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Top 10 rafting spots in California

If you are a thrill-seeking nature lover, then there are tons of whitewater rafting spots in California that will give you the best experience.

California is heaven for those who love the waters. There are tons of watersports you can enjoy in the area, from surfing, windsurfing, jetskiing, to kayaking, among others. If you want to experience the thrilling adventure of rapids, there is a lot of that in California too.

Top 10 Rafting Spots in California

A day whitewater rafting in the impressive rapids in California is a must-have experience for an active and stimulating vacation, especially in the summer. It wouldn’t be an experience you will easily forget.

If you are looking for the best whitewater rafting spots in California, here are ten of the most impressive destinations that should be on your list.

#1. Merced River

Around six hours away from Southern California and 3.5 hours out of San Francisco lies one of the famous whitewater rafting spots in California, the Merced River. It flows from the summit of the popular tourist attraction in the area, the Yosemite National Park.

The best time to visit Merced River for some thrilling adventure in the water is during the spring when you can experience its roaring rapids in the Class IV variety. The river also stretches around 18 miles, which is more than enough for a long-lasting whitewater experience.

#2. South Fork, American River

The American River stretches around 119 miles situated in the inland of Northern California. The South Fork part of the river is one of the popular whitewater rafting spots in California.

The river has three different sections, and the start of whitewater rafting in the American River is the South Fork. It’s one of the best destinations for the entire family to enjoy. The Class III rapids in the South Fork have enough thrill to make it a great started experience for beginner rafters. The river also bends through most scenic parts in the area, such as the Coloma State Park.

The South Fork is one of the best whitewater rafting destinations if you are looking for a spot that can accommodate different rafting levels.

#3. Trinity River

Whitewater rafting has become a common activity in the Trinity River. Passing along the Highway 299, especially during the summer season, you’ll easily spot rafts stuffed with screaming people and splashing as they traverse the river.

Trinity River is one of the top whitewater rafting spots in California, especially in the northern part of the state. There’s a big drop in the river that people call the “Hell Hole,” which is notorious for its ten feet drop on a good day. That is not for the faint for heart, but if you are seeking adventure, Trinity River is a must-visit.

#4. Russian River

Don’t fret. You are still in California. Around 1.5 hours out of San Francisco, you’ll experience the Class III rapids of the Russian River, which is perfect for those who want to practice their whitewater skills.

#5. The Klamath River

Another one of the famous whitewater rafting spots in California, especially in the northern part of the state, is the Klamath River. The famous rafting section of the river starts just beyond the Klamath Falls, which is in Oregon, but the end of the trip will be at the California state line.

The Klamath River is well-known for its rugged beauty and thrilling rapids.

#6. Upper Sacramento River

Whitewater rafting in the Upper Sacramento River is not available most time of the year. Usually, the river will only have enough flow for a gentle glide downstream. However, if you visit the area around springtime, you’ll be in for one of the best whitewater rafting experience in Northern California. The river level can drop as high as eight feet during this season.

#7. Middle Fork, American River

The Middle Fork is another option for exciting whitewater rafting adventures along the famous American River. If the South Fork is a family-friendly whitewater destination, the Middle Fork is a bit of a step up.

It features Class IV rapids that meanders through the isolated and spectacular canyon. If you are looking for some real whitewater adventure and thrills, the Middle Fork is a good spot as any to take your whitewater rafts.

#8. The Cal-Salmon

If you are looking for the most death-defying river experience, then the Cal-Salmon should be one of the whitewater rafting spots in California on top of your list.

It is a major tributary of the Klamath River and a remote, big, and extremely wild rapid. It belongs to the Class IV to V rapids and not for the faint of heart. The Cal-Salmon has been gaining popularity for serious rafters. If you haven’t tried whitewater rafting before, then you might have to steer clear of this river.

#9. North Fork, American River

The last section of the American River is the North Fork. It is where rafters seeking more than what the South and the Middle Forks can give go. It is the naturally flowing section of the American River, as opposed to hydro-dam controlled Forks mentioned previously.

Whitewater rafting in North Fork will give you some of the most technical and intense experience with its continuous rapids and steep gorges. Only those who are in good physical condition can take on this part of the American River.

#10. Tuolumne River

Tuolumne River, or what other people call as “The T,” is another famous whitewater rafting spots in California, just outside of Yosemite. It belongs in the Class IV rapids, which is one of the most extreme adventures you can experience in the area. The best time to visit the river would be between May and June when the snow starts melting in the high country, which pumps the river with fast and giant rapids.

Getting permits for whitewater rafting in the river is limited, which guarantees you get solitude during your ride.


Whitewater rafting has become a grand outdoor adventure in California, especially as it has some of the most impressive rapids you can find. From north to the south part of the state, these are only ten of the best whitewater rafting spots in California if you are seeking the rush and thrill of the rapids.

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