The American River is a magical place for people that enjoy rivers and rafting in California. Most new rafters learn to boat on the Class III rapids of the South Fork of the American and eventually learn the necessary skills to boat either the Class IV Middle Fork American or Class IV+ North Fork American. The proximity of the American River to Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area make it a local meeting place for boaters of the region. An alternate rafting area comparable to American River rafting are the rivers near Yosemite.
The towns of Coloma and Lotus are central to the boating community. Locals are able to paddle the South Fork American almost year-round and make journeys to the other forks as well as amazing tributaries in the spring. The American River is truly the heart of California rafting.
W.E.T. River Trips runs California rafting with family, corporate, teen, and spring break trips on the American River all spring and summer since 1978.
Rafting the South Fork Class 3 – 3+
The South Fork of the American River begins near the South Shore of Lake Tahoe and flows along Highway 50. After the beautiful granite wall, Lover’s Leap, it enters a steep gorge that is an experts only Class V kayak run. Once it passes the lovely town of Kyburz, expert rafters have been known to enjoy fourteen miles of Class IV and V rapids as the river follows Highway 50.
The river breaks away from the Highway and enters what is know as the “Golden Gate” run of the South Fork American. This is an incredibly difficult Class V+ run that has been traveled only a few times in rafts by expert teams of river guides. The end of the “Golden Gate” run is at the Slab Creek Reservoir which diverts water from the river.
During high periods of rain or heavy snow melt, Slab Creek Reservoir spills and the “Slab Creek” run of the South Fork makes for some steep Class V. This run ends at White Rock Powerhouse just above Chili Bar.
Below Chili bar is the 21 mile section of the South Fork that is known and loved by all California River Rafters. This section is normally Class III to III+ and at high water it is Class III to IV-.
Rafting the Middle Fork Class 3 – 4+
The Middle Fork American River drains the west side of Lake Tahoe as both the Middle Fork of the American and the Rubicon River. These upper reaches of the Middle Fork are too steep and inaccessible for rafting.
The most commonly rafted section of the river occurs below Oxbow Reservoir on the section of the Middle Fork American that includes the famous Tunnel Chute rapid. Most rafters that do this section take-out below Ruck-A-Chucky, the Class VI portage, at Driver’s Flat Road. This section of river has Class II to IV+ rapids.
Below Driver’s Flat are some Class II and III rapids as well as the Class V Murderer’s Bar Rapid. The Middle Fork meets the North Fork at Highway 49 near Auburn.
Rafting the North Fork Class 4 – 4+
The North Fork of the American River is considered by many as the most beautiful river in the world. The North Fork begins near Squaw Valley Ski Resort and flows through the majestic Royal Gorge which has been paddled by only a handful of expert kayakers.
The take-out for for the upper section called Giant Gap is at Iowa Hill Bridge, the put-in for the wildly popular Chamberlain Falls . Winter rains and spring snow melt bring the river up to runnable levels and allow advanced rafters to enjoy this run. This popular section of river is Class IV to IV+.
Five miles below Iowa Hills Bridge is Yankee Jims, which is an access for rafters looking for a Class III experience.
Below Royal Gorge, a few rafters have made the journey down the famous Generation Gap, a 12 mile Class V wilderness run. This run is rarely done by rafters due to the strenuous three mile hike to put-in. More rafters have made the two mile hike into the Giant Gap run which is just below Generation Gap. Giant Gap is an amazing 15 mile Class V run through a deep gorge.
The North Fork of the American flows freely all the way to Lake Clementine which is the only dam on the river. A few miles past Lake Clementine, the Middle Fork of the American joins the North Fork before its final plunge past the Auburn Dam site to Folsom Lake.
Disclaimer: River descriptions and classifications may change due to natural events that may create new hazards or flows. C-W-R advises that any paddler that uses this site be additionally informed by seeking out local news and updates for changes on this river.