South Fork of the American River

The South Fork of the American River boasts the most popular whitewater rafting and kayaking west of the Rockies, and the area provides many other great opportunities for recreation on and off the river.

Whitewater Rafting & Kayaking


The 20-mile run from Chili Bar to Salmon Falls features over 20 named rapids and countless waves in between. It’s rated Class III at moderate summer flows, but at high water or early in the season should be considered Class III+ or IV. Most paddlers run the river with a commercial rafting company. Outfitters provide the equipment, experienced guides, plus life jackets, and other gear so that you can enjoy the outdoor adventure without the hassle or expense of investing in your own equipment.

Those who decide to invest the time in learning to navigate the river themselves will also find the South Fork a great destination. The 3-mile, Class II “Coloma to Lotus” stretch is an ideal introduction to whitewater. Intermediate boaters enjoy the increased challenge of the “Chili Bar” and “Gorge” runs, and the expert kayakers spend hours perfecting their rodeo moves in the world-famous Chili Bar Hole, First Threat, Maya, and other play spots. Upstream from the Chili Bar stretch, expert boaters can test their skills on the Kyburz stretch, Slab Creek, Ice House, and other runs.

Private rafters and kayakers will find lots of information on river conditions, logistics, and local resources on the Resources and Kayaking pages. For more information on what to expect and how to choose an outfitter, see the Rafting pages. After your day on the water make sure to visit one of our photography companies to see your action shots.

If you have questions about river flows on the South Fork please review the information on this page.

Recreation


The Coloma-Lotus Valley is the major destination of the South Fork, shaped by the river today as in 1848. Three riverfront parks provide opportunities for family picnics and wading, and Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park brings California’s history to life.

History


The South Fork of the American River changed world history in 1848 when California’s first gold was discovered in its stream bed at Sutter’s Mill. This discovery triggered the California Gold Rush of 1849, sometimes referred to as the largest human migration for a single purpose since the Crusades. Unfortunately, once the easily found gold was removed, the miners made a mess of things with their hydraulic pumps, causing folks downstream to complain. Eventually, the mining operations were shut down, and today you can still find huge trenches created by the miners 150 years ago.

If you’d like to visit the area or learn more about the history of the river and the Coloma-Lotus Valley, don’t miss the Coloma Valley website.

Kayaking

The River Store

The River Store

1032 Lotus Rd, Lotus, CA 95651

Kayaking-Rafting-Camping. Sales, rentals & World Class Kayak Instruction. Clothing, snacks, drinks, sundries and outdoor accessories. Visitor's info, local experts, maps & books. Over 35 years in Lotus. theriverstore.com 530-626-3435

California Watersport Collective

California Watersport Collective

5461 Bassi Rd, Lotus, CA 95651

Kayak, paddleboard, and packraft the river! Have fun and learn skills with world-class instructors in a safe supportive environment. Beginner, advanced classes and trips available. Kids and adults welcome. www.cwwcollective.com 530-426-2820

Current Adventures Kayak School

Current Adventures Kayak School

1032 Lotus Rd, Lotus, CA 95651

Over 25 years guiding in California and beyond! Professional, local instructors, small classes of 3:1 ratio. Whitewater and lake outings. Kids & Adults camps. currentadventures.com 530-333-9115

Coloma Shuttle

Coloma Shuttle

7308 Hwy 49 Ste F, Lotus, CA 95651

Our private boater shuttles are arranged so that you can eliminate the hassle of "the shuttle" out of your day and the carbon monoxide out of the environment. colomashuttle.com 530-303-2404

DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking

Lotus, CA

We provide the best kayak instruction and whitewater guiding in some truly extraordinary settings. It’s because we have found so much joy in being on the river that we want the same for you. Each day is infused with patience, encouragement,... 530-295-0830

Whitewater Rafting

All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting

All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting

1026 Lotus Rd, Lotus, CA 95651

We are a family-owned outfitter with over 60 years of experience professionally guiding whitewater rafting trips on 10 of California's best rivers. Ages 5 and up. 1/2 day to multi-day trips available! www.aorafting.com 800-247-2387

WET River Trips

WET River Trips

5461 Bassi Rd., Lotus, CA 95613

WET River Trips has been creating memorable whitewater rafting adventures on the American River since 1978. Our team of whitewater professionals know how to craft an unbeatable experience for the young and young at heart. Half, full and multi-day... www.raftwet.com 888-723-8938

River Runners Inc.

