The most popular whitewater-rafting river in the West, the American tumbles through the Gold Country, an inviting jumble of churning rapids, deep pools, and tumbling cascades. While its rich riparian ecosystem long supported Native American tribes, the next wave of humans—the legendary ‘49ers—saw the waterway as means to their fortune, panning for gold in the river silt and blasting banks with hydraulic spouts, hoping to reveal veins of the precious metal. While remnants of old mining equipment still poke up in or near the river, the rush for gold has mostly been replaced by the rush for adrenaline. Each of the American’s three forks serve up their own style of watery fun, and outfitters offer everything from family-friendly half-day floats to white-knuckle multi-day adventures.
Which fork works for you? The most popular is the South Fork, with Class II-III rapids that are perfect for families and first-time rafters. The lower segments of the North and Middle Forks offer easy Class II rapids—a great place to try out whitewater canoeing or kayaking. But it’s a whole other story upriver, with upper segments of both forks boasting Class IV-V rapids with names like Bogus Thunder and Texas Chainsaw Mama.
"There is nothing quite like spending the night alongside the river, trout rising on the surface of the silvery water as evening falls and a frieze of stars paints the night sky."
While day trips are always a blast—especially on hot summer days when good-natured water fights between rafters break out with inviting frequency—there is nothing quite like spending the night alongside the river, trout rising on the surface of the silvery water as evening falls and a frieze of stars paints the night sky. Some outfitters go all out to create unique getaways; O.A.R.S. offers craft beer-tastings on some of its overnight trips.
Bumping up against the west side of the Sierra Nevada Range, on California’s eastern side, the Sierra foothills that make up the Gold Country are California Classics.
Discovery of gold in 1848 sparked the largest mass migration in U.S. history, with more than 300,000 pioneers heading west.
Here, the state’s past, present, and future merge into one unforgettable destination. Pan for gold like a 49er, bike through meadow-and-oak countryside, and raft a rapid-filled river, then explore historic towns with Old West architecture and a new generation of pioneers, opening up outstanding wineries, farm-to-table restaurants, inviting shops, and charming B&Bs.
Pluck a bit of gold from a riverbed scoured by the original ’49ers. Descend deep into the earth to check out unusual rock formations. Get your heart racing with a ride down whitewater rapids. For...
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