Whitewater California River Flows

The Estimated Runnable Seasons Chart below provides our current best estimate -- based on the latest snow survey, reservoir storage and release data -- of this year's runnable season for each of California's 13 most popular whitewater rafting runs. Further down on this page, individual sections on each of our rivers provide real-time flow graphs (from USGS gauging stations via DreamFlows.com) and flow analysis information to help you build your knowledge about California's wonderful rivers. To keep tabs on river flows you may want to bookmark or link to this page and return frequently to keep track of your favorite rivers.

For more great insights and info on California rivers, we suggest you visit our BLOG and sign up for our E-Newsletter Voyages.

California River Locations: Northern   Central   Southern-Central   Southern

  • River Flows - Runnable Seasons Chart
  • Water Levels
  • Snowpack Info
  • Data Source Info

Estimated Runnable Seasons Chart

CFS Explanation: River flows are measured in cubic feet per second or CFS, a unit of water flow which indicates the volume of water flowing per second past any given point along a river. Note: Click on the river names in this chart to go straight to a real-time flow graph and detailed flow analysis for that river further down this page.

Water Levels

Depending on snowpack and time of year, river water levels can vary from high to medium to low. On high water, generally speaking, we use larger boats to ride faster current, climb over larger waves and crash through more powerful holes. On low flows, on the other hand, using smaller boats, we encounter smaller waves and more rocks, and with tight teamwork and split-second timing maneuver down steep, narrow chutes and over abrupt drops. Medium water, naturally, is somewhere in between. High water generally occurs during spring runoff in April, May and early June, while lower flows are normally found at the tail end of each river's runnable season. Medium water is found in between. Exceptions to this pattern are rivers controlled by upstream dams - which might have daily flow fluctuations but which, in the course of the year, generally have less variation, less pronounced high and low water periods. The thing to remember is that, with Whitewater Voyages, high, medium and low water all have their special appeal, and all can provide truly great fun.

The runnable season for any given river may vary from year to year depending on snowpack and weather. The seasons cited here are those typical of years with normal snowpack. For information on seasons during years of low and high snowpack, please see the River Comparison Chart.

Snowpack Information

You can also check Snowpack Summaries, which are produced by the California Data Exchange Center - Department of Water Resources, from approximately December through June.

These provide a great predictor of the length of a river's season, and the flows we can expect through the season.

Data Sources

The information provided on this and other pages which include flow information is from http://www.dreamflows.com, thunder.water.ca.gov, waterdata.usgs.gov, the California Data Exchange Center, and/or from the US Geological Survey, the Army Corps of Engineers, or the National Weather Service computers.

It is real-time data, provisional, unverified, and subject to errors. It should be used as a general guide only.

Neither Whitewater Voyages, nor the data sources can be held responsible for the accuracy of the data. Always research flows thoroughly and check locally for the latest flow information.

Not all Whitewater Voyages rivers have flow information available over the internet. If you know of a better sensor for a river, or have any corrections or additions, please let us know.

Lower Kern River
( Beginner - Intermediate / Class III-IV )

Flows on the Lower Kern are released from Isabella Reservoir, which was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1953 largely for the purpose of irrigating crops in the Bakersfield area. Because these crops need more water as they grow larger, flows on the Lower Kern tend to gradually increase in the course of summer growing season, which generally extends from May through late August or early September-and coincides, naturally, with the Lower Kern whitewater boating season. Given that Lake Isabella is a shallow lake with a large surface area and that it is located in the high desert, the sun warms the water giving the Lower Kern its mid 60-70 degree water temperatures.

Graph

Lower Kern River Flow

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600-1200 CFS: Normal flow. Excellent for both beginning and experienced rafters. Abundant Class III and IV whitewater. Wet suits recommended during cold weather.
Usual minimum age: 9.

1200-2000 CFS: Medium flow. Outstanding for both first-time and experienced rafters! An overflowing feast of Class III and IV whitewater! Wet suits recommended during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 9.

2000-3500 CFS: High flow. Exciting for both adventurous first-timers and experienced paddlers. Powerful Class III+ and IV whitewater. Wet suits required during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 10-12.

Above 3500 CFS: Very high flow. Challenging Class IV whitewater ideal for experienced paddlers and athletic, adventurous beginners eager to paddle like crazy! Large waves, swift current and long rapids! Wet suits required in cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 12.


