South Fork of the American River Rafting

Class III+
20.5 miles
800 cfs - 10,000 cfs
23 ft/mi
Chili Bar
Folsom Lake
April to October

The South Fork of the American River is one of the best day runs in the United States. It is also close to both Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The reliable summer releases from Chili Bar Dam make it possible to raft the American River through September. The entire run from Chili Bar to Folsom lake is 21 miles and can be done in one long day, but most people will take two days to enjoy the scenery and wonderful rapids. The two runs on the South Fork are referred to as Chili Bar (Upper) and "the Gorge" (Lower).

The Chili Bar run starts where Highway 193 crosses the South Fork of the American River. The best place to put in is at the Chili Bar Resort (on river right below the bridge) where they will charge you parking and river use fees.

There is a fun surf spot right at put in that will fill a bucket boat with water if you have any luck. The river starts with Meatgrinder which is a challenging Class III rapid that is not any fun to swim. You will soon be tested by Racehorse Bend, Maya, Triple Threat, and finally Troublemaker which usually lives up to its name. The great thing about Troublemaker is that the cameras are rolling and there is usually a crowd of people waiting for some trouble. Troublemaker is followed by several miles of Class II rapids, including the Gremlin and Old Scary. Most Chili Bar trips will take out at Camp Lotus where you will be charged for parking and take-out fees again.

The Gorge run picks up at Camp Lotus where the Chili Bar run left off. It starts with six miles of Class II rapids including Current Divider and Highway Rapid. When you see the Lollipop Tree (a tree shaped like a lollipop) for a third time you're about to enter the Gorge.

The Gorge starts with Fowler's Rock which is a Class III rapid that has great potential to "wrap" or flip a boat. Following Fowler's are Upper Haystack, Lost Hat, Satan's Cesspool (be sure to smile for the cameras again), Scissors, Bouncing Rock, Hospital Bar, and Surprise.

The trip ends on Folsom Lake where you will get a good work out by paddling across the reservoir. Wimps can pay one of the towboats for a ride. Private boaters take out on the right above the Salmon Falls bridge and commercial outfitters take out on the left after the bridge.

Salmon Falls was a town famous for a 20 foot waterfall that stopped salmon from spawning in the upper reaches of the South Fork. The town and the falls were covered and destroyed by Folsom Lake.

If you're interested in pictures and the perspective of an inflatable kayaker, check out Creekin's South Fork American description. For more information about the American River system, check out the American River Rafting Page.


To reach Chili Bar from Sacramento: Get yourself on Highway 50 and head east towards Placerville where you should hang a left(north) on Highway 49 . After a mile on Highway 49, take a right onto Highway 193 which descends down to the river.

From Chili Bar to Camp Lotus: Get yourself Back on Highway 49 and head north towards Coloma. Just past the Marshall Gold Discovery Park you will take a left on Lotus Road. Take Lotus Road for a 1.5 miles to Bassi Road where you will take a left. Camp Lotus is about a mile down Bassi Road on the right. You'll have to pay a fee to enter, camp, or use the river access.

From Camp Lotus to Salmon Falls: Exit Camp Lotus by taking a left on Bassi Road, left on Lotus Road, and then left again at Highway 49. Follow Highway 49 for about eight miles until you see Salmon Falls Road on the left. It's easy to miss so pay attention to road signs at the top of a small grade. You'll take a left on Salmon Falls Road and another immediate left which will still be Salmon Falls Road. It's about seven miles to the Salmon Falls Bridge. Private boaters will want to park on the left before the bridge as commercial companies park on the left after the bridge.

To reach Salmon Falls from Sacramento: Head East on Highway 50 and exit left (north) on to Eldorado Hills Blvd which will turn into Salmon Falls Road after you cross Green Valley Road. Keep going until you cross Salmon Falls Bridge where private boaters will want to park on the left after the bridge.


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ARTA River Trips

American Whitewater Expeditions

Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC)

H20 Adventures

Mother Lode River Trips

O.A.R.S. Inc.

Outdoor Adventures, UC Davis

Tributary Whitewater Tours

W.E.T. River Trips

Whitewater Connection

Whitewater Excitement

Disclaimer: River descriptions and classifications may change due to natural events that may create new hazards or flows. C-W-R advises that any paddler that uses this site be additionally informed by seeking out local news and updates for changes on this river.

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