For guided river trips, Placerville is the whitewater capital of California’s Gold Country. From here, outfitters can take you to all three forks of the American River, including the rugged Class IV-V rapids of the North Fork and the more moderate Class III-IV whitewater of the Middle Fork. Rafting trips are designed for all experience levels, and you can even book overnight excursions; if you’re a rookie rafter, try a more leisurely half-day trip down the lower section of the South Fork. The season usually runs April-October, except for trips on the North Fork, which usually run April-May or June, depending on weather and water levels. Check online for specific dates.
If you’re a rookie rafter, try a more leisurely half-day trip down the lower section of the South Fork.All-Outdoors Whitewater Rafting (925/932-8993, $100-495) offers half-day, full-day, and multiday trips on the North, Middle, and South Forks of the American River. If you have time, take a two- to three-day jaunt and camp deep in the stunningly beautiful river canyons. Guides prepare all your meals, and it’s an excellent way to experience a different side of the Gold Country. You can also book full-day trips on any of the three forks if a multiday expedition isn’t feasible. If you have small kids or just want to calmly drift down the river, consider the full-day Tom Sawyer Float Trips along the rapids-free section of the South Fork.
Beyond Limits Adventures (530/622-0553, $100-300) offers mostly half-day and one-day excursions to the North, Middle, and South Forks; you can also take two-day trips on the South Fork with complimentary wine and beer served at dinner. Two-day trips also include a stop at a riverside resort where you can fish, play basketball, and try your hand at panning gold.
American Whitewater Expeditions (800/825-3205, $50-288) offers half-day, full-day, and multiday trips to all three forks of the American River. All expeditions come with delicious meals, friendly guides, and jaw-dropping Sierra Nevada scenery.
O.A.R.S. (800/346-6277, $110-320) offers trips to all three forks of the American River. They are one of the most experienced rafting companies in the West, and the guides are extremely knowledgeable. O.A.R.S. offers full-day trips with a picnic on the Middle and North Forks; you can also take half-day, full-day, and two-day trips on the South Fork with meals included. Or enjoy a two-day wine-and-raft tour that includes side trips to several El Dorado County wineries.
Whitewater Connection (530/622-6446, $95-421) offers the standard full-day trips to the North, Middle, and South Forks, along with multiday expeditions. You can also book half-day trips on the South Fork if time is an issue. Whitewater Connection also offers two-day trips combining one day on the North Fork with another day on either the Middle or South Fork.
Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Northern California.