This wet-and-wild rafting adventure on the Tuolumne (too-ALL-uh-me) River gives you two or three blissful days of kiss-your-digital-life-goodbye freedom. You’re only four hours east of San Francisco, but this rugged land of deep gorges and forests is as wild as you can get in California. Once the shuttle bus of the rafting outfitter of your choice drives you down the dirt road to the put-in site in the Stanislaus National Forest, you and your fellow rafters are pretty much outnumbered by birds, beasts, and big trout along an 18-mile stretch of Class IV rapids.
Known simply as “the T,” this designated Wild and Scenic section of river often gets the nod as having some of the best whitewater in California. Class IV rapids are the rule, not the exception. Clavey Falls, a series of three staircases, creates the biggest drama, but expect nonstop whoops and hollers on this exciting trip. May to early September, ARTA, Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions, and several other outfitters offer fully outfitted one-, two-, and three-day rafting adventures. For a worth-it splurge, join a “Wine on the River” or “Craft Beer Tasting” trip offered on select dates by O.A.R.S. After a full day of rafting, beach your rafts at a riverfront campsite and enjoy a gourmet dinner. Grownup beverages are paired by a brew master or wine expert who accompanies you on the trip. After dinner, watch bats swirl above the water as shadows deepen, then share river-rafting war stories with your new friends.
The Tuolumne’s put-in is off State Highway 120 midway between Groveland and Yosemite National Park. Water flows are dependent on releases from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and only two trips are allowed to launch per day, so you won’t see many boats on this river. Graduates of “the T” might want to try a float on the Upper T, better known as Cherry Creek—an even more thrilling whitewater stretch.
Useful info: If you’d like to camp while in the area as well, there are several options, including the River Ranch Campground in Stanislaus National Park, the Turlock Lake State Recreation Area, and the Tuolumne Meadows Campground.