Story and photos by Dylan Silver / OARS
California’s Tuolumne River is mountain whitewater at its best. Rafting this Wild & Scenic route through the Sierra Nevada is definitely an adventure and, as I recently learned on a three-day Tuolumne River rafting trip, at its prime in early summer. I can definitively say, it’s about as good as a California river trip can get. This is why…
The water is crazy clear
There aren’t many places that allow you to raft on gorgeous clear water. Often, boatable rivers are filled with sediment, algae or murky cold snowmelt. The Tuolumne, designated a “Wild & Scenic” river, is pristine. You can see big chunks of bright white quartz on the bottom as you float by.
The rapids are non-stop
The 18-mile stretch from Merals Pool to Wards Ferry Bridge is pretty continuous Class III and Class IV whitewater. Clavey Falls (Class IV+) is the largest rapid and takes some technical maneuvering. Among the other 40 or so named rapids, there’s Hackamack Hole, India and The Squeeze.
The flows are consistent
Though flows in the spring might be higher, summer dam releases give the Tuolumne raftable water levels six days per week. The cool thing about this is that after you’ve made camp, the river drops a little and is perfect for swimming (always wear a PFD!) and water play.
The camping is world-class
The remote riverside campsites on the Tuolumne offer sandy flat spots to pitch your tent. At most of them, there’s plenty of space for bocce and camp games or bring a hammock to swing gently in the shade. Stay up late enough and you’ll be treated to epic starry skies.
The weather is wonderful
Summer weather in the Sierra is more often than not hot and dry, cooling off in the mornings and evenings, the perfect mix for a river trip. Later in the season, the risk of wildfire smoke increases.
The “T” ties in easily with other summer adventures
Just minutes to Yosemite and a short drive from San Francisco and the Bay Area, the Tuolumne is an accessible whitewater rafting trip that can easily be part of an itinerary that includes California’s most famous national park.