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2014 California River Rafting Season Update [MAP]: Eight Rivers We’re Rafting This Year

April 21st, 2014 by Malina

We’re getting a LOT of questions about what kind of impact the drought is having on California rafting trips in 2014.  Let’s clarify the matter:  we have plenty of water for great rafting trips this year because of upstream reservoirs.  Our handy-dandy map shows you when and where all our rivers are running this season.

Click on Map To View Full Size Version:

Map: 2014 California River Rafting Season Update

View Full Size Map: 2014 California River Rafting Season Update

Here’s a more detailed description of each California river we’re running:

South Fork American:

Family-friendly and fabulous, the South Fork is your go-to river for groups with first-timers and Nervous Nellies, but it’s certainly no float trip.  Class III rapids abound and even experienced rafters will have a hoot on this, the most popular river in the state.  Trips are running now and into the fall!

Middle Fork American:

Tunnel Chute rapid has to be one of the coolest rapids in California–it’s a heart-pounding ride down a chute literally carved out of solid rock that ends in a placid float through a small hill.  What???  Yes, it’s true, and you gotta see it to believe it.  Plus there’s another 17 miles of wilderness canyon with class III-IV rapids and calm stretches for day-dreaming and relaxing. Middle Fork river trips will run May-September.


Man, the Tuolumne is a keeper.  It’s a beautiful and wild canyon with a heart of gold that refused to be put out by the 2013 Rim Fire.  See the recovery process up-close and personal on a Tuolumne river trip this year–we’re already running trips and will be out there until September 1st, 2014.

Cherry Creek:

Class V Cherry Creek is the most challenging commercial river trip in the United States.  And the drought is actually doing it a huge  favor–because there isn’t a big spring snowmelt, which has to subside before the river is low enough to run in typical seasons–Cherry Creek is actually going to be available for trips much earlier this year.  Our season starts May 3rd and ends September 1st.


The Merced is one of the few free-flowing rivers to have a spring season in California this year.  Located near Yosemite Valley, this class III-IV river runs April to early June in 2014.


Because it’s fed by snow melt (of which there isn’t a ton this year), the Kaweah will have a short season in 2014, just a few action-packed weekends in late April and early May.

Cal Salmon:

If you’re ready for a last minute adventure to make the road trip up north, this weekend we have  one epic class IV-V weekend (April 26-27) on the Cal Salmon.   The season here will last through May, but this is a river that we don’t run every day, so be sure to call in advance to book ahead.

A special note about the Spring rafting season:

Well, first off, some people don’t know that the season has already started.  Somebody, somewhere is probably rafting through rapids in California right now as you read this (assuming you’re reading this during daylight hours.)

If you’ve been wanting to check one of our spring runs off of your bucket list, right now is the best time to book that trip. Not only are the river canyons more beautiful in the spring, but it’s the only time of year you can raft on the Merced, Kaweah or Cal Salmon.  (The North Fork of the American or North Fork of the Stanislaus are not expected to have a season this year.)  And this year, Cherry Creek will have a full spring season, which almost never happens because flows are usually TOO high.

And in case you haven’t seen it, we are running our annual Spring Sale right now; if you book by April 30th and raft before June 30th, you will save 20% off your trip for groups of any size.  Need help making plans?  Get in touch, we want to help!

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UPDATE: Rim Fire’s Impact on California Rafting [MAP]

August 28th, 2013 by Jamie Low

UPDATE: (8/28/2013)
Not only are we running trips on the South and Middle Forks of the American River, but we are also running guided rafting trips on the  Goodwin Canyon run of the lower Stanislaus River in late October.  This post and the map have been updated to reflect this.  

Wondering how the American Fire near Foresthill and the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park is affecting river rafting trips in California?

The short answer is that we are thankfully still in full swing on the South Fork of the American River (until the end of October),  the Middle Fork of the American River (through the end of September), and on the Intermediate-Advanced Goodwin Canyon run in late October.

To help illustrate, we’ve adapted this satellite photo of the Rim Fire (adapted from this NASA satellite photo taken on Sunday August 25th) to clarify the difference between the Tuolumne and American River Watersheds, and what this means for planning your next vacation day on the river with us:

Rim Fire Map: Impact on California Rivers

Click on Map for Full Size Image: Map of Rim Fire Impact on California Rivers


Yes, there is plenty of very bad news in here; but there’s also some very good news: we’re far from done playing on the river.

