Real-Time Flow Reports for California Rivers

Last Updated on Tuesday, May 15, 2018

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

2018 will be a great year for whitewater rafting in California. This season will have something for everyone looking to get on the river whether you are experienced and adventurous, or an apprehensive first-timer looking for an easier Class II-III rafting trip.

After an unusually dry winter, a series of wet storms arriving in March helped do some needed catch-up and we’ve seen snowpack pile up in the Sierras during that month.

In addition to these late storms, we had one of the wettest winters on record last year, and the leftover surplus of water means reservoirs will be at near capacity and releasing great flows for rafting during the spring, summer, and fall of 2018.

Free-flowing rivers (no dams above the run) like the Merced, North Fork American, and Kaweah will have shorter seasons and less flow than last year. The best time to experience these rivers will be April and May.

The flow forecasts below might change in the next few weeks depending on the current weather, so stay tuned. We are watching snowpack in the Sierra carefully and will update this page regularly.

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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.

The 2018 Season: March 31 - October

Normal to Moderately-High flows are expected during the spring snowmelt months of April, May and early June. During the summer months of June, July, and August there will be flows of 1300 to 1700 six days a week (water is not guaranteed on Wednesdays). These normal flows will continue into fall on select days of the week: Thursday-Sunday after Labor Day through the end of September and Friday-Monday in October.

* 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. Less technical (fewer rock obstacles), bigger waves, swifter moving water than at Normal flows. Wetsuits usually required. Usual minimum age increased to 10 years.

5000 -8000 CFS = High flows. Challenging Class III-IV whitewater. Faster moving water with longer rapids. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age increased to 12 and 90 lbs.

Above 8000 CFS = Very High flows. The river changes into an Intermediate Class IV river at these unusually high flows. Speed of water, size of waves, length of rapids increase. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age increased to 15 years.

 

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

Rafting flows on this beautiful river typically start in May and last into fall thanks to consistent water releases from two upstream reservoirs.

The 2018 Season: May - September

Consistent flows of 900-1100 CFS will occur 7 days a week starting May 12. These Normal flows are expected to last until September. In early October the river will likely shut down for annual maintenance on the hydro electric project above the run.

The Middle Fork is one of the best options for 1-, 2-, and 3-Day wilderness trips. Predictable 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 adventurous 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 = Very High flows. Not advisable. Most rapids are either washed out or need to be portaged.

 

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.

The 2018 Season: April - May 28

This year the season began in April, but will likely end by the end of May. The season will consist of mostly Normal flows (1500-4000 CFS) and experience some Lower flows (650-1000 CFS) toward the end of May.

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 may be increased from 12 to 13 years.

1500 - 4000 CFS = Normal flows. Great for eager first timers and experienced rafters alike. 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 adventurous first-timers and experienced rafters. Bigger waves and swifter moving water. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age increased from 12 to 15 years.

6000 - 8000 CFS = High flows. Speed of the water picks up. Rapids lengthen and calms are shorter. Out of boat experiences (unplanned swims) become more challenging. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age is 15 years.

Above 8000 CFS = Very High flows. Speed of water, size of waves, and length of rapids increase. Calm stretches move swiftly. Previous rafting experience is recommended. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age is 15 years.

 

Tuolumne (Intermediate - Advanced / Class IV+):

The Tuolumne is a dam-controlled river with reliable flows from April through Labor Day in early September. Raftable flows are released 7 days a week except for every other Wednesday during the summer months.

The 2018 Season: May - September 3

This river will have Normal flows (900-3000 CFS) for most of its rafting season beginning in May and ending on Labor Day, September 3rd. At times there may be periods of Lower technical flows (700-900 CFS) due to maintenance work on the upstream dams, and Moderately-High flows in case of extreme heat or late wet storms. The best time to experience the Tuolumne in 2018 will be June and July. Beginning in June, every other Wednesday will not have guaranteed flows and after September 3rd, the river will shut down for annual hydro project maintenance and water conservation.

600 - 900 CFS = Lower 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.

