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Real-Time Flow Reports for California Rivers

Last Updated on Friday, November 03, 2017

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

The 2017 California rafting season is now over; the 2018 season will start in April. Save on your 2018 rafting trip during our 25% Pre-Season Sale going on during the months of November, December, and January.

During the off-season winter months of November through March, rafting trips are possible on the South Fork of the American River on weekends only when raftable flows are guaranteed thanks to 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.

Let’s look back at the past rafting season. 2017 was an amazing year for whitewater rafting in California offering something for both the experienced and adventurous rafters, as well as the more apprehensive first-timers. A very wet winter resulted in higher than normal flows on all of our rivers during the springtime snowmelt period. Free-flowing rivers that don’t have any upstream reservoirs had an extended season thanks to the heavy snowpack. Dam-controlled rivers had excellent and dependable flows all season long providing rafting opportunities ranging from gentle Class I-II float trips to super-challenging and technical Class V adventures and from quick morning or afternoon runs to multi-day mini-vacations.

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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 2017 South Fork season started in April with Moderately-High to High flows lasting through late June. By mid-July the flows decreased to Normal levels and these flows continued seven days a week through Labor Day. Normal flows were then released Thursday - Sunday in September and Friday-Monday in October.

During the off-season winter months of November-March, raftable flows are released on the weekends.

* 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 occur seven days a week starting in May and lasting into Fall thanks to consistent water releases from two upstream reservoirs. In 2017 the flows on the Middle Fork were consistently above 2000 CFS during the Spring months of April through June. At these High flows the river starts to “washout” and some rapids need to be portaged - for that reason trips are not offered during this high water period. Rafting trips started in early July on Moderately-High river flows. By August these flows decreased to normal levels and lasted through September 30th. Rafting trips will resume again in Spring 2018.

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. In 2017 the rafting season started in mid-April with Moderately-High flows. The river then ran at High flows in the month of June and later at Normal flows which continued through mid-July. We will begin offering trips on this river again in Spring 2018.

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 early September. Raftable flows are released 7 days a week except for every other Wednesday during the summer months. The 2017 rafting season started in early April with Moderately-High flows that turned into High and Very High flows later in Spring. Very large snowpack and increased releases from the Cherry Lake reservoir created an extended high water period this past year. Normal flows began in early August and the rafting season lasted until mid-September. We will be back on this beautiful river in April 2018.

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. Melting snow below the reservoir feeds this beautiful river during spring. Usually the season is short, lasting from early to mid-April to late May. In 2017 the rafting season on this high elevation river started in late April and thanks to above average snowpack the river ran at Moderately-High to High flows for much of the springtime season that lasted through the end of June. We will be back on the North Stan in Spring 2018.

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 2017 rafting season began in mid-April and lasted through early July. The river ran at Moderately-High to High flows for most of its season giving this exciting river even more edge. We will be back on the Kaweah in Spring 2018.

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. Because of the above average snowpack, the 2017 rafting season started at the beginning of April with Moderately-High to High flows and ran through the end of June. We will be rafting on this beautiful river again in April 2018.

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. In 2017 we ran trips on the weekend of October 21 - 22. 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 2017 rafting season started in April and ran until mid-July. We are planning to be back on the Cal Salmon in late April 2018.

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. Due to a large snowpack and an extended high water period, the 2017 Cherry Creek season started in early August and and ran until September 5th. The river will become runnable again in 2018.

 

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.