Upper Kern River
( Beginner - Intermediate / Class III-IV )

As it drains the southern end of the Sierra, the North Fork of the Kern issues forth from Junction Meadow near Mt. Whitney to tumble more than 75 river miles south to Lake Isabella. Major tributary creeks along the way including Tyndall Creek, the Little Kern, Peppermint Creek, Freeman Creek and Durrwood Creek pump up the flow.

The Class III and IV sections of the last 17 miles of the North Fork are known as the Upper Kern, while the Class IV+ and V sections are known as the Thunder Run. The largely inaccessible 18 river miles above the Upper Kern and Thunder Run comprise the spectacular Class V Forks of the Kern run.

With the exception of one diversion dam, the North Fork Kern is free flowing and fed entirely by snow-melt run-off, which normally provides raftable flows, depending on weather and snow pack, from approximately April through July, with the highest flows in May and early June.

Graph

Upper Kern River Flow - At Kernville

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500-1000 CFS: Lower flow. Technical yet forgiving Class III and IV whitewater. Fun for both beginning and experienced rafters. Wet suits recommended during cold weather.
Usual minimum age: 12.

1000-2500 CFS: Medium flow. Tons of Class III and IV whitewater! Outstanding for both first-time and experienced rafters! Wet suits recommended during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 12.

2500-4500 CFS: High flow. Powerful Class III+ and IV whitewater. Exciting for both adventurous first-timers and experienced paddlers. Wet suits required during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 12-14.

Above 4500 CFS: Very high flow. Challenging Class III and IV whitewater ideal for experienced paddlers and fit, adventurous beginners ready to be immersed in bubbles and paddle with gusto! Large waves, swift current and long rapids! Wet suits required in cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 14.


Kern Thunder Run
( Advanced / Class V )

The sections of the North Fork of the Kern known as the Thunder Run are, in a normal snow-pack year, usually runnable from late April to early June. Because 600 to 700 CFS is removed from the river and diverted around the Thunder Run, this run has a shorter season and needs more water on the gauge than the other runs on the North Fork of the Kern River. Wet suits, which we provide at no extra charge, are required on all Thunder Runs.

Graph

North Kern River - At Kernville

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1100-1700 CFS: Lower flow. Technical Class V whitewater. Appropriate for fit, energized, experienced paddlers ready to dig, high side, low side and generally paddle like crazy.
Usual minimum age: 16.

1700-3000 CFS: Medium flow. Thrilling Class V whitewater. Excellent for fit, adventurous experienced paddlers.
Usual minimum age: 16.

3000-4000 CFS: High flow. Heart-pounding Class V whitewater. Large waves, swift current and very long rapids at times blending together. Great for experienced, athletic paddlers.
Usual minimum age: 16.

Above 4000 CFS: Extreme high flow. Class V+ whitewater. Charging current, huge waves, extended rapids. At these flows, depending on the group, we often move the trip to nearby, somewhat less overwhelming sections of the North Fork of the Kern.
Usual minimum age: 16.


Forks of the Kern
( Advanced / Class V )

The Wild and Scenic Class V Forks of the Kern, the remote, pristine, high-elevation portion of the North Fork of the Kern River above the Upper Kern and Thunder Run, is entirely free-flowing and fed by snow-melt runoff. In normal snow-pack years, typically the Forks is runnable from May to mid-July. Wet suits, which we provide at no extra charge on Class V runs, are recommended on all Forks trips.

Graph

North Kern River - At Kernville

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500-1000 CFS: Lower flow. Intricate and thrilling Class V whitewater. Excellent for experienced rafters eager to paddle hard.
Usual minimum age: 16.

1000-2000 CFS: Medium flow. Outstanding Class V whitewater! A fast-paced challenge for adventurous, experienced paddlers!
Usual minimum age: 16.

2000-4500 CFS: High flow. Powerful, strenuous and often continuous Class V whitewater! The experience of a lifetime for fit, energized, experienced paddlers!
Usual minimum age: 16.


Kaweah River
( Intermediate - Advanced / Class IV-IV+ )

Spilling through the steep canyons of Sequoia National Park comes the spectacular and supremely fun Kaweah River. As the sun begins to melt the Kaweah snow-pack, the boating season on the Kaweah starts off with cold water and back-to-back technical Class IV rapids. As the spring progresses, the commercial Kaweah season usually peaks at around 4500 CFS - at which flow it becomes a torrent of whitewater: extremely fast, continuous and steep. Wet suits are mandatory in the cooler months, and the minimum age is 14. At the end of the season, fed by mid-summer's remaining snow, the water level drops and the river is a thrilling and technical Class IV run. Plenty continuous and tons of fun with a deliciously unique lunch stop at a riverside deli.