900 - 3000 CFS = Normal flows. Great for adventurous 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 adventurous 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 and adventurous first-timers. Bigger waves and swifter moving water. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age increased to 15 years old.

Above 8000 CFS = Very High flows. Speed of water, size of waves, and length of rapids increase. Out of boat experiences (unplanned swims) become more challenging. Calm stretches move swiftly. Previous experience is recommended. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.


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. Water releases from the reservoir may sometimes increase river flows on the section we run below, but their timing is not predictable. We rely on low elevation melting snow below the reservoir that feeds this beautiful river during spring. Usually the season is short, lasting from late April to late May.

The 2018 Season: April

This year Spicer Reservoir is collecting the higher elevation snowmelt and water releases for rafting are not planned. Due to below average low elevation snowpack the 2018 season was short, occuring during the month of April only. The flows are now too low for rafting. We will be back on the North Stan in spring 2019.

flow chart for the North Fork Stanislaus

450 - 500 CFS = Lower 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 in regard to changes in elevation and speed. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. 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. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits are required. Usual minimum age: 15 years old.

700 - 1000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Less rock obstacles and more drops, waves become bigger. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Plenty of Class IV+ whitewater. Wetsuits required.

1000 - 2000 CFS = High flows. Speed of water, size of waves, and drops increase. Calms between rapids become shorter. The obstacles change from rocks and boulders to drops and hydraulics. Oar-paddle raft option may be utilized. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.

Above 2000 CFS = Very High flows. Rapids begin to "link" with one another and become very challenging. Calms between the rapids become shorter. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.


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.

The 2018 Season: mid-April - mid-May

There is enough snow in the southern part of the Sierra to create a short rafting season starting in mid-April and continuing through mid-May. The river will experience Normal and technical Lower flows for most of its season.

Kaweah River Graph

700 - 1200 CFS = Lower flows. Technical rafting through boulder filled rapids and narrow exciting passages. Drops are abrupt, sharp and involve significant changes in elevation. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Good balance and the ability to respond to commands quickly and paddle hard are necessary. Usual minimum age: 15 years old.

1200 - 1800 CFS = Normal flows. Challenging Class IV+ whitewater. Previous rafting experience is recommended and helpful. This river is action-packed, filled with fun waves, lots of maneuvering, and short breaks in between. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits often required.

1800 - 3000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Faster moving water with bigger waves and longer rapids. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.

3000 - 4000 CFS = High flows. Speed of water, size of waves and drops increase. Calm sections between rapids become shorter in length. Out of boat experiences (unplanned swims) become more challenging. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Oar-Paddle Combo rafts used most often. Wetsuits required.

Above 4000 CFS = Very High flows. The river rarely gets to these levels. When it does, it has similar features to High flows, but everything about the rapids is bigger and faster. The water in the calm sections also moves at a swifter pace. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.


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 in most years only lasts until the middle or end of May.

The 2018 Season: April - early May

Due to a drier than normal winter, the North Fork ran only for a few weeks in April and through early May. We will be rafting on this beautiful river again in spring 2019.

For real time flow information, click here.


600 - 1200 CFS = Lower flows. Forgiving Class IV whitewater. Best for experienced rafters who like the challenge of difficult paddling and maneuvers. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits only required during cooler months. Usual minimum age: 15 years old.

1200 - 1800 CFS = Normal flows. Challenging Class IV+ whitewater, exciting for veterans and adventurous first-timers. Less rock obstacles and more waves. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.

1800 - 2200 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Challenging Class IV+ whitewater,faster moving water, with bigger waves and longer rapids. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Previous experience recommended and helpful. Wetsuits required.

2200 - 3500 CFS = High flows. Very challenging Class IV+ whitewater with some Class V rapids. Speed of water, size of waves and drops increase. Calm sections between rapids become shorter in length. Out of boat experiences (unplanned swims) become more challenging. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.

