consist of big drops into giant holes with very turbulent water. Calms between rapids are short and swift. Participants should be very athletic and aggressive and have previous Class IV+ rafting experience. Wetsuits required.