Raft the Best River in California

And Get Hooked on Rafting for the Rest of Your Life

Groveland is the portal for rafting what many consider the best river to raft in California--the Tuolumne (two-all-um-knee) river.  The river has a dam up by Hetch Hetchy (part of Yosemite that has a sad history) so this river can be rafted in late summer because they release the water every day.  When the river is very high, it's fast, but some of the rapids are buried and you fly over them.  When it's normal, this is a river that gives you a big bang for your buck.  There's no long periods of calm to get bored.  This is a river that demands your attention but you get rapid after rapid of exhilirating  fun if you give it the respect it deserves. Rapids are rated on several factors, one being the likelyhood of injury if you fell into the rapidi. The scale goes from 1-6 with 6 being impassible. The Tuolumne is a thrill-seeker's river that is an overall category 4+ with one category 5 rapid, Clavey Falls. No matter what level the river is running at, you get a great ride. 

You can take a one, two or three day ride down the river depending on what you want. The author has taken numerous two day trips.  These two day trips mean that you have about five hours on the river, including a stop for lunch, and then you camp where the spring fed Clavey River meets the snow melt Tuolumne.  The camp-site is very rocky and the best tent site is right up against the back rocks, furthest away from the Clavey. You don't really need a tent, several people just camp out on the ground. The Clavey is warm during the summer so you can sit in it, drink a beer (you can bring your own drink) and talk to your fellow rafters. The staff takes you on a rather rocky climb to a swimming area with a rock slide, but you may want to skip it because it is a slow, hard climb over the rocks. The food is fine and the staff really takes good care of you.  However, the next morning you wait and wait and wait for the powers that be to release the water from the dam. It usually takes until noon or one pm to have enough water to raft.  But then you start the second day with the granddaddy of all rapids--Clavey Falls. They make you practice paddling before you go over the falls just to make sure you know what to do.  Clavey is a blast and once you get over it, you can call yourself a rafter.

They didn't used to do one day trips, but now that they do which sounds like an ideal trip since it can be a little boring waiting for the water to reach you the next day.  However, the camp-over can be fun if you're with a group you really enjoy. A one day trip down the Tuolumne will mean you'll be dead tired by the end day so don't plan on driving much further than Groveland and neighboring towns. I can't imagine doing a three day trip unless you get the opportunity to go down portions of the Tuolumne again (which is doubtful.)

Although the author has taken a non-swimming 14 year old down the river, it is highly advisable that everyone in your group knows how to swim because if you go in, you're going to need to know how to float, feet first, down the river.  The Tuolumne river/canyon is isolated.  The only way in and out of the canyon is from the put in point and the take out point. If you get hurt, they'll probably fly you out, don't worry, very few ever hurt themselves, let alone need to be flow out. The Tuolumne is the ride of your life.

Take sunscreen, lots, if you can, wear a long sleeved rash guard to protect your arms from the harsh California sun. You can wear a ball cap under your helmet to keep the sun out of your eyes. And remember--rafting isn't really about strength as it is being in rhythm with your fellow rafters. You'd rather be in a boat with six women all paddling in unison than a five beef-cake guys who are out of sync. 

All in all, if your looking for thrills, this is your river. You'll be paddling like mad, but you'll love it.  A less dangerous ride down a river is the Merced.  It's fun because in early June, when the water is typically at its highest, the waves are high and exciting, but the rocks aren't as dangerous as on the Tuolumne so it makes it more appealing to families with children.