Imagine it’s 1848. You’re a lumber man, just tending to the day’s ordinary tasks. You’ve got your head down, unassumingly observing the course of the American River’s stream. Suddenly, a flash of light catches your eye. Something in the water is shiny and strangely out-of-place. You pick it up, examine the nugget in your hands and lo-and-behold, discover that you, James W. Marshall, have just discovered gold!
Fast-forward to today. While most of the gold has since been unearthed in California, there’s still a valuable secret hiding along the American River: not many locals, let alone visitors to the Bay Area, know that world-class rapids exist just a few hours from San Francisco! At the foothills of the Sierras, the South Fork of the American River alone provides more than 20 miles of whitewater rafting fun. Our Incredible Adventures Whitewater Rafting Day Tour is where excitement, nature, and history converge for a perfect escape from the city.
Where are we going?
Just East of Sacramento, the North Fork of the American receives water from Tahoe‘s snow melt. It flows 191 miles and eventually becomes part of the San Francisco Bay watershed. The American River’s history and present-day significance have shaped much of the West Coast. Case in point: Marshall’s findings back in 1848 lead to the greatest mass migration in US history! By the time word got out in 1949, the Wild West would never be the same. As the town’s population transformed from miners to merchants, the economy along the American River began supporting a number of outdoor recreational activities from fly fishing to bird watching to class III and class IV rapid rafting.
Today, many rafting suppliers and campgrounds have set up shop in this otherwise quiet town. The town is practically run by whitewater rafting guides, and they’re ready to share their rafting passion with you! They know the name of every rock, tree, turn, and rapid that you’ll pass on your trip. From the moment our Incredible vehicles pull up to our rafting suppliers home base, you’ll notice their professionalism and breadth of experience. These guides know rivers from all around the world, and have years of experience from the America’s east coast way down south to New Zealand.
What does our day look like?
First, the guides work with each passenger to ensure everyone’s safety gear fits properly. Not just explaining what to do, but also why we’re doing it :
“Why do we tighten the life vests to the point where I almost can’t breathe?” So that the instructor can easily lift you up by your shoulder straps in case you end up in the water!
Then, groups are separated and assigned a vessel and instructor. It’s why this whitewater rafting day tour is perfect for returning rafters AND first timers.
Now, you’re in the raft. You’ve got one hand on the oar, the other on your T-Grip. The instructor begins going over your basic call outs. The group will need to stay in sync to safely navigate the American River’s rapids.
Easy, right? Your boat will be paddling circles around the others in no time. As everyone’s showing off their new-found tricks and getting comfortable with their raft, you’ll finally look up and notice the amazing scenery that surrounds you. The space is relatively untouched: you’ll see a secluded home hidden in the trees or on a cliff every 10 minutes or so, but the area’s tranquility is most apparent. There are birds sunbathing, and families taking their kids down for a refreshing dip in the water. The classic golden California hillsides and rows of pine trees that go on for days will surely captivate.
You’ll start by approaching some class II rapids to ease you into the day’s more challenging obstacles. There’s one that is even safe enough to hop in the water and ride through as a swimmer! It’s not a requirement, but your guide might let you jump in if you’re feeling incredibly adventurous.
By mid-day, everyone has worked up an appetite. The generous spread our rafting providers put out for hungry rafters is sure to satisfy. They’ve got every deli meat, fresh salad fixings, chips, fruit, and cookies.
Pro tip: Drink the lemonade! It is the definition of refreshing, cause man, Summer is HOT when you leave San Francisco!
Don’t fill up too much, cause there’s still the second half of our rafting trip to go! Now that the group is prepped for the fun class III rapids, rafters are ready to ride through Fowler’s Rock, Satan’s Cesspool, Hospital Bar, and Surprise Rapid. While the names can often sound intimidating, they mostly just come with funny back-stories. For example, “Hospital Bar” rapid sounds like you’re going to the Emergency Room, right? Actually, back in the mining days, legend has it that some drunk would set up shop at this point along the river and called himself a Doctor. Nothing to be afraid of!
When should we go rafting along the American River?
It’s been an overall great year for rafting in California considering the rainfall our state experienced after an extended drought. The American River is flowing with more power (and fun!) than it has in years! There’s no better time to get out on this Incredible Adventure.
It’s not every day that you find a town that has remained so unspoiled and genuine to its roots. Transport back to those Gold Country days with a present-day natural adventure twist! You can’t help but think what it must have been like for those early settlers. Without noticing, you might even find yourself with one eye on the ground beneath you. You’re not necessarily panning for gold, but you know… just in case!