The 2013 California Rafting Season Continues!

The American River Canyons: Open Through October
Both the South and Middle Forks of the American River, which remain unthreatened by either of these fires, will remain open through the end of their regularly scheduled seasons.  Our guides and reservation staff are still working (and playing) on the river until the end of the California rafting season, which continues on throughout the month of October. (Yes, that’s right; we’ll say it again: we run trip all the way through October!)

In fact, this week we launched a new Facebook Sweepstakes for a chance to win a whitewater rafting trip for two people on one of these rivers!  We will pick a new winner every week; all you have to do is enter once, and you are automatically registered for a chance to win every single week until the sweepstakes ends at the end of September.  All you have to do is Like our Facebook page and submit your email address so we can notify you of the results.  So whether you’re thinking about a trip this fall, or want to wait until next Summer, you might want to sign up now.

Goodwin Canyon: October 19th – 27th, 2013 (Intermediate – Advanced)
Looking for a bit more whitewater excitement closer to the San Francisco Bay Area?  This is one of our guests’ favorite day trips, due to the short drive and high adventure waiting for those who choose to take advantage of the late Fall water releases from the upstream dam.  This canyon is unlike any other we explore, and it doesn’t run very often.  If you haven’t checked it off your California River Top Ten list yet, late October will be your only chance to get it done.  Take a look at our Goodwin Canyon photos and river description page to see if you and your friends are up for it, or call 1-800-247-2387 to talk it out with one of our river specialists.

Tuolumne River & Cherry Creek: Closed Due to Rim Fire
Unfortunately, the Tuolumne River and Cherry Creek canyons are currently closed to public access, and we have cancelled the remainder of our scheduled trips there for the season.  Gregg Armstrong recently detailed what we know about the impact to these canyons, and in a follow up post he describes All-Outdoors’ first-hand account of evacuating from the area last week.

As soon as we are allowed to enter the canyon, we hope to report back here with our observations on the after effects of the fire. While we don’t yet know the extent of the damage,  we are very hopeful of the long term recovery of the watershed, its ecosystem and our own future return to a place we have long considered our home.

If you are currently booked on the Tuolumne or Cherry Creek, or reservations staff has either already contacted you, or will be notifying you soon regarding your trip.  You can also contact us if you have any questions.

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South Fork River Clean Up August 21st

August 19th, 2013 by Malina

AOrafting_GuideSchoolThe South Fork American River Clean Up

The last time you rafted the South Fork did you think “this is great but I would also love to diddle daddle in the calm sections, explore the rocky shore and investigate around tree trunks and boulders…..and I’d like to do it while riding a dolphin or on an inflatable turtle . . . ” Well wish no more because this Wednesday you can do all that and do a good turn for Mother Nature if you join the Low-Water River Clean Up day on the South Fork! 

Low Water Opportunity

Every Wednesday this year the water levels are brought down by the Powers That Be on the South Fork  and the river is too low to raft.  These lower  flows expose a lot of areas usually covered by water so it allows access to garbage and trash that’s impossible to access the rest of the week.  Who knows, this year it may also expose treasure of some kind, not just broken lawn chairs and beer cans….

How to Join and What to Bring

If you want to join in you’ll need to register with the county (email noah.rucker-triplett@edcgov.usor the American River Conservancy (email kristen@arconservancy.org).   You’ll also need to bring a PFD and floaty device of some kind. 

The meet place for the clean-up is at 8:30 am on 8/21 at Henningson Lotus Park (950 Lotus Rd). Lunch provided at Henningson Lotus Park afterwards to say thanks for your hard work!

(Above: Matt, Lynsey, and John V model the perfect low-water clean-up craft!)

Local Produce featured on South Fork American River Trips

August 9th, 2013 by Malina

IMG_4752Not only is AO Rafting based in the Golden State–the heart of fruit and vegetable production in the United States–but we our main operations is in El Dorado County, which is rich in All Things Agricultural. So, it occurred to us, why are we not using more locally-grown fruits and vegetables on our river trips?

Hopefully this program will grow in the future, but this season we began sourcing some of our lunch and dinner items from local growers.

It varies each week, but you might see certified organic heirloom tomatoes from South Fork Farm, cucumbers and squash grown with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides from Walker Ranch, andcuke2 tree-ripened peaches grown right up the road from us on Gold Hill on your South Fork American river trip this summer.

