Kayakers, canoeists, and other private boaters love the American River for many reasons. Expert paddlers find top-level challenges on the upper stretches of the North and South forks during spring runoff, and they have a great time the rest of the year on the river’s many class III, IV and V runs. Weekend paddlers can find runs that provide excitement and help develop their skills. And the novice with a brand new kayak can learn the basics and dream of one day running Chamberlain Falls.

If you’re an expert or experienced kayaker but have never been to the American before, we can help make your first time a great success. Contact the kayaking clubs listed on our Links page — it’s the most effective way to connect with fellow paddlers who can show you the runs — and the best places to stay and eat.

If you are a novice paddler, or looking to finally head out on your own, those same organizations may sponsor classes and/or group trips. Or consider taking classes from one of the top-notch kayak schools that operate on the American River. See our list below. Some offer roll sessions and kayak polo in heated pools for comfortable entertainment and practice during spring and winter months. Explore the options to find a program that suits your needs.

The South Fork has an ideal training run for novice kayakers. The 3-mile, Class II “Coloma to Lotus” stretch, offers gentle rapids and easy access. Intermediate boaters enjoy the increased challenge of the Class III “Chili Bar” and “Gorge” runs. During the summer, when the creek runs are going dry, expert kayakers spend hours perfecting their rodeo moves in the world-famous Chili Bar Hole and other play spots.

Whatever skill level you are, you’ll want to keep current on river levels; you’ll find real-time charts for all three forks in the Logistics & Trip Planning section. In this section you’ll also find logistical information, including maps and directions, shuttle notes, local food and lodging. The business directory can help you find local businesses for everything from river gear to lodging to a great meal.

Events to Watch For

Interested in competition? Don’t miss the annual American River Festival. Enjoy watching the kayakers tear up the water or give it a try yourself! The festival includes slalom and rodeo competitions for paddlers from novice to professional. For more events on the American River, check our Calendar of Events regularly.

Kayak Instruction

  • Current Adventures
    Current Adventure Kayak School & Trips
    Over 25 years guiding and adventures in California and beyond! Professional, local instructors, small classes of 3:1 ratio. Whitewater and lake outings. Kids & Adults camps. info@CurrentAdventures.com 530-333-9115
  • Coloma Shuttle
    The Coloma Shuttle is a private boater shuttle service on the South Fork of the American River funded by a grant from the El Dorado County Air Quality Management District. Our low cost shuttle fee $10.00 per boater picks up you and your gear. 530-303-2404
  • California Watersport Collective

    Learn the art of kayaking in a friendly and supportive environment! We offer single and multi-day clinics complete with yoga, camping, community and more! ALL people, ages and skill levels welcome! 

  • DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking - 530-295-0830