Drive into Tahoe City on a warm summer day and you can’t miss them—the big tents set up alongside the sparkling Truckee River, where operators rent out inflatable rafts and inner tubes for a do-it-yourself day on the water. Perfectly suited for lazy-day floaters, the Truckee River is the ideal place to spend a July afternoon trailing your fingers in the water, catching some serious rays (bring the sunscreen!), and just going with the lazy flow. The roughly five miles between Tahoe City, on the west side of Lake Tahoe, northwest to River Ranch Lodge can be navigated by almost anybody in almost any kind of boat, from inner tubes to kayaks to canoes. Rent gear from Truckee River Raft Company or Truckee River Rafting, then just jump in and go, with nothing more than a gentle Class II ripple to add just enough spice for first-timers (especially kids), and cool pools for dunking and water fights.
The Truckee’s flow is controlled by sluice gates beneath Tahoe City’s Fanny Bridge (a cheeky name for the span, based on the common practice of strollers bending over the side to look for trout in the clear river below). On this self-guided trip, the goal is to meander. Most people take two or three hours to float the Truckee, but the slower you go, the more fun you have. Pull up your raft on a sand bar and have a picnic. Go for a swim. Canine lovers, rejoice: Dogs are welcome to paddle alongside or ride in your boat. The trip ends at the historic River Ranch Lodge, where you can order lunch on the outdoor patio (no dogs allowed) before the shuttle bus takes you back to Tahoe City.
If you want more excitement from the Truckee River, head for the Lower Truckee, which serves up Class II and III rapids all summer long. Two companies, Tahoe Whitewater Tours and Tributary Whitewater Tours, offer half-day trips rafting on the seven-mile stretch from Boca to Floriston. This great beginner/intermediate run is an easy add-on to a Tahoe vacation.