The American River originates in the high Sierra Nevada just west of Lake Tahoe, in the Tahoe and El Dorado National Forests. Its three main forks—the South, Middle and North—flow through the Sierra foothills and converge east of Sacramento. Along the way their water, rapids, lakes and reservoirs provide recreation, power and irrigation for northern California. Whether you are looking for whitewater action, calm-water paddling, fishing a clear lake or hiking along a cool stream, you’ll find a place to love on the American.
Three Forks, Three Unique Watersheds
Despite each originating in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the three forks of the American River have distinct “personalities,” reflecting the environment through which each flows.
The North Fork of the American River is the American River’s wild child. Most of the whitewater portions of the river are for experts only. During the summer, flows are too low for boating, so the North Fork becomes a spectacular hiking region, with demanding canyon trails, Sierra foothills beauty, and the river providing cool swimming holes for resting.
The Middle Fork of the American River provides a variety of boating challenges, from experienced to expert. Though much of the land is privately owned, the river is open to all. The Middle Fork’s canyons provide challenging terrain for the world-famous Tevis Cup equestrian trail ride and Western States 100-Mile Trail Run, both beginning at Squaw Valley and leading to Auburn via remote wilderness trails.
The South Fork of the American River is the most friendly and welcoming of the three, with river fun for novices as well as experts and thrill-seekers. More people boat the South Fork than any other river west of the Rockies, and for good reason: trips ranging from half- to two-day, arranged by experienced river guides, and all within a short drive of Sacramento.
The Forks Join
The three forks merge into Folsom Reservoir. The main stem of the American River, sometimes referred to as the Lower American, starts just below Folsom Dam and flows through the Sacramento’s eastern suburbs before joining the Sacramento River just west of the city center. The American River Parkway borders much of the stretch, providing recreational trails and access.