[VIDEO] Top 5 Rapids on the Tuolumne River

Posted June 21, 2023 by Jack Armstrong: grandson of founder George Armstrong
View time: 3 mins

Welcome to the Wild and Scenic Tuolumne River. Nestled just outside of Yosemite National Park, this 18 mile, Class 4+ run features awe-inspiring scenery, heart-pounding rapids, captivating side hikes, and pristine beaches. Get ready as we unveil the top 5 rapids that make the Tuolumne River an unrivaled rafting experience.

Number 5: Sunderland’s Chute

Kicking off our countdown at number 5 is the adrenaline-pumping Sunderland’s Chute. At the top of this Class 4+ rapid, you pass through a rough chute and then push left to avoid a colossal rock lurking on the bottom right. Occurring only ¾ of a mile into your trip, Sunderland’s Chute sets the tone for an epic day on the river. 

Number 4: Sterns

Securing the number 4 spot is none other than Sterns. The upper section of this Class 4 rapid starts with scattered giant boulders that demand intricate navigation before you must carefully thread the needle through a narrow passage. It’s classic California white-water.

Number 3: Gray’s Grindstone

Taking the third spot on our list is Gray’s Grindstone. Gray’s is a Class 4 rapid that follows a serene stretch of the river. It’s a masterclass on paddling and the longest rapid on Tuolumne. It re-awakens your crew with a series of technical maneuvers that span half a mile.

Number 2: Hell’s Kitchen

The second spot goes to Hell’s Kitchen. This wide, Class 4 rapid presents a technical challenge. While the entrance is partially obstructed by a chaotic jumble of boulders on the right, rafts opt for the slalom course on the left side of the rapid where they maneuver a maze of chutes, boulders and ledges.

Number 1: Clavey Falls

Our number one spot belongs to the king of Tuolumne – Clavey Falls, a Class 4+ or Class 5, depending on the flows and who you ask. The calm float at the top belies an eight foot drop just beyond the horizon line. As you plunge down the falls you are already preparing to navigate past a large hole on river-left and a second drop. Clavey Falls boast the greatest vertical drop on this section of the Tuolumne and is a guaranteed adrenaline rush.

There you have it.  While these five rapids represent our personal favorites on the Tuolumne, there are many other Class 3 and Class 4 rapids that might make your top 5 list. When you’re not conquering the rapids, take a moment to soak in the splendor of the secluded river canyon that surrounds you. 

Book your Tuolumne River trip now to find out which rapid is your favorite!

Author Bio

Jack Armstrong

Jack grew up 35 minutes from AO headquarters, and is the grandson of our founder, George. His education includes a film degree and art studies from Biola University, as well as lots of experience breaking camera gear outside. After graduating college, he started an outdoors/action sports focused production company and is largely responsible for our video, photo, and social media content. Jack’s favorite trip is the Cal-Salmon, because of the river’s awe-inspiring beauty and the sweet rapids. When he’s not rafting or playing with cameras, Jack can be found skiing, surfing, visiting art galleries, or eating tacos.


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