California 2023 Rafting

Written by Kate Rhoswen

With record-level snowpack in the West, it’s going to be a banger year for rafting across the board. But California is going to steal the spotlight. Here’s why you’re going to want to add a California rafting trip to your adventure list this season. 

It’s One for the Record Books

The historic snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains means 2023 will go down as the best year ever for whitewater rafting in California. Rivers like the North and South Forks of the American River are experiencing unprecedented flows that could last well into July. We’re already seeing flows comparable to the last benchmark whitewater year in 1983, and with cooler spring temperatures and slower snowmelt, things are only going to get bigger. Years like this don’t come around very often, and you should take advantage of them when they do.

Aerial view of rafters on the South Fork of California's American River.

Rafts cruise through the lower section of “The Gorge” on the South Fork of the American River, one of California’s most popular rafting destinations. Photo: Dylan Silver

The Guides Are Stoked

You don’t become a river guide unless you love being on the river; there’s no doubt about that. Guides are always stoked to get to do what they love and love what they do. But, during epic high water years like 2023, that level of excitement skyrockets amongst the guiding community, and it is palpable (and contagious). These are the years when legends are born, and stories are made that are told around campfires and on boats for years to come. It would be a shame for you not to be a part of that story. Speaking of stories….

Photo of OARS rafters on the North Fork of the American River

Rafters descend a rapid named Bogus Thunder on the North Fork of the American River, a technical Class IV section that’s had higher than average flows in 2023. Photo by Dylan Silver

You’ll Have an “It Was This Big!” Story to Tell Your Friends

Whitewater stories have something in common with fishing stories; every time you tell them, the waves get just a little bigger. However, experiencing a high-water rafting trip means you won’t have to embellish anything, because the waves really will be that big. Your friends and family will see the pure joy on your face as you relive all the thrill and excitement of running some of California’s most notorious rapids, like Ned’s Gulch on the Merced River or Staircase on the North Fork of the American. Who knows? You may even inspire them to become river runners themselves.

California Rivers Offer Unparalleled Beauty in the West

It’s no secret that California offers up some of the country’s most beautiful and diverse landscapes, and its rivers are no exception. From the rolling Sierra Foothills and rocky gorges of the South Fork of the American to the lush pine forests and poppy-covered hillsides of the Wild and Scenic Merced, California’s rivers never fail to deliver awe-inspiring moments around every bend. Throw in a plethora of cascading waterfalls, fields of wildflowers, and ample wildlife viewing opportunities, and you’ve got yourself an Instagram-worthy trip.

Photo of Indian Creek Campsite.

Tuolumne River three-day trip, camping at Indian Cr Camp

A California River Trip Can Be so Much More Than Just Rafting

Craft beer drinker? Wine lover? Then you’re in luck. The Wild and Scenic Tuolumne River, with its exhilarating Class IV whitewater that takes you through a remote and pristine river canyon, offers up two and three-day craft beer trips, where you’re joined on the river by a local brewery, ready to serve you delicious pints of craft brew. If you join a wine-tasting trip on the Tuolumne, you’ll sit down at linen-draped, candlelit tables and feast on gourmet meals prepared by a professional chef. You’ll take in the beauty of nature’s finest dining room while the river provides you with soothing dinner music. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

Main Image: Three rafts take on the Merced River near Yosemite National Park. With excellent flows from a huge snowpack, the Merced will have a longer than average season in 2023. Photo: Dylan Silver

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