San Francisco Bay Area residents are fortunate to have a dazzling array of top-tier outdoor recreational activities at their doorstep. The closest locations for whitewater rafting near the North Bay are on the American River. Close enough for a half-day, some locations are Class 4-plus challenges and others are great for the entire family. Lorraine Hall, Office Manager of Tributary Whitewater Tours, informs the good news is that, “The American River offers guaranteed water through September.” Suitable attire includes swimwear, sunblock, sunglasses with strap, hat, long-sleeved top and pants, lace-up shoes and a change of clothing for the homeward bound journey.

River’s Bend Resort
6400 Highway 49
Lotus, CA 95641
(800) 672-3846

Meet up with Tributary Whitewater Tours, a rafting river company operating in California since the late 1970s. Park in the gravel lot to find the camp, first on the right, down the trail. This location on the South Fork American River, 100 miles from Napa, has rafting trips suitable for kids ages seven and up from half-day to two days. Life jackets, paddles, boats and professional guides are all provided. An overnight campsite with tents and sleeping bags is also conveniently on-site for those who are making it into a longer experience.

All-Outdoors River Center
1026 Lotus Road
Lotus, CA 95651
(800) 247-2387

This is the departure point for the Tom Sawyer Float Trip, an easy five-mile beginner trip. Featuring gentle rapids and calm pools, the trip is a one-day ride priced at $129, suitable for ages five and up. Lovely scenery will pass rafters by. Banks of rolling hills, riverside blackberry bushes and trees are contentedly growing from roots in the riverbed. Professional guides, inflatable kayaks and a picnic lunch are all included from All-Outdoors River Center, a third-generation family company now in operation for 50 years.

American River Rafting

Raley’s Grocery Store Parking Lot
13384 Lincoln Way (off I-180)
Auburn, CA 95603
(800) 333-7238

Cover nine miles on a full-day Class 4-plus American River North Fork trip to meet Chamberlain Falls, Bogus Thunder and Staircase. Recommended for those above age 16, equipment and lunch are supplied. American River Recreation is your experienced operator, navigating these waters since 1979. Check out the whitewater rafting bloopers posted on the website. Of course, all end with happy endings. It’s always good to have experienced guides and a dry set of clothing for the ride back home.

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EarthTrek Expeditions Camp
7308 California Route 49
Lotus, CA 95651
(800) 229-8735

With 36 years of experience on the American River, Earth Trek Expeditions has both tents and cabins with beds at its campsites for overnight rafting trips. When you’re not on the river, there’s volleyball, foosball, ping pong and air hockey to entertain, and the campsite sells things you may have forgotten to pack in its on-site store, including wetsuits for the occasional need. EarthTrek ensures you will “bounce, yell, get wet and laugh” through rapids with names like Satan’s Cesspool, Meatgrinder, Triple Threat and Troublemaker.

American Whitewater Expeditions
5981 New River Road
Coloma, CA 95613
(800) 825-3205

Middle Fork is an 18-mile stretch of the American River, offering some of California’s biggest rapids. Big Drop at Tunnel Chute Rapid descends 80 feet, narrows to 18 feet wide, then continues through a 90-foot underground tunnel blasted by gold miners more than 160 years ago. Pioneered by American Whitewater Expeditions back in the 70s, it currently offers six ways to experience Middle Fork, including a Class 4 intermediate trip with a minimum age of 12 and all hands paddling. It’s 36 miles of overnight fun-packed adventures from $269 for adults plus an eight percent government land and river use fee. Check out group, family and last-minute specials.

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Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. A transplanted New Yorker, she has traveled throughout the world as the Big Apple’s official tourism representative. She served as organizer for three Royal Visits to America. As an international relocation consultant, Laurie assisted more than 400 families with overseas moves and is a proud mother of two, thoroughly bi-cultural children. Her work can be found on