It was always a dream of mine to document a whitewater rafting trip in Northern California and I had one distinct destination on my mind – the Middle Fork of the American River.
We began the day by driving to Auburn, California to meet up with everyone at H2O Adventures and load into vans to head down the steep drive to the river. I don’t do well with heights or car sickness, so this was by far the most difficult part of the trip for me.
Once we made it down to the river, we were outfitted with our life jackets, helmet and paddle, along with an extensive training session. At this point, we outfitted the front of the raft with a makeshift tripod, one that we could attach our GoPro and 360 camera to throughout the day. We were never fully comfortable with the camera setup, but it thankfully never fell into the water.
As soon as we loaded into the raft, I was mesmerized by the color of the water. This remote stretch of the American River is as pristine as it gets, without any land access for miles, it’s typically only seen by rafters on any given day.
We started off with a couple warm up Class III rapids to get our feet wet (literally), but everyone knew that the most difficult rapid was going to come early in the day. I think the scariest aspect of Tunnel Chute is that it’s too early in the trip for you to feel comfortable with your rafting skills, and it’s the most dangerous rapid of the trip.
Tunnel Chute is basically a giant hole blasted into the side of a mountain by Gold Rushers in the 1800’s to transport goods downstream. It makes a long, narrow rapid through tall rock walls followed by a waterfall descent into a large pool. We came in hot into the rapid and hit the wall with the front of the raft, turning us around and forcing us to take on the waterfall backwards. Shockingly, no one went swimming:
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Throwback to the time we dropped Tunnel Shoot backwards. We’ve got an epic video dropping TONIGHT on @activenorcal so stay tuned. w/ @backcountrycraig @bcamli33 @b__hicks__ @h2oadventures . . . . . #california #whitewaterrafting #exploringauburn #whitewaterworld #tunnelshoot #getoutside #adventure #optoutside #explorecalifornia #outdoors #auburn #northerncalifornia #norcal #h2oadventures #exploreyourbackyard #americanriver #whitewater #middleforkamericanriver #river #instagood
Following the waterfall of Tunnel Chute, you get an exhilarating float through the tunnel, celebrating our recent accomplishment in an underground river. From there, the next four miles or so include Class III and IV rapids like Thread the Needle, Kanaka Falls and Cache Bar. It’s one heck of a ride.
Sitting in the middle of the 17-mile rafting ride is a calm part of the river, which is perfect for swimming, jumping off rocks and enjoying the wilderness. As you look into the crystal-clear water flowing down the Sierra Nevada mountains, you can see big brown trout swimming through the water.
Finally, we stopped for a delicious lunch of sandwiches, chips, fruit and juice, before hopping back in the boat for the final stretch of fun rapids to finish the day.
The end of the day is highlighted by Ruck-a-Chucky Falls, which is a Class V+ waterfall that only the guides are allowed to go down. We watched from the shore as our guides to the rafts down the epic waterfall.
The trip took all day to complete, meeting in Auburn at 8 am and getting back to the car around 3:30 pm. While it will push your limits and probably scare the heck out of you for a moment or two, the rafting trip down the Middle Fork of the American River is one of the great outdoor adventures in Northern California. It helps to have a great guide service take you down the river and there’s probably none better than H2O Adventures.
There are a lot of rafting options throughout NorCal, from the Sacramento Klamath and Trinity Rivers up north, to Yuba, Truckee and Merced further south. But there’s no trip quite like the Middle Fork of the American River, which gave us one heck of a day in the great outdoors. Watch the video at the top to get the full experience of the trip.
Zach O’Brien is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Active NorCal