The Middle Fork American River is one of the most reliable Class 4, all summer California whitewater rafting trips. It is a suitable raft trip for the active, fit and adventurous first-timer or a great choice for those seeking a step-up from the more crowded South Fork American River. It is a beautiful wilderness river rafting trip that is eligible for Federal Wild & Scenic status. From its headwaters in the Granite Chief Wilderness, it flows through steep, rugged and forested canyons within the Tahoe National Forest and into the Auburn State Recreation Area. Though most often run as a 1 day trip, you can escape into this pristine road-less area for 2-3 days. This Middle Fork American Class 4 rafting adventure is close to civilization, yet it is possible to feel that you are the only people on the river.
The put-in is located near Foresthill just below Oxbow Reservoir. The infamous “Tunnel Chute” is one of the first big rapids encountered. Here, the river was diverted from an oxbow and sent through a tunnel so that miners could mine the oxbow without the river in their way. The chute that was blasted to divert the water makes an awesome Class 4+ rapid. Last Chance is a sticky hole right above Tunnel Chute that surfs rafters that don't take it seriously. Following this, there are numerous Class 3-4 rapids in the first 6 miles, such as Submarine Hole and Kanaka (AKA Cartwheel). For the next 7 miles, the pace is mellower, allowing time to appreciate the solitude and beauty of the lush, forested canyon. You may get a glimpse of some wild-life and spot trout swimming in the incredibly clean and clear Sierra mountain water (originating from the snow pack on the back side of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows). It is worth stopping at some of the creeks flowing into the river for a side hike.
The Ruck-a-Chucky rapids start just below the entrance of Canyon Creek (a good lunch). A 20’ drop through a sieve of huge boulders makes the middle of these 3 rapids a mandatory portage for commercial clients, though some outfitters have their guides raft through this drop, rather than ghost boating where rafts sometimes get stuck. The Class 4 drops of Upper & Lower Ruck-a-Chucky can usually be rafted, though that is dependent on flows. A 2 mile gorge laced with Class 3-4 rapids such as Cleavage, Parallel Parking and Catapult follow.
The take-out for most rafting trips is at mile 17. This is the old Greenwood Bridge site which was demolished in the 1954 floods by a 50’ wall of water that surged down the canyon after the old Hell Hole Reservoir failed. There is camping available at the State Parks campground at this location.
You get the chance to enjoy the beauty of this river canyon in a more leisurely way on 2-3 day trips which are offered by just a few outfitters. This requires the knowledge and skill of rigging all overnight gear in an oar raft. Facilities are very basic, but on the plus side, there are some incredible and truly get-away-from-it-all camps spots, and great side-hikes. Some of these spots afford the luxury of smooth, sculptured plunge pools and cascading waterfalls. On these multi-day trips, there is time to swim, play, hike, fish (need a license!) or simply relax in seclusion.
There is an additional section of Class 2 that can be run below Greenwood Bridge, either to make a 3 day trip, or suitable as a ½ day option for younger children or those looking for a mellow trip. This is a little traveled section of river. Though only Class 2 rapids are found in the 7 miles to Mammoth Bar, there is a wonderful hike up the American Canyon to some incredible waterfalls and cool and shady pools. You have to know the river to find the spot and this hidden treasure is particularly welcome in the hot summer months. The last 2 miles from Mammoth Bar to the confluence of the North Fork American, are only suitable for very adventurous and experienced paddlers who are capable of tackling the Class 5 Murderers Bar rapid.