California Snowpack and the 2023 Rafting Season

Posted March 15, 2023 by Gregg Armstrong, Co-Founder

If you live in California or follow the news from elsewhere, you know that it has been a VERY healthy winter in the Golden State. The amount of snow and rain we’ve received so far is rivaling some of the wettest years on record. Yet another atmospheric river system is adding more to the precipitation totals as of this writing. All this excess moisture brings along its fair share of issues, but it is the impact on California whitewater rafting we’ll be focusing on in this post.

We have been watching weather patterns and river flows for more than 60 years. We know that abundant rainfall and Sierra snowpack mean happy plants after years of drought. We know this means improvements to the drawn-down groundwater table. We also know this means full reservoirs for drinking water, irrigation, hydropower generation, and recreational use. But what does it mean for the upcoming 2023 California whitewater rafting season?

California sierra snowpack

More Rapids, More Choices, Longer Rafting Seasons

California has had outstanding seasons like this in the past (1983, 1995, 2011, and 2017). Many of our longtime guests still talk about some of these seasons when we see them each year! Some of the tales grow long tails, but the truth is that years like these are amazing. They do not come around that often, but when they do, you want to take advantage of them for the following reasons:

  1. You can enjoy longer, faster, more exciting rapids (and more of them!) on all rivers.
  2. You can enjoy rivers longer because individual river seasons are extended.
  3. You can enjoy the type of trip you prefer: very exciting, exciting, in between, or normal!
Team rafting on the Tuolumne River

Sneak Preview of the 4-Part California Rafting Season

Early Spring Rafting

The 2023 California rafting season will start on Saturday, April 1. During this first part of the 4 seasons of the California rafting season you can expect to see many wildflowers and few other rafters out in the river canyons. Due to the large snowpack this year, California rivers will likely be flowing higher than normal right from the get-go. However, the Sierra snowpack at high elevations will not be melting yet in Early Spring, so this will be an excellent time to take advantage of the fun flows combined with the beautiful Early Spring flora and fauna.

Spring Rafting

Spring is always the most exciting time for rafting in California. This is especially true in a year with above average snowpack. This spring you can expect dynamic conditions on all of our rivers. Flows will vary from moderately high to very high depending on the location and weather. Spring trips in 2023 will not be for everyone, but adventurous people will love rolling through wonderful, accelerating whitewater while enjoying some of the scenic values of rafting in the early part of the California rafting season. It is years like this that make lifetime memories on rivers and one of the reasons our State is known as the hub of whitewater rafting.

high water rafting

Summer Rafting

The Summer rafting season usually starts in mid-June when weather warms and flows return to normal levels. This year the summertime weather will likely start in mid-June again. But due to the amount of snow that is in the Sierra Nevada at this time, we will have to wait until late June and even mid-July for rivers to get to normal summertime flows! This means you can enjoy spring-like exciting flows during the heat of summer if you choose to raft before mid-July…what a remarkable combo! If you are a family with young kids, or you are an apprehensive person, picking a date between mid-July and mid-September will likely be your best bet. Rivers should return to normal flows and you can have the type of trip that provides the thrill without the added kick of higher flows.

Fall Rafting

Fall is one of the best seasons for California rafting. Weather is still warm, the fall colors are beginning to change, and there is a quietness in the air that is felt more on a river than anywhere else. Due to the high Sierra snowpack, an added bonus for 2023 is that two rivers with upstream reservoirs will have extra days of consistent, regulated flows after Labor Day. Reservoirs like French Meadows, Hell Hole, and Oxbow on the Middle Fork American, and Ice House and Chili Bar on the South Fork American will have a surplus of water this year which will make this fall a wonderful time to enjoy a California whitewater rafting trip. The 2023 season will run through October!

summer fun - rafting the south fork american

Sneak Peek Conclusion

It’s going to be a full and varied 2023 California whitewater season. Rivers will be different at different times so deciding WHEN to go rafting will be important. Keep this in mind as you plan your trip. There are unusual opportunities this year to take advantage of. You can count on All-Outdoors to be your “partner in fun” thanks to our experience rafting in years with similar snowpack and conditions, and thanks to the large number of rivers we have to offer. Always feel free to contact us for advice and updates, and subscribe to the AO eNews (bi-weekly during the season) to keep up with the latest river info.

We look forward to enjoying this much anticipated season with you!

Author Bio

Gregg Armstrong

Gregg is the middle child of George and Dolores Armstrong's five children. He has been working with All-Outdoors since it was founded. He guided and set up early operations on California rivers in the 70's and 80's before making marketing for AO and reservations his main responsibilities. One of his claims to fame is that he and his wife Marion had triplets, who grew up to enjoy rafting and outdoor activities as much as he does. When not doing AO and family life he loves to ski, garden, and spend time with people.


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