What Makes California Rafting in the Fall Special?

Posted September 22, 2021 by Trey Armstrong: guide and grandson of founder George Armstrong

As discussed in an earlier post, there are essentially four “seasons” of rafting in California. While the most well-known “season” is during the hot summer months, the part of the rafting season that comes after Labor Day has some of the most peaceful days out on the river. As fall gently rolls into the state, the leaves begin to change, the weather turns from hot to pleasant, and there is time to relax on the river, free from the hustle and bustle of the high season.

After a long summer, our guides love the fall rafting season. It is time to finish well and enjoy what these final months have to offer. For our guests, it is often a time for a final hurrah away from the office and the classroom before winter settles in.

Fall Rafting on the Middle Fork American

South Fork’s Steady Finish

When it comes to rafting in California, the South Fork of the American River is as steady as they come. This is true every year, all season long. Classic whitewater in a beautiful canyon in the Sierra foothills, with reliable water flows. What more can anyone ask for? The answer in a word: fall.

While spring and summer on the South Fork have unique and desirable qualities, fall offers much of the same and something more. Though the Class II-III rapids remain as exciting as ever, the river gains an element of serenity and calmness that can be actually felt. By the end of a trip, everyone leaves more settled, more thankful, and more at peace. There is still time left to experience all of this – the South Fork season runs through October.

Fall Rafting on the South Fork American

Goodwin Canyon’s Grand Finale

Fall rafting is not just about turning leaves and peaceful tranquility. Goodwin Canyon with its memorable Class IV+ rapids becomes a whitewater destination and a rare rafting opportunity in the second half of October. The late season water release is timed specifically for the annual salmon run which requires cooler water temperatures experienced in late fall. Our Goodwin Canyon Double Runs are scheduled based on this opportune timing.

This hidden gem of California whitewater is located deep in a narrow gorge of the lower Stanislaus River to the west of Yosemite National Park and under a 2-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area. Goodwin Canyon is a sort of pilgrimage for guides and guests that serves as the final sendoff of the California rafting season.

Fall Rafting on Goodwin Canyon

A Guide’s Perspective on Fall Rafting

Veteran guide Garrett Locher comments on how the “fall colors make it pretty sweet”. The river trips have more of an “expedition feel since the weather is changing and there are runs like Goodwin Canyon that are more wild since most of the year it’s not raftable”. Garrett has been guiding for seven seasons and says the fall has a special place in his heart. I agree with him.

Some of my favorite times on the river have been rafting through the changing colors. You may need to wear some extra layers in the early morning and late afternoon, but it’s so worth it. There’s just something about fall out on the river that makes me stick around every year through the spring and summer, in order to experience the peace and beauty of the fall season.


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