It’s misdummer and although free-run rivers are down to a fish-flow trickle there are still plenty of options for California River enthusiasts. Here’s the low-down on your current options from mellowist to maximum gnarl:
Super chill: The section of the South Fork of the American that runs through the Coloma-Lotus Valley is a gentle class II float. We designed our “Tom Sawyer Float Trip” with young kids in mind because the placid waters and small riffles let us meander downstream and leave time for blackberry picking, games, and adventures in an inflatable kayak or innertube for those who are feeling intrepid. This section has reliable flows of 1300-1700 CFS everyday of the week but Wednesday.
Class III: The South Fork of the American River is one of the most heavily dam-controlled rivers in the state. Not great for wildlife, and not without controversy–but of course also a very reliable summer river as a result. We have been seeing good flows of 1300-1700 CFS 6 days a week on the South Fork, which are great for a fun class III river trip.
Class IV: The Middle Fork of the American is one of the “sister forks” to the South Fork. They’re very different places though–the Middle Fork is a solid class IV run with more challenging rapids, a steeper and more remote canyon, and more time on the water. We are seeing flows everyday of the week that range from 850-1250 CFS. Perfect conditions!
Class IV-V: The Tuolumne River is also dam-controlled, which allows us to raft its protected Wild and Scenic waters all summer long. Flows rise and fall each day with dam releases, typically peaking around 1200 CFS. Plenty of water to get your blood a’ pumpin’ before Clavey Falls . . .
Class V: Cherry Creek is the ultimate “summertime river trip” in that it can only be run in the summer months. During the spring run-off period there is actually too much water to run this extreme run. Extreme and challenging we like, ridiculous, we don’t. So, we wait each for flows to come down to raft the Creek. Trips will continue into very early September on Cherry Creek in 2012.