Whitewater rafting enthusiasts are gearing up for a wild, wet and wonderful summer as ample precipitation during the past few months is boosting flows on Western rivers.
The past three whitewater seasons in California have seen low flows due to the drought. And though 2016 isn’t a banner year for the state’s snowpack, the ample precipitation means this season will be the best in several years.
The most popular river in the state, the South Fork of the American River, is going to have above-normal flows through Labor Day, said Tyler Wendt, operations manager for OARS, a rafting company based in Angels Camp.
The company also expects plenty of water seven days a week through September on the Middle Fork of the American River. The North Fork of the American, a free-flowing river whose water is not released from a reservoir, is expected to be too low for rafting by the end of May.
Wendt encourages anyone interested to get on a river soon as the water peaks.
“The South Fork will be very exciting with flows over 3,000 cubic feet per second,” he said, more than double the typical flow last year.
For those who have rafting experience and want a greater challenge, Wendt recommends the Tuolumne River near Yosemite, a Class IV river. “It’s the classic whitewater experience,” he said. “It should be super fun through June, and then we will have normal summer releases.”
Another river for more advanced rafters is the Merced, also near Yosemite. “That should be peaking in late May and will be great until mid- to late June,” Wendt said.
OARS has gentler trips geared toward families, such as one on the Klamath near the invitingly named Happy Camp in upper Northern California, not far from the Oregon border. That three-day trip welcomes children as young as 4, Wendt said, far younger than the age limit on other trips.
Veteran raft guide Bridget Crocker, who has daughters 5 and 6, said she and her family “were so excited about good snow pack and flow this year, we bought a raft for Christmas.”
She recently ran the Kern River, in the southern Sierra foothills east of Bakersfield, with her husband and two girls.
“Running rivers has been such a vital part of my life for so long, it’s thrilling to share the experience with our daughters,” she said.
Rafting company owner Bob Volpert, who during the offseason lives in Point Reyes and in the summer moves to Idaho to oversee Idaho River Journeys, said this rafting season should be a refreshing change.
Volpert also owns Kern River Outfitters and says that after three years of virtually no trips there, this season should run into August.
While the snow pack in Northern California is at normal levels, the southern part of the state received about 65 percent of typical precipitation during the past few months.
“But we still have pretty good water,” Volpert said. “Anything is better than nothing after not operating for three years.”
The picture is even brighter in Oregon, Volpert said, with above-normal precipitation. His company, Rogue River Journeys, offers lots of appealing family trips there.
One of the great rafting trips in United States is the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in central Idaho. This area received about 90 percent of average precipitation, Volpert said, and Idaho River Journeys is nearly sold out for the 2016 season.
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Dozens of companies run the American River, including OARS and Environmental Traveling Companions, a nonprofit group that takes disabled people down the river, etctrips.org.