When you think about white water rafting, what image comes to mind? Maybe a large raft buffeted by waves of crystal clear water careening around rock formations. Or maybe a small raft tipping down a waterfall with screams of delight (fear) coming from the interior. It is important when planning a rafting trip to have a clear idea of what type of ride you are signing up for.
Around Yosemite, that can vary greatly by season and level of snowfall. Why? Because the water providing your adventure originates from the snow melt in the mountains, so water levels will usually be higher and stronger in the spring than later in the season. The three main rivers closest to Yosemite–Merced, Tuolumne and Cherry Creek (which is part of Tuolumne) offer rides generally rated from III to V. What does that mean?
Class III Rapids
Class III can be considered Beginning/Intermediate. This means part of the ride will be Class I and II, or moving, but calm. The Class III parts will have rapids with waves 2 -3 feet high, and some obstacles. Think challenging, but not overwhelming.
Class III-IV Rapids
Class III – IV can be considered Intermediate. This means that you get everything from Class III along with occasional Class IV rapids–waves and drops of 4 feet and higher. There are also higher and more difficult obstacles. There is a possibility of falling out of the raft for an unintentional swim.
Class IV+ Rapids
Class IV+ is Intermediate/Advanced. Add to everything mentioned previously 4 -5 foot waves and drops, adding in obstacles that require quick and precise maneuvering. Falling out of raft and swimming is difficult.
Class V Rapids
Class V is considered advanced. All of the above interspersed with long and tumultuous rapids with 5 – 8 foot drops and many obstacles that must be avoided. Falling out of the raft can be dangerous.
Rapids Trips on 3 Rivers:
There are numerous rafting companies with trips at all levels, two of which are headquartered out of Groveland. If you want to stay local, try Sierra Mac or ARTA, which donates part of proceeds to local environmental nonprofits.
The Merced River tumbles and twists out of Yosemite. Early in the season, the ride is usually Class IV, but calms down to Class III and even Class I later in the season, making it a great choice for an inexperienced rafter. The slower run coincides with peak waterfall viewing. The river may be too low for rafting late in the season, depending upon conditions.
The Tuolumne River is considered a Class IV to IV+. There are more than 40 named rapids in 18 miles. But rapids are only part of the adventure–a trip may include stops at swimming holes, pebble beaches, or even a waterfall to frolic in.
Cherry Creek is considered the most challenging commercial rafting trip in California. There is a 9 mile run with 15 Class V rapids and many Class IV. The names say it all–Guillotine, Eulogy, Corkscrew, to give you an idea. The drops are steep and frequent, and should be attempted by experienced rafters.
Always check conditions before you start planning, to make sure it fits the level you want–water levels can change all the time. There are both day trips and overnight options with camping. We cannot wait to hear about your water adventure when you return to your relaxing room at Groveland Hotel. Make your plans early, as these trips fill up fast!