River Runners Inc.

5461 Bassi Rd, Lotus, CA 95651

Enjoy the thrill of whitewater rafting without being rushed. We provide high quality, all-inclusive rafting adventures. Your meals are always fresh, and your guides are always fun and professional. www.riverrunnersusa.com 530-622-5110

Rock-N-Water

Rock-N-Water

6580 Hwy 49, Lotus , CA 95651

Specializing in adventures for families and Church youth groups. Our Christian staff will take your rafting, rock climbing and hiking on 1 to 5 day full customizable adventures. www.rocknwater.com 800-738-0555

Whitewater Excitement

Whitewater Excitement

6580 Hwy 49, Lotus, CA 95651

Since 1978, Whitewater Excitement, Inc. has offered 5-star river rafting adventure on the American River. Family-operated and family-friendly with trips for kids as young as 4. Experience the difference. www.whitewaterexcitement.com 800-750-2386

Coloma Shuttle

Coloma Shuttle

7308 Hwy 49 Ste F, Lotus, CA 95651

Our private boater shuttles are arranged so that you can eliminate the hassle of "the shuttle" out of your day and the carbon monoxide out of the environment. colomashuttle.com 530-303-2404

ARTA River Trips

ARTA River Trips

3782 Winding Creek Ln, Lotus , CA 95651

Friendly guides, healthy food, family style non-profit since 1963. We run fantastic river trips on the best rivers in the West. 1-3 day trips in California. www.arta.org 209-962-7873

O.A.R.S. American River Rafting

O.A.R.S. American River Rafting

7330 River Park Dr, Lotus, CA 95651

First-class whitewater rafting on the South, Middle, and North Fork of the American River, Tuolumne, Merced, and North Fork of the Stanislaus since 1969. Book online and save! www.oars.com 855-541-4792

American Whitewater Expeditions

American Whitewater Expeditions

5981 New River Rd, Coloma, CA 95613

Offering fun, exciting, rafting adventures on 3 Forks of the American River since 1980. Best value guaranteed! 1/2 , 1 and 2 day trips include camping, pool and Wi-Fi. Generous Discounts. www.americanwhitewater.com 530-642-0804

American River Recreation, Inc. (rafting)

American River Recreation, Inc. (rafting)

6019 New River Rd, Coloma, CA 95613

Providing high-quality rafting trips since 1979. We offer trips for all skill levels. Family-friendly floats start at just $49. Same-day reservations welcomed. 1/4-day to 3-day trips available. www.arrafting.com 530-622-6802

Raft California

Raft California

6500 CA-49, Lotus, CA 95651

California Whitewater Rafting OVER 12 RIVERS TO CHOOSE FROM — From 1/2 day trips to multi-day wilderness adventures we have a river rafting trip for you! We have California white water rafting trips perfect for all ages (+) as well as large... www.raftcalifornia.com (530) 626-7385

Junior Guide Raft Camp

Junior Guide Raft Camp

7310 Hwy 49, Lotus , CA 95651

An Educational non-profit summer camp providing youth aged 6-16 with river safety and rafting education. We are in our 10th year of teaching adventure, leadership, and teamwork. www.juniorguides.org 916-616-2317

Hotshot Imaging

Hotshot Imaging

7308 Hwy 49 Ste D, Lotus, CA 95651

California's largest whitewater rafting photography company taking over 1 million pictures per summer on the South & Middle Fork of the American River. All images are posted on our website each day for viewing/purchasing. www.hotshotimaging.com 530-621-0400

Action Whitewater Adventures

Action Whitewater Adventures

7421 Hwy 49, Lotus, CA 95651

From thrill to chill. Refreshing family fun from mild to wild. www.actionwhitewater.com 530-621-1315

Whitewater Connection

Whitewater Connection

7420 Hwy 49, Lotus , CA 95651

Whitewater Connection offers exciting 1/2-day, one-day and 2-day whitewater trips for beginners to advanced paddlers. Beautiful scenery, best river front campground in the valley! An abundance of FUN! Family-operated and family-friendly with... www.whitewaterconnection.com 530-622-6446

Mother Lode River Center

6280 CA-49, Lotus, CA 95651

You get everything you want in California whitewater rafting with three forks of the American River to choose from, ranging from mild to wild! See for yourself why we have the most popular rafting trips in the state. www.malode.com (530) 626-4187