The most popular destination for whitewater rafting in California, the South Fork of the American River is a great introduction to professionally guided rafting trips... the ideal river for families with kids and any group wanting to enjoy a fun yet relaxing day on the river together.
Though the rapids have overwhelming names like "Troublemaker" and "Satan's Cesspool," they are not too intimidating themselves. Exciting enough to get your heart pumping, they are still reasonable enough for kids as young as eight years old to enjoy. Most consist of large waves or swift bends in the river. And all of them are followed by calm pools, which makes it easy to re-group and get prepared for the next thrill ride.
The South Fork American River offers all the qualities that make river rafting incredibly fun: lively, approachable rapids, splashing waves, and classic California scenery.
The South Fork lies in the golden hillsides of the Sierra Nevada foothills, just forty miles east of Sacramento. The river winds through the tiny hamlet of Coloma--the town where gold was first discovered in California in 1848. The remainder of the river flows through a picturesque canyon-- in the spring, the hills are sprinkled with blooming wildflowers; in the summer, the hillsides bend toward the sky in a creamy caramel hue. Oak, willow and pine trees dot the riverbanks. Ducks and geese float quietly in the calm pools.
Because the South Fork is so close to many metropolitan areas, it's easy to go on a rafting trip yet still arrive back home with plenty of time to relax. On our Express trip option, you could even raft in the morning and then have time to go hiking in Lake Tahoe in the afternoon. If you're looking to escape the world for the weekend, our 2-Day option will allow you to enjoy the river on a more leisurely schedule--and you'll have the opportunity to see both sections of the river.
April through May the melting snow in the Sierra makes the water levels on the South Fork climb-- sometimes as high as 5-6,000 cubic feet per second (normal flows hover around 1,200 cfs). This makes for an exhilarating ride. Rapids that are usually tame grow and become more challenging. The current picks up speed and the hydraulics get larger.
In contrast, during the months of June-Oct, river flows are usually a consistent, less intimidating level. This is the best time for families, first-time rafters, and groups to raft the South Fork. For a unique rafting experience, water releases are guaranteed Nov-Mar on the weekends.
* Season length, river flows, and days of water releases may vary. For this year's flow predictions and real-time water levels go to the River Flows page.
On 1-Day trips, we provide a gourmet "build-your-own" sandwich lunch that includes all the fixings you’ll need to assemble the perfect sandwich along with kettle style potato chips, dried fruit, and chocolate. Enjoy your relaxing, riverside meal before heading back out on the water for more adventure.
On 2-Day trips, our meals are freshly prepared with a selection of healthy ingredients. Dinner will typically begin with beverages and hors d'oeuvres in camp while your guides prepare your hearty main entrees and a tasty dessert. The next morning you can wake up with your choice of cowboy coffee or tea while your guides prepare a hearty classic camp breakfast OR a continental breakfast.
If you have special dietary requirements, we encourage you to tell us at the time of your reservation so we can discuss options.
During normal water flows, All-Outdoors runs paddle raft trips on the South Fork. In a paddle raft, each guest and the professional guide have a paddle and navigate the river, working as a coordinated team. If paddling doesn't sound inviting, you may request an oar raft. In an oar raft, a professional guide steers the boat with oars while guests simply enjoy the ride. If you would like the option to paddle or not, we also use oar-paddle combination rafts (a professional guide steers the boat with oars while simultaneously calling commands to paddlers in the boat). Please call our office far in advance of your trip to request either an oar raft or oar-paddle raft (subject to availability and additional charges may apply). All guests should be able to swim.
"It was really nice to get away and spend good part of the day away from emails, phones etc and just enjoying the scenery and the cool river with family on a very hot summer day. We had a super guide (sorry forgot the name) who made the whole trip very enjoyable."
Jonathan from Pleasanton, CA
One of our specialties is creating fun and memorable whitewater rafting trips for small or large groups. We have the largest government permit on South Fork of the American, so we can accommodate almost any size group.