Rafting in the Mother Lode
For an adventurous vacation nothing offers thrills like the wild and scenic Tuolumne River or the North Fork of the Stanislaus river. Relax on the Merced River in the Yosemite valley in summer, or endure the extreme whitewater of the Tuolumne river following the spring thaw. All offer a beautiful look at the rugged, steep, and stunning Sierra foothills, details below…
In spite of various burn scars the Merced River canyon remains beautiful with no dams to hold back melting sierra snow. Plan a trip leaving from parking areas along Highway 140 in April or May when the lower snow is melting fast or in June and maybe into July before the snow runs out.
Rafting along the Merced River in the Yosemite valley is most popular during summer typically in June and July. Nonmotorized vessels, such as kayaks, and rafts are permitted. Casual rafters can put in along the Merced River at Stoneman Bridge (near Half Dome Village, formerly Curry Village) and take out at Sentinel Beach Picnic Area. Rafting is also allowed on the South Fork of the Merced River below Swinging Bridge (in Wawona) more details are here.
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 down to Big Trees State Park offers an extremely thrilling ride but there has to be enough snow melt to get you over the rocks. Keep an eye on the weather, and don’t wait for summer. The steep continuous whitewater rapids make a first first drop called Beginners Luck… More details are here.
Stanislaus from Knights Ferry
Stanislaus River out of Knights Ferry, California is a low-risk run. Families and inexperienced rafters can get a small taste of what rafting real rapids are like. The trip includes class I-II rapids and depending on flow the current will push you down stream in as little as two hours in the spring/early summer or be so slow and low you have to get out of the boat and carry it over shallow areas taking an entire day.
Flows spill out of the Hetch Hetchy held back by the O’Shaughnessy Dam. The river’s difficulty somewhat lessens as the season wears on but this is a class IV river and in the first two miles of the trip, three rapids: Rock Garden, Nemesis and Rams Head will prove that this river is still very wild. Clavey Falls is a series of three staircase drops and 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 rest and gather motivation to keep going the full 18 miles.
The rafting season for the Tuolumne River is April through October, but the early months of the season offer the most excitement. More details about it and the much more difficult Cherry Creek are here.
If you want to stay in the Mother Lode take a look our list of places to stay.
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