Graph

Kaweah River Flow - At Three Rivers

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500-1000 CFS: Lower flow. Continuous Class IV whitewater for adventurous beginners and experienced paddlers. Wet suits required during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 14.

1000-2000 CFS: Medium flow. Excellent technical Class IV+ whitewater - an exhilarating challenge for fit, daring first timers and experienced paddlers.
Usual minimum age: 14.

3000-4500 CFS: High flow. Thrilling highwater Class IV+ whitewater - great for experienced paddlers looking for a thrill. Big holes, steep drops and technical rapids.
Usual minimum age: 14.


Kings River
( Beginner / Class III+ )

The second deepest canyon in North America, the Kings River tumbles down out of Kings Canyon National Park. Because it has no upstream dams, the popular Class III+ run on the Kings depends entirely on snow-melt run off. Because it has one of the largest and highest watersheds of the Sierra, the Kings is normally runnable from late April through late July-and often much longer depending on snow pack. Because its riverbed is big and wide, the Kings is runnable up to much higher flows than most other Sierra rivers.

Graph

Kings River Flow - Inflow to Pine Flat Reservoir

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750-1500 CFS: Lower flow. Forgiving, technical Class III whitewater. Fun for beginners as well as experienced paddlers. Wet suits advised during cool weather.
Usual minimum age: 7.

1500-3000 CFS: Medium flow. Entertaining Class III+ whitewater. Great for families, fun for people of all ages and all levels of ability. Wet suits advised during cooler weather.
Usual minimum age: 7.

3000-6000 CFS: Medium-high flow. Exciting Class III+ whitewater. Big wave trains, good for families, tons of fun! Wet suits required in cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 7.

6000-9000 CFS: High flow. Very exciting Class III+ whitewater. Swift current; long, powerful wave trains. Exciting for a wide variety of paddlers. Wet suits required in cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 10.

9000-12000 CFS: Very high flow. Exhilarating Class III+ whitewater. Very swift current; long, giant wave trains. A blast for paddlers ready to get very wet! Wet suits required.
Usual minimum age 12-14.

12000-16000 CFS: Extreme high flow. Heart-pounding, big-water Class III+ - IV whitewater. Huge, fast, and awe inspiring. Wet suits required.
Usual minimum age 14-16.


South Fork American River
( Beginner - Intermediate / Class III )

The South Fork American River is normally runnable from mid April through September. Typically five large upriver reservoirs release flows of 1200-1700 CFS six days per week. Also, depending on the snow pack, these releases are normally augmented by melting-snow runoff during May and June. These flow levels and their duration each day depend both on reservoir levels and the size of the winter snow pack. Whitewater Voyages typically offers trips on the South Fork from late April through mid to late September.

Graph

South Fork American River - Flow At Chili Bar

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1200-1700 CFS: Normal summer and fall flow. Fun yet forgiving Class II & III whitewater. Excellent flow for first timers, groups and families, yet still fun for experienced rafters. Wetsuits only required in cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 6.

1750-3000 CFS: Medium-high flow. Exciting Class III whitewater, tons of fun for both beginners and experienced rafters. High waves and fast current. Wetsuits may be required in cooler months.
Usual minimum age may be increased.

3000-5000 CFS: High flow. Very exciting Class III whitewater. Swift current, big waves and long rapids. Wet suits usually required.
Usual minimum age may be increased.

5000-10000 CFS: Very high flow. At these flows the South Fork becomes intermediate Class IV. Fast, powerful current, very big waves, long rapids. Wet suits required.
Usual minimum age increased. These flows are best suited to adventurous, fit people ready to paddle like wild Banshees!


Middle Fork American River
( Beginner - Intermediate / Class III - IV )

The Middle Fork of the American River is normally runnable from late April through September. A dam controlled run, the Middle Fork typically has dependable releases of approximately 1100 CFS seven days per week, and somewhat more from snow-melt runoff during May and June. River flow levels depend on snow pack and upriver reservoir storage levels.

Graph

Middle Fork American River - Flow at Oxbow Powerhouse

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850-1000 CFS: Normal flow. Ideal for both adventurous first timers and experienced rafters. Class IV whitewater in a scenic, pristine canyon.
Usual minimum age: 12.

1000-1700 CFS: Medium-high flow. Class IV whitewater cranked up a notch, yet still ideal for both adventurous first timers and veteran rafts alike.
Usual minimum age: 12.

