Explore Stanislaus National Forest and Beyond After Rafting the North Stan

Posted March 27, 2024 by Reily Schultz

The North Fork of the Stanislaus River (lovingly called the North Stan) offers one of our most elusive 1-Day rafting trips. This river is reliant on snowmelt- meaning that once the snow is gone, so is the window for whitewater rafting. Our season on this particular river is typically short, with trips available in April and/or May in most years. When you join us on this very special river, you will be greeted with a forested river canyon, isolated location, rich local history, and some truly spectacular Class 4 whitewater rafting. 

The experience of rafting on the North Stan is already reason enough to make the trip out to our meeting location in Arnold, CA, but it is by no means the only source of excitement in the area. Join us as we explore the Stanislaus National Forest and its neighboring towns of Arnold and Murphys to help turn your rafting adventure into a full weekend of fun!

Veteran guide Joe leads a trip down the North Stan
Veteran guide Joe leads a trip down the North Stan

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Curious what you will see in the Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Arnold? Well… big trees, some of the largest in the world! This park is famous for its old growth and easily accessible groves of massive sequoia and redwood trees. The trees have drawn tourists in from far and wide since 1853, making this park one of the oldest tourist attractions west of the Mississippi. You can come visit these giants any day of the week, any time of year. We highly recommend a visit before or after your rafting trip.

Miles of trails wind throughout the park, letting you explore the forest how it is meant to be seen. You can hike or ride mountain bikes during the spring and summer, and try your hand at snowshoeing or Nordic skiing in the winter. There is a wide range of trails with something for everyone! Free guided walking tours offer lessons about the flora and fauna you will see in this park and encourage visitors to slow down and fully experience the nature surrounding them. You can also easily extend your hiking excursions to the neighboring Stanislaus National Forest for an added layer of adventure to your visit.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Visitors are dwarfed by the Giant Sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park

The Underground Scene

Mercer Caverns

The area surrounding the North Stan has some unique adventure attractions. If you are interested in exploring some distinctive natural features and don’t mind the dark (or enclosed spaces) there are two series of caverns in the area that offer tours! 

Just down the hill from the Big Trees State Park in the town of Murphys, the Mercer Caverns explore a cave system that was discovered by a 19th century gold miner. Tours are available almost daily (just don’t show up for a tour on Christmas morning) with no advance reservations required. These caverns are home to centuries of history from both gold prospectors and the native Mi-Wuk tribe. While these limestone caverns didn’t have enough gold for the men who claimed them to strike it rich, they did hit the jackpot with the tours they would soon offer. Explorers get to marvel at rare aragonite crystals, caverns with no apparent end, and a small opening at the bottom of the caverns that has yet to be explored to its terminus. We may never know how deep and how far these caverns extend!

Moaning Caverns

Another underground attraction to check out is the Moaning Caverns in Vallecito, just south of Murphys. These caverns are unique not only because of their incredible natural wonders, but also because there is an adventure park centered around them! Moaning Caverns Adventure Park is conveniently located on the way from Arnold back to the major highways, making it an easy and fun addition to your trip. This park is home to California’s largest single chamber cave with a large spiral staircase leading you to the cave floor. Other activities such as panning for gemstones, ax throwing, and of course a gift shop full of rocks, minerals, real fossils, and keepsakes are also available here. If this sounds like your cup of tea be sure to plan ahead! Reservations are required for park admission. 

Mercer Caverns
The Mercer Caverns are home to unique and massive geological formations

Natural Bridges

Looking for another awesome stop to add to your outdoor adventure? Just south of Murphys and north of New Melones Lake is a popular spot called Natural Bridges. After a brisk 2-mile hike from the road, you will find yourself faced with limestone caverns, wildflowers, and pools of water that allow you to swim around and through these stone archways. State Park officials emphasize the cold temperature of the water and the prevalence of poison oak, and advise explorers that they are entering a protected ecosystem and sensitive geologic area. The principles of Leave No Trace are highly valued here as the Bridges are a popular attraction that is frequently abused. Do your best to take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.

A kayaker explores the natural bridge formations

From the Valley to the Top of the World

Bear Valley

Bear Valley is a nearby California Mountain Resort in the Stanislaus National Forest that is best known for its ski slopes. During the winter the resort fills up with locals and tourists alike coming to experience “a better way to winter,” as they proudly state on their website. If you head up to Bear Valley after your Spring or Summer rafting trip you would be lucky to find enough snow to even make a snow person! Not to worry though, this resort has more to offer than its slopes. Bear Valley is also home to a campground, a “glampground,” rock climbing routes, lake access, hiking trails, live music performances, and more! There is no shortage of adventure in and around the resort. 

Bear Valley in Stanislaus National Forest
Bear Valley in the Summer

Wine, Brews, and Bites

Before you head home from this forested oasis be sure to stop by The Lube Room- a local bar in Dorrington that has become an AO favorite. You very well might catch a river guide or two enjoying a drink after an exciting day on the water. 

Calaveras County is one of California wine lovers’ favorite destinations. The county boasts that “There may be no other Main Street in America that features so many wine-tasting rooms,” and we certainly believe them! Walking through the downtown in Murphys you will have opportunities to sample every sort of wine you could want. Tasting room and vineyard maps help you keep track of where you have visited, and where you should head next. Is vino not your vibe? No worries! You are in the right neck-of-the-woods for some local beer (even a tasting room, too!) and freshly ground coffee as well. 

Murphys is also the food hub of the area, which is another reason why it is the place to be after a day of whitewater rafting. There’s nothing better than a first bite of a hot meal or baked goods after conquering some Class 4+ rapids. Craving barbecue? Mexican food? Ice cream? Irish cuisine? Pizza? With so many options to choose from you can be sure to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.

Downtown Murphys in the Summer

Arnold Rim Trail

Sometimes whitewater rafting is just the catalyst you need to get you moving and exploring. If you are off the water and ready for more movement and adventure we recommend you check out the Arnold Rim Trail. The trail is about 35 miles in its entirety but can be hiked in any number of smaller sections. You can choose your route by checking out the official Trail Map. This trail is known for its forested pathways and stunning vistas- the local favorites being Cougar Rock and Top of the World. The goal of this trail project is to connect people to public lands, wildlife, and natural features (like waterfalls!), and the accompanying history of each. Volunteers and dedicated community members work hand in hand with the Stanislaus National Forest employees maintaining the trail and upholding its regard as a treasure of the Sierras.

Arnold Rim Trail - Stanislaus National Forest
Breathtaking views and waterfalls abound along the Arnold Rim Trail

Whether your post-rafting plans lead you to more outdoor adventures, or to enjoying a relaxing glass of wine on the riverside, this community is the perfect place to land. Join us for a spring rafting trip on the North Stan and let us know your favorite local attractions to check out after the rapids!

Author Bio

Reily Schultz

Reily is a Gold Country native. She graduated from Willamette University with a degree in Studio Art and a minor in Gender Studies and Psychology. She joined the All-Outdoors family in the spring of 2022, working as a California Rafting Consultant and a member of the marketing team. Her favorite All-Outdoors itinerary is the multi-day Tuolumne rafting trip. Reily is an avid artist, outdoors-woman, and purr-fessional cat snuggler.


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