Why Plan a Spring Rafting Trip this Year?

Posted May 10, 2022 by Lenka Bostian

Although most people tend to gravitate toward rafting trips during the warmer months of the California summer, the spring season months of April, May, and early June are a favorite time of year for many of our guides and guests. One of the reasons is the extra punch California rivers provide during the springtime as flows typically increase due to melting snow in the Sierra. But there are also many other good reasons to consider a spring whitewater rafting trip that apply universally, regardless of the snowpack levels in the current year. Here are just a few of them to get you inspired.

Wider array of options

Some rivers are available for whitewater rafting during the spring snowmelt months only because there aren’t any reservoirs upstream to catch the runoff. The length of the season on each free-flowing river varies year to year. Sometimes it can last for several months and in other years several weeks due to a low snowpack left over by winter. Most often these rivers provide fun rafting opportunities during early spring (April – May).

Every year rafters are eager to experience the roller coaster-like ride on the Class III-IV Merced River only a few miles from Yosemite National Park, or get fired up in the non-stop whitewater action on the Class IV+ Kaweah River just a few minutes downstream of Sequoia National Park. Spring is also the only time to join us on our annual trip to the Class V California Salmon River in Northern California. These spring rivers are a special addition to the reliable dam-controlled rivers that benefit from scheduled water releases from upstream reservoirs throughout the whole rafting season (April – October). View the current season forecast.

Spring Rafting in California

The calm before the storm

Not counting the roar of the rapids, springtime is one of the most peaceful times one can enjoy the river and the neighboring communities. With the high travel season still a few months away, the roads, campgrounds, local eateries and nearby sights are far less busy than during the summer. And so is the river itself! Our river guides are delighted to be back on the job, rested, refreshed, and ready to introduce guests they’ve never met before to the joys of springtime whitewater and give a warm welcome back to familiar faces. Do not wait too long to experience this serenity before it turns into the high energy of summertime.

California Rafting in the Springtime

Name that wildflower, spot that duckling

As winter gives way to spring, the river canyons turn green and colorful with wildflowers you would never see later in the year when the hills of California are golden with tall dry grass. The spring bloom timing varies by river and year, but no matter where and when in spring you come rafting, the river canyons will have a revived feel that is not meant to last too long. You may also notice the water and the riparian zones busy with wildlife enjoying the lighter river traffic and cooler daytime temperatures. A spring rafting trip is truly a wholesome outdoors experience in the beautiful California nature.

Mergansers enjoying some spring whitewater

Photo courtesy of Hotshot Imaging

If heat is not your thing

Those people who shy away from spring rafting because they are worried about the cooler air and/or water temperatures may not realize how much they are missing or that their reservations have solutions and a flip side (no pun intended). Properly outfitted, you can stay comfortable on cooler overcast days, in the rain and even in the snow.

All-Outdoors provides wetsuits and splash jackets free of charge, along with tips and advice on how to dress for success (watch our video What to Wear for Spring Rafting in California). Milder daytime temperatures also mean that once you are done rafting, you don’t start sweating the minute you get back on shore, and are not in search of a source of shade or AC. There will be plenty of time for that during the heat of the summer…

Wetsuits and splash jackets for spring rafting

Awesome time to raft but flexibility is key

It was mentioned already: spring river conditions vary year to year. Water flows and availability of trips on each free-flowing river are directly affected by the depth of the snowpack and weather patterns in late winter and throughout spring in the drainage area of each river. Some rivers have a small and low elevation drainage whereas others collect snowmelt from large areas containing the highest peaks in the Sierra.

We recommend staying as flexible as possible and listening to the advice of our California Rafting Consultants. If we can’t get you rafting on the river you want and when you want, we provide alternatives for the “next best thing”, which is something we are able to do thanks to our large permits on 10 California rivers. Our goal is to provide you with an awesome rafting experience no matter what.

Check out our California Whitewater Rafting Season Update to see this year’s forecast and start planning your spring rafting adventure now!


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