Best time to visit California

Rafting in California

California's rivers are strong, fast, and full of water flow

Best time: April–September


River rafting in California offers diverse opportunities for all levels of riders—from a gentle floating to adrenaline-pumping rides. California's rivers are popular among the most experienced white water enthusiasts. You can choose to enjoy a half-day trip or take part in multi-day water adventures. Some of the most fascinating rides can be performed on the South Fork American River, the North Fork American River, and Merced River.

When you are choosing a rafting trip, the main criteria is class. American River is the most popular heart-pounding white water river, ranging from Class 3 to Class 5. South Fork prime time adventure appears in spring and summer. The flows are massive and there is an age limit of 13+ until early June. Middle Fork is good for rafting during June and early July. North Fork has good flows till June. Merced River also offers good flows during the summer month.

Rafting season lasts from April till September or October. In autumn rivers are more gentle providing the best time for family rides. The most popular meeting places to start the adventure include Lotus (an hour drive from Sacramento) and Foresthill for those interested in the American River and Midpines for the Merced River.

Practical info

When is the best time to go river rafting in California?

The ideal time to go river rafting in California is between April to September or October. It is then that the river flow is at its peak and provides the best white water rafting experience. These months coincides with the (spring, summer, and fall) season, hence providing a chance for both exhilarating and moderate grade rapids that can make for an ideal family adventure. Show more

What are the unique features of rafting in California's South Fork, North Fork, and Merced River?

The South Fork American River and the North Fork American River in California are best suited for experienced white water riders, with rapids ranging from Class 3 up to Class 5. The Middle Fork is more suitable for rafting trips in June and early July, while the North Fork should be rafted before June. Also, the Merced River offers prime flows and is an ideal half-day rafting trip destination during summer months. Show more

What class range should you choose if you are an experienced white water rider?

For optimal experience, if you are an experienced white water rider in California, choose the Class 4 to Class 5 white water grade range. The South Fork American River that features Class 3 through to Class 5 rapids is the best choice for seasoned white water enthusiasts. The Merced River also offers Class 4 to Class 5 and is ideal for those seeking a thrilling river rafting experience. Show more

Where are the most popular meeting places for rafting in California's rivers?

Lotus and Foresthill are the two popular destinations for river rafting on California's American River. The Merced River's Midpines region is also a popular river rafting departure point. Access to these regions typically requires a one-hour drive from Sacramento, with most rafting companies offering transportation to these locations and multiple half-day and multi-day river rafting tours. Show more

Are the rivers safe to ride, and what safety precautions should be taken?

California's rivers offer safe yet thrilling river rafting experiences if the right safety measures are taken. It's vital to don a personal floatation device, helmet and follow your guide's instructions. Even experienced riders should opt for a guided tour. Before embarking on a river rafting trip in California, always check in with a professional guide for weather conditions, equipment, and water state of the intended river. Show more

Ask a question

Find hotels and airbnbs near Rafting (Map)

Last updated:
Authors: Olha Savych