Feeling the heat of the summer? Luckily in this area we are surrounded by rivers. What better way to cool off than by taking a dip (or a dunk) in them. Rafting can be a leisurely activity or a five star thrill ride, depending on what you enjoy most. Whatever side of the scale, there are nearby places that offer a great way to beat the heat.
Class I / II
Lower American: If you are looking for a long stretch of river that requires minimal skills to navigate through rapids, look no further than the lower American River. You can spend hours taking in the American River Parkway on your own or with friends. Most people arrange to go in large groups and declare water wars on each other or join together for sneak attacks on other large groups. Splash machinery as in super soaker guns or homemade water cannons lurk everywhere so either plan to get wet or plan to paddle.
Rafting companies: Two main companies each provide a raft, paddles, life jackets and a shuttle ride from the pull-out spot back to your car. American River Raft Rentals and River Raft Rentals put in at Sunrise Blvd. in Sacramento and take out at Goethe Park. (All Outdoors also has a guided beginner route along the south fork of the American River in Coloma, 50 min. east of Sacramento.)
Tips: At the American River you will have to carry your raft and gear to the river, a considerable walk when carrying heavy things. Don’t overload the ice-chest.
Class II / III
Cache Creek: Cache Creek is the outflow of Clearlake and flows into the Sacramento River. It rarely dries when many other rivers in the area do, and drops about 20 feet per mile, making it a really fun run. Because most of the rapids are categorized class-II with one class-III, the two commercial companies of the area do not offer guides in the boats. They give you a 30-minute safety talk before you head out then provide you with a boat (either a raft that accommodates 3-5 people or a two-man inflatable kayak), a paddle, a life-jacket, lunch, and a smile. A staff person points to where your boat ought to be to approach the most difficult rapid. Guides are also stationed at the bottom of the two most tricky runs to pull out swimmers who may need assistance.
Tips: If you have a life jacket that includes a headrest, I would consider bringing your own. Whatever you bring into the raft should be very well secured. Minors must be at least 12 years old. This route may sound easy since it does not require a guide, however you must be able to react quickly.
South Fork (III) / Middle Fork (IV) of the American River: These intermediate level trips are the most common introduction to white water rafting. A guide is assigned to each boat to help the 6-8 passengers maneuver through strong rapids. Helmets and life jackets are required.
Rafting Companies: AO Rafting and Beyond Limits each run a Class III guided tour that can accommodate kids ages 8 and up. They, along with two other companies, Gold Rush River and Chili Bar Outdoor Center also offer more advanced one and two day guided tours that include class IV and V rapids. All are located near Lotus off of Hwy 49, about one hour and twenty minutes from Davis.
Tips: Guides spend some time at the beginning of the trip teaching rafters how to react to certain commands and how to work together. These are essential skills to staying afloat through the trip. The guide, though well-trained, can only do so much to maneuver the boat. The rafters must pull their weight in paddeling and back paddeling when necessary.
For more information on my own recent whitewater rafting trip, visit Tripping with Kids