Since this is a new project for us we can’t guarantee your trip will have this produce, but we’re still excited that this program is off the ground because we’ve wanted to do it for a long time.

Bon appetite!

(top: WR Golden Summer Squash is used on our two-day dinner menu right: WR Lemon Cucumbers are a delicious addition to our deli lunch on South Fork American River trips)

Do you want some Fritos with your Chili Baker rapid?

July 25th, 2013 by Malina

chili_cook-off_cowboy-300x203One of my favorite summer memories is when someone came into our River Office asking about where to find pictures from the best rapid of the day, the famous “Chili Baker” on the South Fork of the American.  Oh man.  It was a good one…..combining “Chili Bar” the put-in location on the upper section of the South Fork, with the actually-quite-famous class ”Troublemaker” rapid.

What got me thinking about this was that the other day Eric at Hotshot Imaging (he does the whitewater photos on the South and Middle9015760-empty-toilet-paper-roll-hanging-in-a-restroom Forks) told us that a gentleman came into his shop who had kayaked the South Fork back in 1959–way before the river was the hugely popular place that it is today–and said that when asked what the bigger rapids were like his best description would be that it was like being flushed down a toilet!  Apparently his buddies joked that it would have had to have been the “Devil’s Toilet.”  According to local lore, that got morphed into first “The Devil’s John” in the 60s, and finally into “Satan’s Cesspool.”  We have no Cowboy_dishing_up_chilidocuments or oral histories offering evidence, but I can only imagine that in the 70′s and 80′s there was a period calling it “Lucifer’s Crapper,” “Hell’s Head,” and “The Can of the Dark Prince.”

Ah good times.  Now back to river use reports.

Terror near the BBQ

July 18th, 2013 by Malina

2538450992_43e7efeb7cYou know, the scariest (in a good way of course) part of your rafting trip really should be the moment just before you head into a long rapid like Meatgrinder on the South Fork or when you feel like you’re going to drop off the face of earth when you hear the “get down” command above tunnel Chute on the Middle Fork…..but if you use aerosol sunscreen spray, the biggest shocker may actually be the seemingly innocent act of applying your SPF! 

I just read a report about how spray-on sunscreens can actually burst into a fireball if they don’t dry enough before you get near an open flame….or a BBQ!  Now there’s a risk your mama never warned you about.  So before sidling up to the grill master on your next multi-day river trip, make sure your sunscreen is good and dry so you leave the thrills on river where they belong!

American River Music Festival 2013

July 16th, 2013 by Malina

 press3Oh Miley Cyrus–yes, it’s your party and you can do what you want to, but I just can’t stop wanting to hear some real old-fashioned music.  You know, with people who can sing (sans Auto Tune) and people who can play instruments, maybe people who are not lip-synching but actually performing live, right there in front of God and everyone.  I’m not a hater, I’m just sayin…..

So call me a relic, but the annual American River Music Festival is sounding pretty appealing.  Three days of 100% real live folk, bluegrass, roots and singer-songwriters……camping in the lovely Coloma-Lotus Valley……and a riverside concert during lunch on a South Fork American rafting trip with yours truly!  Not yours truly as in moi, but as in AO rafting.  The festival kicks off Friday, September 13th with the festival rafting and hiking trip, each with a private concert (Evie Ladin Band and Willie Ames), and seanhayes-guitar-lgthen continues back at camp with evening performances.  Music on the main stage at Henningson-Lotus Park begins Sat the 14th and ends on Sunday the 15th.

Highlighted performers this year include Sean Hayes, the David Grisman Experience, and Paul Thorn.  See the full line-up and learn more about camping options and ticket prices at the 2013 American River Music Festival website.  Tickets on sale now so  jump on it and see if Miley is free and wants to join you–maybe she’ll jump in one one of the jam sessions and prove this snarky blog writer wrong about the auto-tune thing…. :)

(right: Paul Thorne rocks out with a sweet school bus….and left) Sean Hayes parties on with his gi-tar.  You can see both of them LIVE at the American River Music Festival this September!)


South Fork Farm!

July 3rd, 2013 by Malina

aafb91_2551e738ad573c25114e7462229144ae_jpg_srz_465_275_75_22_0_50_1_20_0We here in our Lotus River Operations office (ie HQ for AO Rafting) have a new neighbor just up the road!  South Fork Farm at Wakamatsu.  This organic 10 acre farm is located on the historic site of the 19th century tea colony of Wakamatsu.  Yes, that’s right, a tea colony during the Gold Rush.  It didn’t last long but it’s pretty cool history.

