Rafting in the Mother Lode
Relax on the Merced River in the Yosemite valley in summer, or endure the extreme whitewater of the Tuolumne river following the spring thaw. Both offer a beautiful look at the rugged, steep, and stunning Sierra foothills.
The most advanced whitewater in California: Class V
Cherry Creek ranks up there with the most difficult whitewater in the entire United States. The river's 15 Class V whitewater rapids are generated by the canyon's steep gradient—the river drops more than 100 vertical feet per mile. Narrow and steep, the river is often choked with huge boulders. When you reach the bottom of a Cherry Creek rapid you'll look back upstream exhilarated, and wish you could hike back up and do it again.
Only two outfitters run Cherry Creek, few get to paddle this stunning stretch of the Tuolumne; your group will likely be the only one on the water. This exclusivity means Cherry Creek trips offer nearly private access to a remarkable and isolated canyon.
Cherry Creek is a dam-controlled stretch of the Tuolumne River and becomes raftable at lower flows, after the springtime snow melt. Trips usually begin in June and go through August.
At any time, with any water level, the Merced River canyon, with its clear, sparkling water fresh from Sierra headwaters and steep slopes covered in wild flowers, is an inspiring place to be. The sierra snow pack melts unhindered by dams into the Merced river over Yosemite's Nevada and Vernal falls. For the biggest waves and longest rapids plan a trip in April or May when the hillsides are ablaze with orange poppies, purple lupine and wild iris. June and July are a little less intense.
Two and three-day river trips allow time for exploring along the riverbanks. You might discover historic mining relics, take short hikes along tributary streams to water-slides or deep pools, and still have time to relax in the Tuolumne's spacious river camps. White sandy beaches shaded by green willows and towering oaks provide the finest river-side camping.
The Merced River in Yosemite Valley (Stoneman Bridge to Sentinel Beach), and the South Fork of the Merced River in Wawona is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily to any type of non-motorized vessel or other flotation device.
Kayaks, canoes and inner tubes go with the flow on this scenic three (3) mile course of the Mokelumne River past the Gold Rush towns of Jackson and Mokelumne Hill. Easy access and a series of short but peppy rapids make this a popular spot for novice whitewater fans and kayakers in training for more advance runs.
The season is from March to September and the rapids are class I-II.
North Fork of Stanislaus
North Fork of Stanislaus down to Big Trees State Park offers an extremely thrilling ride. With steep continuous whitewater rapids the first drop called beginners luck.
It is a class IV-V dropping 15 feet the first drop if followed by a steep ramp and a large hole. Other areas along the route claim names appropriate for the adrenalin they produce such as: Bearclaw, Shotgun, The Plunge, and Whiteout. Big Trees falls is a class IV and a 12 foot slanting chute near the end of what is sure to be a very memorable experience.
Designated a National "Wild and Scenic River" by an act of congress in 1984, it flows through the "Grand Canyon" of Yosemite and into the Hetch Hetchy lake created by the O'Shaughnesey Dam.
Within the first two miles of the trip, three of the Tuolumne's most notorious rapids: Rock Garden, Nemesis and Rams Head will convince you that this river is indeed as wild as it's name states. Clavey Falls is a series of three staircase drops that will take your breath away. Other rapids have equally intimidating names such as; Thread the Needle, Hell's Kitchen, and Rock Garden. On multi day trips stop at the sandy beach near "Rock Garden" to gather up the nerve and strength to push on.
For more about Yosemite visit the Destination Guide.
The rafting season for the Tuolumne River is April through October the early months of the season offer the most thrills. It's a good idea to have rafted a class III or IV river and be in good condition before rafting the Tuolumne.
One-day trips start at around $150 but multi day trips provide extra time to take in sandy beaches, swimming holes and trout fishing.