Rafting the American, Truckee rivers | NevadaAppeal.com

Rafting the American, Truckee rivers

Adam Jensen
Nevada Appeal News Service

Dan Thrift/Nevada Appeal News Service file photo Rafters battle rapids on the American River near Lake Tahoe.

“Forward!” Shouts a guide over the growing din of upcoming Class III rapids on the South Fork of the American River.

A seemingly unnecessary command, there is clearly no other option for this raft of seven people about to tackle a series of sheer rock-lined rapids known as “The Gorge.”

The announcement does inspire a flurry of coordinated paddling that slides the raft into a line passing straight through a potentially treacherous stretch of river, ripe with large rocks, quick drops and mouthfuls of water for those at the front of the raft.

Areas surrounding Lake Tahoe boast several options for river rafting, a sport which ranges from lazily sunning down stretches of tree-lined river to eye-widening moments of thrilling uncertainty.

Many of the most popular drainages, like the North Fork of the American River and the Carson River, have already dropped to impassable levels, but dam-controlled stretches, like the South Fork of the American River and the Truckee River are expected to remain available to rafting throughout the summer.

“Well, the Carson River is a done deal. It’s a spring run that lasts through mid-June at best,” said Lorraine Hall, with Tributary Whitewater Tours. “This year’s pitiful snowpack didn’t help us much, but we will still be running into September.”

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Flows on the South and Middle forks of the American River are controlled by regular releases from upstream dams and are accessible at many points outside of Placerville.

The Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District and Pacific Gas and Electric ensured these flows with a re-licensing agreement signed Jan. 29.

The agreement came after five years of negotiations between state agencies, federal agencies and conservation groups.

Seven-day-a-week flows have been secured for the Middle Fork of the American River, which has some Class IV sections, until Sept. 27.

Six-day-a-week flows, with no guarantees on Mondays, are secured for the South Fork until a September date which has yet to be specified, according to Hall.

The releases cause the river to swell for a brief time, giving rafters a window of time to the run the river with more intense rapids and fewer chances of getting stuck on the few shallow sections.

On busy weekends this window of opportunity can create some hold ups because it requires all rafters to stay in a long chain, bunching up before rapids that often must be taken one raft at a time.

While the American River boasts Class III and IV rapids, those looking for a mild rafting trip will want to check out the Truckee River, which is also dam-controlled, but not nearly as challenging.

“We’re gentler than the American River. Children as young as 2 can raft with us,” said Judy Bell, co-owner of Mountain Air Sports, on Thursday.

While the rafting season has been cut short in the past because of low releases, this summer looks to be a full one on the Truckee River.

“As of yesterday, we have great water,” said Bell referring to a 57 cubic feet per second increase in water releases from the Lake Tahoe Dam in Tahoe City.

These releases put the flows in the Truckee river up to about 227 cubic feet per second, plenty for an easy float.

Like the American, the season on the Truckee River is also likely to last into September.

Hall recommended making rafting reservations in advance, as the 4th of July weekend on the Truckee river is filling up quickly but said there are still plenty of spots available for rafting the American River.

Truckee River Raft Co.



Operating daily from 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Receive $5 off per person from 8:30-10 a.m.

Receive $5 off per person from 2-3:30 p.m.

Receive $5 off per person when making advanced reservations

Mountain Air Sports


(888) 584-RAFT

Operating daily from 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Early bird rates from 8:30-9 a.m.

Children ages 2-5 are free

Receive $5 off per person when making advanced reservations

Tributary Whitewater Tours


(800) 672-3846 or (530) 346-6812

Receive a 10 percent discount is available for members of environmental organizations

Receive a 10 percent discount for children under 18 and seniors 62 and older