Anyhow, a few years ago the good folks at the American River Conservancy bought the land and have transformed it into a living museum of sorts.  The latest project is South Fork Farm, which offers a wide variety of local, organic, aafb91_695ab8aa82032099e6a78fd998f6d2f1_png_srz_363_390_75_22_0_50_1_20_0produce grown just up the road from us.

I admit it, a bunch of kale, rainbow radishes, and charantais melons have little–ok, absolutely nothing–to do with river rafting.  But if you have an extra half hour after your South Fork Rafting trip this fall or summer head up the road (literally 5 minutes–I am a local and I would not lie to you) and stock up for dinner!  On the weekends you can even get sourdough bread made in their wood-fired oven.  Having already been by several times I can tell you South Fork Farm has beautiful and delicious produce–with some pretty unusual history to boot!

South Fork Farm is located at 941 Cold Springs Rd.  From our South Fork meet spot turn left out of the parking lot and go down to the T at Hwy 49.  Turn right and go through the park.  Keep going straight up the hill which will get you onto Cold Springs Rd. (If you veer left you’ll still be on Hwy 49, which, though lovely, is not the right way).  Continue on Cold Springs past the wineries and Gold Trail School and then look for South Fork Farm on the right.  It’s right across from the large brown Wakamatsu barn in some of the prettiest gold country scenery you’ve ever seen.

After Rafting Hang Out in Lotus-Coloma

August 29th, 2012 by cameron

The bus rattles to a stop back at the All-Outdoors parking lot along the South Fork American River. Taking a deep yawn you stretch your limbs and climb out of the bus into the bright sunlight. You say a last goodbye to your guide. It’s sunny. The day seems like it’s only half over, like you could re-up your energy and have a whole other adventure on the day. And why should the trip be over? In my opinion a rafting trip starts when you wake up in the morning to drive to the river and ends when you fall asleep at home at the end of the day.

Here’s my route for extending a rafting day:

1. Take a shower at the All-Outdoors facilities. I actually don’t do this first step myself, as I like the feeling of being sun-kissed and a bit dirty. But for many, washing off the rafting grit feels absolutely refreshing. Our showers are nice too.

2. Drive left out of All-Outdoors and go until you hit a dead end. Turn left again and you’ll drive over the river. Hotshot Imaging is on your left, but we’ll get to that later. Drive straight on by and you’ll come to your first destination…drumroll…the Shell gas station (Tada!!!) This might seem to you like an unlikely first stop, but in through the door and to the left are a couple of big freezer boxes full of frozen, ice creamy treats.

3. Turn left out of the Shell station and backtrack down to Hotshot Imaging. They took your photos on the big rapids of the day. It’s a great place to check out your pics and finish your frozen treat. Don’t forget to gaze over Hotshot’s “Rafting Wall of Shame.”

4. Now turn left yet again to go back towards the Shell station. Pull into the parking lot just before the station and get yourself some dinner at Marco’s Pizza. The place has a great vibe, and on weekends there is often live music.

Now that you’ve made the most out of your full-day rafting extravaganza, you can brave the drive home and drift blissfully to sleep in the comfort of your own bed.

Apple Hill Opens this Weekend

August 27th, 2012 by Malina

Rafters headed to the American River take note–Apple Hill opens this weekend.  Soooo….if you’re rafting on the South or Middle Fork of the American River think about maybe adding a day to your trip and spending a day on the water and a day exploring the ranches, orchards and wineries of Apple Hill, which is only 20-25 minutes from our River Center in Lotus.

If you have the kids with you, a U-pick orchard or a place with lots of sticky caramel apples is calling your name.   Lovers of pork will want to check out Smokey Ridge Charcuterie at Smokey Ridge Ranch–they make some seriously tasty hand-crafted sausages, duck confit and specialty items like rillettes and apple ketchup.

If it’s a couple’s weekend you’re after–and you’re not a teetotaler of course–then check out one of Apple Hill’s wineries.  Boeger is one of the regions oldest vintners and have a blacksmith shop and artisan yarn shop in addition to a beautiful tasting room and picnic grounds.  If you have a sweet tooth put Jodar and diVittorio winery at the top of your list.  Jodar is well-known for port, and diVittorio has several styles of port as well as fruit wines like plum and nectarine.