Tips for Rafting in Northern California

Posted August 3, 2016 by Laura Armstrong

Heading to the Sierra Nevada foothills for a summer rafting trip can be a blast, but there are a few things to know before packing your bags. Your guides will handle safety and instruction on the river, but especially for overnight trips, these tips from the author of Moon Northern California will make sure things stay memorable and fun.

What to bring
Don’t forget sunscreen. Even if you’re just spending a half-day on the river, count on being in the sun for at least a few hours. Think about bringing a hat—helmets aren’t required on the South Fork of the American River, so a visor or hat with a brim will provide some welcome shade for your face. For overnight trips, make sure to bring a headlamp and some mosquito repellent.

At the end of your trip, don’t forget to leave a change of dry clothing for the ride home in your vehicle, especially if a long drive is ahead of you.

How to Prepare for your whitewater rafting trip

What not to bring
Looking forward to a selfie with some gnarly rapids in the background? Leave your smartphone and other valuables at home or in the car. They’ll either bounce out of the raft or get soaked. All-Outdoors does provide dry bags during rafting trips, but they aren’t completely waterproof and won’t protect breakables.

Local photography companies are sometimes on hand to document the trip—look for photos from Hotshot Imaging for trips on all three forks of the American River or Rapid Shooter for excursions on the Merced, Tuolumne, and Cherry Creek rivers. Keep in mind that these companies aren’t guaranteed to be around, so bring a GoPro or other waterproof camera if snapping Uncle Larry falling into the rapids is high on your bucket list.

Check ahead if you’re taking an overnight trip. Some of these multi-day excursions take you way out into the wilderness. Others provide access to vehicles, where you can leave bags, towels, jackets, and anything bulky. Check with All-Outdoors ahead of time so you can pack accordingly.

What to wear
Make sure to wear waterproof or quick-drying clothing when you’re on the raft. For footwear, All-Outdoors recommends wearing closed-toe shoes like athletic shoes or other shoes that protect the top of your feet (as long you as you don’t mind getting them wet).

Bring a warm hoodie if you’re taking an overnight trip. Evenings near the water can cool down quickly in the foothills, even on hot days. And it wouldn’t hurt to bring a clothesline to let wet clothing drip-dry after the day’s rafting.

What not to wear
Don’t bring flip-flops or slip-on river shoes—they won’t stay on your feet for long. Avoid bringing heavy cotton clothing, like cargo pants or polo shirts, that can chafe when wet.

Moon Northern California

Christopher Arns is a river-loving California local, fly-fisher, and the co-author of Moon Northern California. For ideas on what to see and do in California’s Gold Country when you’re not on the water with All-Outdoors, check out his book.


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