Return to The Tuolumne River Canyon: Images of Transformation

Posted May 13, 2014 by Jamie Low

Last summer the Tuolumne River canyon was the epicenter of California’s third largest wildfire in recorded history, abruptly cutting short our rafting season and leaving a moonscape of destruction behind. In December we were able to drive into the canyon to see for ourselves the extent of the damage, but until recently we had not been able to access the river canyon by raft.

Fast forward through months of worry to late March, when we were finally given the chance to bring the boats down into the canyon.  Together with the US Forest Service, various water management agencies and representatives from each of the outfitters, we ventured to see it for ourselves. We were hopeful, but concerned. Nobody really knew what to expect.

And we certainly didn’t expect this: while the fire damage was remarkable, so were the emerging signs of life.  The scorched earth and incinerated trees were in stark contrast to the brilliant colors of spring, providing us with what felt like the most beautiful day we’ve ever seen on the Tuolumne.

We’ve assembled this slideshow using photos from both of these trips to help showcase the Tuolumne canyon’s road to recovery:

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The Tuolumne River and Cherry Creek seasons have already begun, and despite California’s drought conditions, we will thankfully be exploring these river canyons all summer long.  If you haven’t seen “The Mighty T” in awhile, we strongly recommend the return trip.

If you’re wondering what all of this means for your prospects of taking a trip here, know that the view from the canyon rim will give you the impression that nothing survived this fire.  It’s an impressive sight, and it will take many years for the canyon to heal.  But once at river level, the scenery reveals a rich and robust ecosystem, almost making you forget about the fire ravaged landscape above.  It’s a stunning contrast that really needs to be seen in person to be appreciated.


Jamie Low started guiding for All-Outdoors in 1990, falling in love with whitewater boating, rivers and a local girl in the Sierra Foothills of California, where he now helps his clients “optimize” their search marketing communications strategies. Connect with Jamie on Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn


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