Why Cherry Creek Is the Most Difficult Rafting Trip in the US

Posted July 21, 2021 by Gregg Armstrong, Co-Founder

When the words Cherry Creek come up in conversation with seasoned rafters, all ears are open and all emotions are heightened. Why? It is because this 9-mile stretch of river on the Upper Tuolumne River located just outside of Yosemite National Park is the most difficult commercial rafting trip in the U.S.

Truth be told, there are a few other more difficult runs in this country, but the government has not granted any outfitters permission to offer trips to the general public on these extreme runs for good reason. In the case of Cherry Creek, the US Forest Service has given the go ahead.

4 reasons why Cherry Creek is so challenging and exciting!

1. Steeper gradient

Gradient on rivers is measured by elevation change in a river per mile. One simple way to think about it is in terms of slope: How much is the river tilted as it heads downstream. We do not need to be brainiacs to understand the greater the slope the greater the speed at which the river travels. This translates to more rapids, thrill, and difficulty. The average gradient of a Class III river in California is between 25 and 30 feet per mile. The average for Cherry Creek is 100 feet per mile and increases to 200 through Miracle Mile!

Unknown Soldier - Cherry Creek

2. More obstacles and difficult maneuvers

As noted, a steeper gradient adds speed. Throw into that equation large boulders to maneuver around – a lot of them strung across the river and in succession down river – and the definition of Class V rafting becomes altogether too clear to the beholder!

Mushroom Rapid - Cherry Creek

3. Large water volume

It is one thing to raft a low volume river with a steep gradient, but it is quite another to raft a river flowing with a lot of water. Maneuvers must be fast and precise. Powerful and sometimes long rapids come in quick succession leaving little room for error. Cherry Creek runs at relatively high flow all summer long and when you are on it in a raft or kayak, you are amazed at its power.

Cherry Creek Miracle Mile

4. Extreme consequences

One of the more sobering realities of any Class V river is the fact that if something goes wrong, the consequences can be severe. This is true on Cherry Creek. We have spent over 30 years perfecting how to tame this giant to a point of reasonable risk. Even though we have never had anything severely drastic occur, the possibility still exists. Admittedly, this is the case on any river and it’s one of the reasons so many people like whitewater rafting…the risk takes us out of our comfort zones and keeps us from getting bored with a life too secure and too well planned.

Consequences on Cherry Creek
Some may read this blog and say, “No way will you see me on Cherry Creek!”. Before you jump to that conclusion, read our blog answering the question of whether or not you are ready for Class V rafting and then decide. You might be surprised!


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