The Best California Multi-Day Rafting TripPosted July 7, 2021 by Emily Vernizzi, river enthusiast and Armstrong cousin
“Have you been down the Big Ditch*? Rowed the Rogue? Made it to the Middle Fork Salmon?” These are questions you hear when river enthusiasts meet. The West is home to some of the most renowned whitewater rafting experiences in North America, and California’s most notable member of this league of legends – the treasured Tuolumne River.
*River lingo for the magnificent Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
5 reasons why the Tuolumne River is California’s premier multi-day wilderness river rafting trip:
1. Variety of seasons and dependable water flows
The Tuolumne bursts to life in the spring with powerful high-water flows and huge hydraulics, boldly framed by poppy-blanketed canyon walls. Orange turns to gold as summer progresses, presenting the classic California foothill scenery to admire between technical Class IV whitewater rapids. Scheduled water releases from the upstream reservoirs mean we can ride these waves all the way through Labor Day Weekend.
2. A protected waterway and wilderness canyon
Being a protected National Wild & Scenic River, this wilderness area has much native flora and fauna – including a bear every once in a while – are in abundance. Aside from the occasional remnants of Gold Rush history, the Tuolumne canyon is an authentic and timeless California experience.
3. Remote and uncrowded…the perfect getaway
The canyon’s wilderness is only accessible by boat and for a strictly limited number of rafters each day. We may see another boat or two at the start of the day, but we have the canyon all to ourselves as we cruise downstream and lay out our sleeping bags under the stars. Fitting 18 river miles into one day makes for a boatload of excitement, but an overnight on the “T” makes for a lifelong memory.
Slowing it down and pacing the miles over two or three days gives us time to dig deeper into what makes the T the creme de la creme of California rafting. It’s not just the impressive whitewater, but also highlights of the canyon along the way. A particularly special treat on the multi-day trips is a rock-hopping hike to a swimming hole and natural rock waterslide up the Clavey River, a tributary of the Tuolumne and one of the very few undammed rivers flowing down the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada.
4. Appropriate for athletic first timers and advanced rafters
The Tuolumne is considered the big sibling to the Middle Fork of the American River – all the best parts of the Middle Fork, but kicked up a notch. Rafters on the T earn their stripes on the Class IV+ Intermediate-Advanced technical turns and giant drops of rapids like Rock Garden, Gray’s Grindstone, and Clavey Falls. Even though these rapids are challenging, the Tuolumne River is still appropriate for fit and adventurous first timers for most of the season!
5. Gets you away without going far away
An early AM alarm is all the more bearable when you have your GPS set for Casa Loma – just 8 miles past Groveland along Highway 120. The Tuolumne River is easy to get to from both the Bay Area and Southern California, and pairs perfectly with a visit to Yosemite National Park. You may even up the rafting ante by adding a day on the incomparable Class V Cherry Creek.
Pro-tip: arrive in Casa Loma a little early to snag a breakfast burrito from Tangled Hearts Bakery, next door to the All-Outdoors meet location. 10/10 rafting fuel for a 10/10 river trip.
Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, sunscreen, and stoke, all locked and loaded for the ultimate overnight wilderness rafting experience in California. It’s T time, baby.