American River
Rafting: American River, California
Fun on the American River (courtesy, Sacramento CVB)
American River at a Glance
Price: $$
River Rapid Class: North Fork: III-IV+; Middle Fork: II-IV; South Fork: II-III
Trip in Miles: North Fork: 9 to 14 miles; Middle Fork: 26 miles; South Fork: 9 to 12 miles
Trip Duration: 1 to 3 days
Season: North Fork: April-June; Middle Fork: May-September; South Fork: April-June, October
Raft Types: Paddle Raft, Oar Raft, Inflatable Kayak
River Sections: North Fork: Chamberlain Falls and Giant Gap; Middle Fork: Oxbox to Mammoth Bar; South Fork: Chili Bar and Gorge
Nearby Towns: Auburn (CA), Placerville (CA), Foresthill (CA), owIa Hill (CA)
Gateway City: Auburn (CA)
Driving Times: Sacramento (CA): 1.5 to 2 hours

"The American River is an American favorite: more than 100,000 people float just the South Fork of the river every year, making it the most popular stretch of whitewater in the state of California. The river offers great scenic beauty, thrilling whitewater excitement and a motherlode of mining and American history. The North and Middle Forks present greater challenges to the rafter, while the rapids of the South Fork, although abundant, are less turbulent. The North and Middle Forks of the American River provide boaters with a quality wilderness experience to remember. Yet swift currents and unseen dangers can provide boaters with unwanted emergencies. The North and Middle Forks are not for beginners, and quite often, experienced paddlers have trouble on them. Respect the river… and come well prepared when you visit.

North Fork
The 9.5-mile river run from the Iowa Hill Bridge to Ponderosa Bridge provides several Class IV-V rapids, most notably: Chamberlain Falls, Staircase Rapids, and Bogus Thunder. Trips down this river are typically made in one day. Boating the North Fork of the river requires a sound background in technical whitewater skills. Channel characteristics change drastically depending on the flow levels. The most desirable flow range is between 1,500 - 3,000 cfs. Higher flows reduce preparatory time between numerous rapids, while low flows present dangerous hazards, sieves of boulders, and strainers that have proven fatal. Camping on the North Fork is restricted to specific areas. Obtain a Special River Camping Permit.

Middle Fork
One-, two-, or three-day trips are possible on this challenging scenic river. The 15-mile run from Oxbow put-in to Greenwood take-out features several Class IV and V rapids, as well as numerous Class II and III rapids. Most notable are the Tunnel Chute, Kanaka Gulch, and Ruck-A-Chucky. If you are uncertain about your ability to navigate any rapid, PORTAGE! Even expert boaters can become easily injured in swift waters. Allow a minimum of one full day (10-12 hours) for this run. If you choose to continue downstream from Ruck-A-Chucky/Greenwood be sure to take-out at Mammoth Bar, above the unrunnable Murderer's Bar Rapid. The sharp-walled, turbulent setting of Murderer's Gorge has claimed the lives of even experienced boaters. Camping on the Middle Fork is available at many locations. Obtain a Special River Camping Permit and make certain that you are on public property. While there are no developed campsites, the canyon offers many scenic sandbars, some with shade trees, to spend a night. Favorite locations are at Ford's Bar and Cherokee Bar, but more secluded, less-frequented sites are between Cache Bar and Ford's Bar.

South Fork
To boaters, the South Fork of the American River brings to mind long and lazy pools, perfect for escaping the summer's heat, the parade of rapids down through ""The Gorge"", and surfing the waves and holes at Triple Threat Rapids. But look beyond the whitewater, and you will find much more than a wonderful river trip. Much of California history is reflected in the river's journey west, from the snow-covered peaks of the Crystal Range through the Motherlode, to Folsom Lake.

It is a journey past thousand-year-old Nisenan Indian villages, like Chapa (Coloma). Here, in the Coloma Valley, James Marshall discovered gold in 1848. Along the riverbanks, short-lived gold rush towns sprang up: Marshall (Lotus today), Weberville, and Salmon Falls. The Pony Express route of 1860 ran along the river, following a trading route which had been used by indigenous peoples for centuries. The first Japanese settlement in California, the Wakamatsu tea and silk colony, was established near Gold Hill in the 1870's. During the 1890's, timber cut on the Georgetown Divide was flumed 3,000 feet down to the river at Slab Creek, then floated to a mill in Folsom. The river drovers in this endeavor may have been the first boaters of the South Fork. Along the Coloma-Lotus section of the river, piles of tailings are visible, left behind by the ""doodle-bug"" gold dredge of the General Land and Mining Company of the 1930's.

In recent years, the evolving concept of river use has resulted in water releases from Folsom Lake, to maintain the water quality in the Sacramento River Delta, and to support fall runs of salmon. Today, the river is a great recreational resource as well. More than two million people visit Folsom Lake State Recreation Area each year. Many thousands enjoy the scenery along Highway 50, as they travel through the Sierras to Lake Tahoe. And the whitewater stretch from Chili Bar to Folsom Lake has become the most popular in California."

Published: 31 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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