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Real-Time Flow Reports for California Rivers

Last Updated on Friday, November 19, 2021

This page features real-time flow data and other helpful information about 10 of California's best whitewater rafting rivers.

The 2021 California rafting season is now over; the 2022 season will start in April. Save on your 2022 rafting trip during our 25% Pre-Season Sale going on during the months of November, December, and January.

Let’s look back at the past rafting season. Despite the low snowpack levels and drought declaration in our state, 2021 was a solid year for whitewater rafting in California offering something for both the experienced and adventurous rafters, as well as the more apprehensive first-timers. While rivers without any upstream reservoirs (depending solely on melting snow) had shorter seasons than usual, dam-controlled rivers had good water flows thanks to consistent and reliable water releases from the upstream reservoirs (read our post When in Drought, There’s Still Water For Rafting to learn more). As a result, we were able to provide 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.

Below you will find more detailed information for each river. If you have any questions and would like to talk to one of our California Rafting Consultants, we are available by phone, email, or live chat.

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

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!


Beginner-Intermediate


South Fork American



South Fork of the American
(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. In 2021 the river ran at Normal flows for the duration of the season. Although raftable river flows will continue to be released on Saturdays during the off-season months (November-March), All-Outdoors will not be offering trips until early spring.

* No matter what kind of winter California has - lots of precipitation or little, the South Fork of the American's constant flows, many fun and exciting rapids, easy access, 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. In 2021 Normal flows of 1000 CFS began on Memorial Day weekend (May 29) and remained consistent four days a week through August. In early September a National Forest closure and an unexpected technical problem at the upstream reservoir prevented us from rafting temporarily; the last day of the 2021 season was Saturday, 9/25. Rafting trips will resume again in spring 2022.

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 2021 season began in April and lasted until late May when the flows became too low for rafting. We will begin running this enjoyable river again in April, 2022.

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 River
(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. In 2021 this river had Normal flows (900-3000 CFS) for most of the rafting season which started in late May. Beginning August 9 the river switched to Lower technical flows of about 700 CFS due to an unexpected technical problem at the upstream reservoir. Although the rafting season was supposed to run through September 6, the Stanislaus National Forest closure effectively ended the Tuolumne rafting season on August 31. We will be back on this amazing river in April 2022.

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. 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. In 2021 the snowpack below Spicer Reservoir was below normal and the season was short with Lower flows only. We look forward to being back on this beautiful (and favorite of many) river next spring!

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 - 1200 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.

1200 - 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 River
(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. In 2021 the Kaweah only ran at Low flows in early May. We look forward to offering this satisfying, crowd pleasing, non-stop action run again in the spring of 2022!

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. Its drainage is relatively small and low, so the season is shorter than other rivers and only lasts until the middle or end of May in most years. Due to a drier than normal winter, the North Fork only ran at Lower flows for a few weeks from mid-April to early May in 2021. We plan to be back again in April 2022 to enjoy this beautiful and exciting river.

flow chart for the North Fork American

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 the reservoir directly above this run 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. 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 2021 we offered our Goodwin Canyon Double Runs trips during the last two weekends in October. We will be back on this unique river in 2022!

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, although in most years we concentrate bookings into one weekend trip in late April. Later trips are possible for large groups, depending on flows and availability. In 2021 the river flowed well from April through the end of May. We plan to be back on it in the spring of 2022!

California Salmon

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 lower snowpack, the ideal rafting flows started earlier - in mid-June this past year. Raftable flows were released 7 days a week except for every other Wednesday, and lasted through August 9 when an unexpected technical problem at the upstream reservoir decreased flow releases to levels that were too low for Class V rafting. The river will become runnable again in 2022.

* 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.

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