Middle Fork of the American River

The Middle Fork of the American River is chock-full of thrilling whitewater, fascinating history, stunning scenery, and incredible wildlife.

Although it was once a well-inhabited canyon with two mining camps and over 10,000 people, today the Middle Fork American River Canyon is a place of solitude and pristine beauty.

Whitewater Rafting on the Middle Fork

Recreation on the Middle Fork of the American brings hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to the canyon. Whitewater rafting is prominent during the summer months with one, two, and three-day river rafting trips launching daily.

The famous and exhilarating Tunnel Chute rapid brings rafters back year after year, although there are other rapids worth noting. Immediately downstream from put-in is a class III rapid known as “Alarm Clock,” or “Good Morning Coffee.” Last Chance, Kanaka, Cleavage, Parallel Parking, and Catapult, plus numerous class III rapids make the Middle Fork an ideal intermediate whitewater rafting trip.

Although one-day trips are more common, a night spent in the Middle Fork canyon is truly a delightful experience. Relaxing in camp, gorging on delicious food, and socializing are sometimes as memorable as the rapids.

Private Boating & Logistics

The Middle Fork American also makes for a beautiful one or two-day kayaking run with fun play spots and great rapids, although because of the difficulty of Tunnel Chute rapid and the portage at Ruck-a-Chucky, many kayakers prefer either the North Fork or the South Fork.

The logistics of private boating and kayaking on the Middle Fork of the American are more difficult than on other rivers in the area. Cars cannot be left at the put-in, so a shuttle driver must be arranged. Commercial rafting outfitters take care of the shuttle and other potential hassles, providing transportation, food, equipment, and experienced guides. If you decide to sign up for a commercial trip, see the Rafting pages for more information on what to expect and how to choose an outfitter.

Other Middle Fork Recreation

Whitewater rafting is only one form of recreation on the Middle Fork American. The area also boasts over 100 miles of trails used for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, hunting, and river access for fishing and dredging. The Western States Trail, the path which settlers took to cross the Sierras and enter the Middle Fork canyon during the Gold Rush, also runs along the Middle Fork canyon. Each year nationally recognized equestrian and running endurance competitions are held on the Western States Trail.

History & Natural History of the Middle Fork Canyon

When the miners headed into the Middle Fork American River canyon in search of gold, they came en masse. Today, over 1,500 remnants of the Gold Rush and Native American history can be found along the Middle Fork. Tunnel Chute itself is also a huge piece of gold rush history. In the late 1800’s, miners realized that gold likely settled in a slow-moving, horseshoe bend in the river. They blasted a tunnel through the mountain, diverted the river through a chute, and (eureka!), one of the biggest gold discoveries in the California foothills occurred. Many of the other relics, such as buggy wagons and powerhouses are also very captivating.

One of the greatest qualities of the Middle Fork is the abundance of wildlife. Fishermen delight at the large rainbow trout that thrive in the river. Bald and golden eagles, river otters, Townsend big-eared bats, long-horn beetles, frogs, butterflies, and deer are just a few of the wildlife species sometimes spotted on a Middle Fork river rafting trip.

Escape to the Middle Fork

The Middle Fork of the American River offers something for everyone. The abundant wildlife, beautiful river canyon, interesting Native American and gold rush history, recreational opportunities, and unforgettable rapids for whitewater rafting make the Middle Fork American River the perfect escape from the fast-paced modern world.

Thanks to All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting for providing this article.

Whitewater Rafting