3500 CFS = Very High flows. The river rarely gets to these levels. When it does, it has similar features to High flows, but everything about the rapids is bigger and faster. The water in the calm sections also moves at a swifter pace. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.

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

The Goodwin Canyon section of the Stanislaus River is a dam-controlled river. In years with average snowpack 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 September or October water releases are typically increased for two weeks to signal salmon to return for spawning. In years of heavy snowpack more water is released for the salmon and flows are typically consistent from April to October, 7 days a week. 2018 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 = Lower flows. Very technical rafting through boulders and narrow chutes. Many rapids require quick and powerful maneuvers. Rapids and drops are abrupt in regard to changes in elevation and speed. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Boats remain light with 4 to 6 people per raft at the most. Wetsuits required.

700 - 1500 CFS = Normal flows. Technical Class IV+ rafting through tight chutes, and over exciting drops. At these flows the river moves slow in the calms but picks up speed through the drops. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age: 15 years old.

1500 - 2000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Less boulders inside the drops. More powerful hydraulics and fun waves. More boulders and rocks are covered up with water eliminating some obstacles and creating more holes to thrill or avoid. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Several Class IV+ rapids are approaching Class V. Wetsuits required.

2000 - 3000 CFS = High flows. Rapids remain the same length, size of waves and drops increase. Water in calm sections moves swifter. The obstacles change from rocks and boulders to stomping hydraulics and holes. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.

Above 3000 CFS = Very High flows. The river rarely gets to these levels. When it does, it has similar features to High flows, but everything about the rapids is bigger and faster. The water in the calm sections also moves at a swifter pace. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.


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. The season typically runs from April through June.

The 2018 Season: April - May

The 2018 rafting season will start in April and go through the end of May.

For real time flow information, click here.


1000 - 1400 CFS = Lower flows. Forgiving Class IV and some Class V whitewater. Best for experienced rafters and adventurous first-timers who like the challenge of difficult paddling and maneuvers. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits only required during cooler months.

1400 - 3000 CFS = Normal flows. Challenging Class IV+ and Class V whitewater, exciting for veterans. Previous experience recommended and helpful. Less rock obstacles, more waves and swifter moving water. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.

3000 - 4000 CFS = Moderately-High flows. Challenging Class V whitewater, faster moving water, with bigger waves and longer rapids. Previous rafting experienced recommended. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.

4000-5000 CFS = High flows. Very challenging Class V whitewater. Speed of water, size of waves, and drops increase. Calms between rapids become shorter. Out of boat experiences (unplanned swims) become more challenging. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight.Wetsuits required.

Above 5000 CFS = Very High flows. The river rarely gets to these levels. When it does, it has similar features to High flows, but everything about the rapids is bigger and faster. The water in the calm sections also moves at a swifter pace. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required.

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. Flows between 1300 and 2000 CFS are considered ideal for this ultimate whitewater challenge.

The 2018 Season: mid-June - August 5, possibly September 3

Due to lower snowpack, these ideal rafting flows are expected to start happening in early to mid-June this year. Raftable flows will be released 7 days a week except for every other Wednesday, and will continue through at least August 5th and possibly through September 3rd, depending on final decision regarding a dam maintenance project currently planned for later part of August. The best time to experience a Cherry Creek trip this year will be June and July.

* In lower snowpack years, such as this year, the Cherry Creek season is extended into springtime giving rafters more opportunities to see the beautiful canyon and world class rapids.

Real-Time Flows for Cherry Creek

1000 - 1500 CFS = Normal flows. Challenging Class V whitewater, exciting for veterans. Previous rafting experience highly recommended. Big drops over and around large boulders mean quick maneuvering around obstacles. Difficult and long swims are possible should someone fall out of the raft. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight. Wetsuits required. Usual minimum age: 17 years old.

1500 - 2200 CFS = High flows. Very challenging Class V-V+ whitewater. Waves, drops, and holes become bigger, water moves faster. Calms between rapids are shorter and move swifter. Participants should be competent swimmers, active, not overweight, with previous Class IV+ rafting experience. Wetsuits required.