We Angelenos are always on the go, so whenever an opportunity to unplug from technology and spend a glorious day out in nature with my family presents itself, I jump at the chance. For this particular get- away, we decided to try an outdoor activity we had yet to experience as a family: white-water rafting on the South Fork of the American River near Sacramento.
We booked the trip through OARS, an adventure travel outfitter that caters to active travelers of all ages. It’s the perfect starter experience for families because it hits a sweet spot between exhilarating for the adventure enthusiasts and safe for more reserved types.
From L.A., we flew into Sacramento and drove to Placerville, where we stayed at the Best Western Plus Placerville Inn the evening before our trip. The hotel had a fair rate and offered everything we wanted as a family – a pool, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast and free parking. Thanks to superb Yelp reviews, we decided to dine at the Hog Wild Bar-B-Que in Placerville that evening, which really hit the spot with its generous portions and fun rustic atmosphere. The sign that read “Sorry! No Wi-Fi. Talk to each other and drink!” really captured the quaint vibe there – and the nature of our trip.
After a leisurely morning, we drove 30 minutes to the OARS American River Outpost in Lotus. We checked in with our amazing rafting guide, Slade, who delivered an orientation and safety talk before fitting us with our safety gear. Slade was incredible with our son and gave him instructions in a stern yet playful way.
The whole rafting trip from start to finish lasted around six hours. It included rapids that were challenging without being too extreme, making it ideal for our 12-year old son. It had mostly Class II rapids at the start and ended with Class III rapids, giving us the chance to warm up to the thrill along the way. I had chosen the one-day adventure so we could determine if we even enjoyed doing rafting trips as a family before we set our sights on longer trips. We truly had a fantastic day paddling through the rapids with the rolling Sierra Nevada foothills as our sun-kissed backdrop, and a highlight was getting to work together and paddle together as a team with the other people we didn’t know in our raft.
If you’re not certain a rafting adventure is the right vacation activity for your family, know that it requires adventurous spirits and the ability to literally and figuratively go with the flow. This is not Disneyland – you have to be comfortable with the fact that nature can be somewhat unpredictable. Everyone in your family should also have a fondness for water, along with a willingness to get wet. Splashy twists and turns are at the very core of a rafting adventure, so staying dry is not a possibility. And even though OARS provides life jackets and helmets, it would be best if everyone in your family knows how to swim. This particular rafting adventure is a wonderful way to bond, but it’s not the best option if you have young kids, since the minimum age is 8 (or 12 at higher water).
One of the most memorable aspects of the South Fork American River Gorge adventure was the entertaining names of some of the rapids we encountered. Hearing Slade call out names like
“Meatgrinder,” “Satan’s Cesspool” and “Hospital Bar” surely got our anticipation up for these upcoming rapids.
We selected OARS because they are known for their experienced and capable guides. In an unregulated industry, you want to rest assured that you are adventuring under the guidance of seasoned professionals. I also liked the useful “what to pack” list that OARS provided. I was so glad I wore a visor under my helmet and packed sunglasses with securing straps because the summer sun was especially strong. August was truly a superb time for this rafting adventure because the summer heat was a nice complement to the slightly chilly water. The swimming opportunities were invigorating for our family.
One of the main reasons we chose to fly into Sacramento rather than driving the seven hours from L.A. was so we could combine this getaway with some holiday time in nearby South Lake Tahoe. After renting a car in Sacramento, we drove approximately one hour to Placerville, then another half-hour to our trailhead start.
The South-Fork American River Gorge adventure is not the most time-efficient holiday if you want to leave L.A. for only a weekend and is better suited as a complement to a few days in an additional nearby destination. South Lake Tahoe is situated around an hour and a half from the South Fork American River, so for ultimate travel adventure impact, it’s worth combining the two for a truly spectacular week.
Would we want to go back for another OARS rafting adventure? You bet! In fact, as soon as the trip ended, my son said he wanted to start over again, and so did we!