[VIDEO] Top 5 Rapids on the South Fork American River

Posted August 3, 2022 by Jack Armstrong: grandson of founder George Armstrong
View time: 2.5 mins

The South Fork American River is California’s most popular rafting destination. It is easy to get to, has a long season, and a whole lot of fun whitewater which actually makes choosing the 5 best rapids difficult! Listen and watch the countdown of the top 5 drops on this iconic river.

Number 5: Haystack Canyon

Technically, this long rapid is actually made of two Class 3 rapids: Upper Haystacks and Lower Haystacks. Both feature big, splashy waves that seem to go on forever and guarantee to leave you smiling and thoroughly soaked!

Number 4: Meatgrinder

This is the first Class 3+ rapid on the South Fork. At nearly a quarter mile long, it’s the longest rapid on the entire river. All you can see from the top of this thriller is whitewater! It’s full of technical moves around rocks, and big drops into crashing waves.

Number 3: Troublemaker

One of the most famous rapids on the South Fork, Troublemaker is a testing grounds for both guides and paddlers. It’s a sharp “S” shaped Class 3 rapid that features a big wave at the top and a big drop towards the bottom. The large horn rock in the middle can cause “trouble” so watch out! Keep an eye out too for the  spectators and photographers on shore as you go through Troublemaker.

Number 2: Satan’s Cesspool

Satan’s Cesspool starts with a huge wavetrain at the top, before jogging left and into a sharp right turn and descending into a massive wave. Just below the Class 3+ rapid is a second wavetrain, appropriately named Son of Satan’s, which serves as an additional adrenaline boost.

Number 1: Hospital Bar

In many people’s minds the coveted number one rapid on the South Fork is Hospital Bar. It’s the final Class 3+ rapid and it’s also the fastest. After a deceptively tranquil pool, the river picks up speed before reaching maximum velocity and dropping the boat into the biggest wave on the South Fork. Hospital Bar is the perfect way to end your river trip.

With all these great rapids and so many more that didn’t make the list, it’s easy to see why the South Fork of the American River is such a crowd pleaser. It’s the perfect place for families and beginner rafters to experience all that rafting has to offer (see Three Ways to Raft the South Fork American River). It also has enough action to keep veteran rafters coming back for another good time. We look forward to seeing you out there!


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