Last weekend brought a new adventure for me. I had never been whitewater rafting before in my life, so when the opportunity arose as a Scout family outing, we jumped at the chance. It was a first for my younger boy and daughters as well, as the two younger ones were too young for the trip to the Middle Fork two years ago. It. Was. Amazing. My only regret: not having experienced it before.
Coloma, California is located about an hour northeast of Sacramento, in the heart of Gold Rush Country. Indeed, there isn’t much to the town, except for the Marshall Gold Discovery Historical Park, and you guessed it, the American River.
The American River is fed by its three major tributaries: the North Fork, the Middle Fork, and the South Fork. All three watersheds begin in the El Dorado and Tahoe National Forests. The North and Middle Forks converge around Auburn, and all three forks feed into Folsom Lake, just east of Sacramento. From there, the river continues as the Lower American River through Sacramento.
We ventured on the South Fork, the most popular of the three, especially for those less experienced. The South Fork attracts thousands of visitors a year, including many scout troops ready for adventure. We were no exception. We left Friday afternoon and started the eight-hour drive from the SGV to El Dorado County at the start of Friday rush hour traffic in a packed and full car. Fortunately there were no major disagreements, and travel went smoothly. I considered it a win especially since we got to the campsite around midnight and we were all tired from a busy week. We went with American River Expeditions and they had everything set up for us; all we had to do was change and get cozy in our sleeping bags.
Morning brought a quick but hearty breakfast and then it was time to head to the river. The guides explained the schedule and safety procedures, then got us into wetsuits and safety gear. The South Fork actually runs along our campsite, however we entered the river a bit upstream, which translated to about a 20 minute bus ride. Once out, the guides helped us fit our helmets and life jackets (safety first!) before getting into the rafts.
Our family being a party of six formed its own group. We were fortunate to have a guide-in-training along with our regular guide. She was able to help keep an extra eye on Sami. It was interesting trying to get in sync with the rowing, and the phrase ‘family bonding time’ became a bit of a joke as one (or more) of us got out of sync or did something which showed our- we’ll call it ‘inexperience.’
As for the river itself, the trip down was amazing! The first half of the trip had a few good rapids which helped us get used to being out on the water. My most adventurous Scout, Emily, especially liked Swimmer’s Rapid where she was able to exit the raft and float on the rapid. We’re still trying to determine whether she got it on the GoPro; if she did I’ll post her swim. The after lunch portion of the day had the most adventuresome rapids, as evidenced by their names, Scissors, Bouncing Rock, and Satans Cesspool which involved our only get down of the trip. My favorite rapid was the terrifyingly exciting Hospital Bar, so named because after exiting the rapid you’ll either head to the hospital or the bar. Thanks to our skilled guides, we all managed to stay in the raft even as a large wave came up and hit us. It was incredible. No hospital. No bar either since this was a Scout trip, so I guess I owe me a drink later.
After exiting at Folsom Lake, the rest of the day was spent at the campsite, hanging out and getting to better know some of our Scout families. Dinner was great, as was our campfire. The boys I’m sure will have great memories of playing baseball in the dark, with camp lanterns to light the bases. It’s definitely a trip I hope to do again.
For those who are on the fence about whitewater rafting, it’s definitely a great experience. Go with a trusted company and a good guide. Know your limitations and you’ll have a fun time. We only had one fall out of the raft on a smaller rapid, and there was no damage done other than perhaps to pride. Even Sami our littlest one, who went in with some anxiety, did really well and had an awesome time. There is certainly a lot of fun to be had on California’s rivers. Happy trails!
For more information, visit americanwhitewater.com
Rafting photo credits: American Whitewater Expeditions
River photos: Michael and Rochelle Haas