How Do Fires Affect California Rafting?

Posted September 8, 2021 by Gregg Armstrong, Co-Founder

We don’t have to say this, but fires have become all too common in California at this time of year. Our family grew up in the Bay Area and the seven of us spent most of our summers in the Sierra, backpacking, rock climbing, fishing, kayaking, and rafting. The kinds of fires that have occurred in California during recent years used to be few and far between but now they are many and often.

Smoke on the Horizon

California Fires, Rivers & Rafting

Over the course of nearly 60 years that we’ve been rafting on California rivers, the instances of a wildfire getting directly into the river canyon during an active rafting season could be counted on one hand. The fire related factors that affect California rafting more often are smoke and temporary access closures.

Smoke can travel long distances which is something those of us living in the Bay Area have become well aware of in recent years. Thankfully, due to the easterly prevailing winds, most of the smoke from Sierra fires normally moves toward Nevada away from the rafting locations that lay at lower elevations to the west. Nevertheless, winds can change as firefighters know and smoke can move into river canyons and make rafting a smoky experience. If enough smoke enters the canyon, a trip may need to be cancelled due to health concerns. We monitor air quality each day to make sure conditions are still suitable for rafting.

Floating through smoky air
Sometimes forest fires can get so large and require so many resources that the government will preemptively shut down access to US Forest Service lands to prevent additional fires and to protect lives. Three of the 10 California rivers we raft during the late summer are accessible only through National Forest lands. During a closure, these rivers are not available for rafting: Middle Fork of the American, Tuolumne, and Cherry Creek.

Rafting is Not the Most Important Thing, But…

When acres upon acres of pristine forest lands are burning and people’s lives are disrupted and their homes and properties are in danger or even destroyed, rafting is not the most important thing. When you throw in the fact that thousands of firefighters and emergency personnel are risking their lives to control the situation, rafting takes even a further seat back in importance.

If we could stop one mega forest fire in California by ceasing to ever raft again, we would do it. Having said that, we also know how important a rafting trip is to our guests who are looking to get out on a river with family and friends and take a break from the stresses of their daily life. Spending time in nature and on the river is good for the soul. Because of the redeeming qualities of river trips, we continue to raft with those who want to do so, if access to the rivers and conditions permit.

Thumbs Up for Rafting
During times like this, we keep in close contact with those planning to raft with us, in regard to updates and new information about the fires, closures, and the smoke situation. Our peace-of-mind Cancellation Policy and our dedicated and responsive California Rafting Consultants will allow guests planning a trip this fall to do so with confidence.


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