Rafting the Tuolumne River

Yay! There is snow in Yosemite National Park, but spring is just around the corner.  Abundant snow pack means LOTS of water for rafting in the Tuolumne River, whose headwaters flow from the high elevations of the Sierra Nevada in the Park. Though the Tuolumne River is dam-controlled (as are most rivers in the West), you can still plan on “a rambunctious spring with big fun water in May and June” as Tom, river guide/co-owner with Sierra Mac, explained.

Rafting on the Tuolumne River begins in April and runs through Labor Day weekend. Isaac, a river guide with ARTA said you can expect “higher water flows, wildflowers and green landscapes early in the season.”   In the summer the water level drops and the days heat up, which offers a whole different experience.

Raft on white water rapids and people rowingThe Tuolumne River is considered California’s premier white-water adventure. Rated a Class IV on the main Tuolumne, you can extend your trip to include Cherry Creek and the Upper Tuolumne run for an “experts only” Class V experience.  The river’s steep gradient makes for exquisitely long sets of rapids, and the 18 miles of roadless isolation ensure you are surrounded by nothing but wilderness.  With commercial rafting permits only allowing 20 guests per trip on this National Wild & Scenic stretch of river, you are guaranteed an intimate and adventurous outing.  Contrast this with the overwhelming summer crowds in nearby Yosemite Valley.

Whitewater rafting is a combination of hair-raising, adrenaline-inducing, scared-stiff-out-of-your-raft experiences interspersed with peaceful floats, wildlife watching, and maybe a lame joke or two from your guide.  Just enough of each to make the days thrilling and magical.  Mix in some stops along the way to play in a pool, climb a canyon, or grab a bite to eat.  Expect to get water in your face (and up your nose!), whether it’s a big drop or a slow-stretch water fight between boats.  There is NOTHING like it – nor as much fun on a hot California summer afternoon!

If you are riding the river on a 2 or 3-day trip, expect to spend your nights on secluded and beautiful riverside beaches after enjoying a tastefully prepared camp dinner under the stars.  Add a glass of wine or a pint of beer and life doesn’t get any better.

There are five rafting companies permitted on the Tuolumne River – two of which are headquartered right here in Groveland.  Sierra Mac exclusively operates on the two rivers running out of Yosemite National Park, the Tuolumne River and the Merced River.  Established in 1965 by Marty McDonnell, who pioneered the first commercial run of the Tuolumne, they feel that every river trip is an opportunity to have fun and to educate through a unique combination of great guides, guests, and, of course, the “T” itself.

ARTA (American River Touring Association) is a non-profit river running operation that also calls Groveland home. Begun in 1963, ARTA donates its profits to a different environmental non-profit group for each river they run.  Profits from rafting on the Tuolumne go to support the work of the Tuolumne River Trust.  ARTA’s motto is: Appreciate, Educate, Donate.

Other rafting companies permitted on the Tuolumne River are OARS, All Outdoors, and Zephyr.  All of the organizations have high standards and offer guests safe, interesting, and enjoyable experiences on the river.  Whichever company you choose, make your reservations soon…it promises to be a fabulous year to be on the river!


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