California's Top Whitewater Rafting - Page 2

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Rafting the Nutcracker Rapid on the American River's North Fork, California
Rafting the Nutcracker Rapid on the American River's North Fork, California  (iStockphoto)

3. Trinity River
Below the wild landscape of northern California's Trinity Alps is one of the most scenic rivers on the West Coast. The main whitewater run follows California Highway 299 through a forested canyon west of historic Weaverville. Trinity River is largely undiscovered; it’s also less crowded than the more accessible American River. A favorite is the Pigeon Point Run, a nice mix of alternating peaceful pools and rapids (topping out at Class III), more sedate stretches, and the demanding twists and turns of Burnt Ranch Gorge—home to numerous Class IV and V rapids that will quicken the pulse of the most experienced paddlers. Expect to see some wildlife along with the dramatic mountain scenery: this is otter, eagle, and bear country.

Nearest city: Redding, California

Outfitters: Turtle River Rafting Company, Living Waters Recreation, Trinity River Rafting

4. American River
Easily accessed from Sacramento or San Francisco, the American is California's most popular whitewater destination, and with good reason. It's accessible, it has a long season, and it has plenty of challenging runs on its forks. The South Fork, ideal for a day trip, attracts the most paddlers, with primarily Class II and III rapids. Its season is one of the longest in the state, as the river is usually navigable from April to October. More experienced rafters will want to seek out the Middle and North forks; the latter includes the legendary Tunnel Chute, a 15-foot-wide diversion chute blasted through the bedrock by gold miners in the 1890s. After the chute, you have time to catch your breath paddling through the 90-foot tunnel that gives the chute its name. Both of these forks have rapids that are rated Class IV+. Both the Middle and North forks are easily accessible from the Sierra foothills town of Auburn.

Nearest city: Sacramento, California

Outfitters: W.E.T. River Trips, O.A.R.S., Whitewater Voyages

5. Kings River
Originating in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the Kings River snakes west from its namesake canyon in the High Sierra and ultimately becomes the largest undammed river in the state of California. Early in the season, it delivers paddlers their fair share of big whitewater, but the Kings has a gentler reputation than the Merced or Tuolumne rivers to the north, and with good reason. It’s a good river for beginners and families, especially when the water is low in June and July. (The season usually lasts a bit longer than its peers thanks to the lack of an upstream dam.) Most guided day trips on the Kings River put in about 30 miles east of Fresno and cover about 10 miles. You'll encounter several Class III rapids, with the most challenging paddling near the beginning of the run.

Nearest city: Fresno, California

Outfitters: Kings River Expeditions, Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions

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