Above 1700-3000 CFS: High flow. Thrilling Class IV+ for fit, daring paddlers!


North Fork American River
Chamberlain Falls Run ( Intermediate - Advanced / Class IV+ )

Dam-free, free-flowing and entirely fed by snowmelt runoff, the North Fork American normally runs during April and May. During spring runoff in big snow pack years, periods of hot weather-and warm storms-can cause North Fork flows to spike.

Graph

North Fork American River - Inflow Lake Clementine

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500-1200 CFS: Lower flow. Fun, intricate Class IV whitewater. Well suited to experienced paddlers ready for tight teamwork, with coordinated timing and intricate maneuvers. Wet suits needed only during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 14.

1200-1800 CFS: Medium flow. Formidable Class IV+ whitewater best suited to experienced paddlers. Wet suits required.
Usual minimum age 14.

1800-2500 CFS: High flow. Challenging Class IV+ whitewater. Swift current, big waves, long rapids. Exciting for experienced paddlers. Wet suits required.
Usual minimum age may be increased.

2500-3500 CFS: Very high flow. Very challenging Class IV+ whitewater. Powerful, racing current, very big waves, long, complex rapids. Previous experience required. Wet suits required.
Usual minimum age increased.

3500-4500 CFS: Extreme high flow. Supremely challenging Class IV+ whitewater with some Class V rapids. Huge waves, extremely fast, continuous, turbulent current blending one rapid into the next. Participants should be fit, rugged paddlers with previous experience, able to self rescue (e.i., swim hard for the boat or shore, whichever is nearest) if they fall overboard. Wet suits mandatory.
Usual minimum age increased.


Tuolumne River
( Intermediate / Class IV )

Fed by upstream reservoirs, the Tuolumne River typically enjoys release flows of about 1200 CFS from late April to September, six days per week. This flow is increased during the spring snow-pack runoff in May and June. River levels depend on snow pack and reservoir levels.

Graph

Tuolumne River - Flow At Merals Pool

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900-1700 CFS: Normal flow. Excellent for both adventurous beginners and experienced rafters. Abundant Class III and IV whitewater. Wetsuits required during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 12.

1700-2500 CFS: Medium flow. Outstanding for both adventurous beginners and experienced paddlers! A veritable feast of Class III and IV whitewater! Wetsuits required during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 12.

2500-4000 CFS: Medium-high flow. Exciting for both experienced paddlers and fit, daring first timers. Powerful Class IV whitewater. Wetsuits required during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 14.

4000-8000 CFS: High flow. Thrilling Class IV+ whitewater ideal for experienced paddlers. Large waves and fast current. Wetsuits required.
Usual minimum age: 14.

Above 8000 CFS: Very high flow. Racing current, huge waves and very long rapids! Previous paddle rafting experience strongly recommended. This level is best suited to fit, adventurous people eager to paddle like crazy! Wetsuits required.
Minimum age: 14.


Merced River
( Intermediate / Class III-IV )

The free flowing Merced becomes raftable in the spring when the melting Sierra snow pack swells the waterfalls of Yosemite Valley, which in turn pump the Merced into one fun wild run! Later, well after the height of the spring runoff, during the lower flows typical of late June and early July, the Merced is less challenging yet still very exciting. With no dams above its whitewater section, the Merced's flows depend entirely on weather and snow pack.

During high flows, which generally occur in May and early June, the Merced is recommended for those with good swimming ability and previous rafting experience. Thereafter, usually in late June and early July, this run is well suited to vigorous first timers as well as experienced rafters. During high water wet suits are essential.

Graph

Merced River - Flow Near Briceburg

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500-1000 CFS: Lower flow. Fun Class III whitewater for energized beginners and experienced paddlers. Wet sits only required during cooler months.
Usual minimum ages: 12 in spring, 10 in summer.

1000-3000 CFS: Medium flow. Excellent Class III & IV whitewater-excellent for fit, adventurous first timers and experienced paddlers.
Usual minimum ages: 12 in spring, 10 in summer.

3000-5000 CFS: Medium-high flow. Thrilling Class IV whitewater-great for experienced paddlers. Large waves and swift current.
Usual minimum ages: 12 in spring, 10 in summer.

Above 5000 CFS: Very high flow. Heart-pounding Class IV+ whitewater. Charging current, huge waves, extended rapids. Previous rafting experience highly recommended.
Minimum age may be increased.


Lower North Yuba River
Goodyears Bar Run ( Beginner - Intermediate / Class III-IV )

The Goodyear's Bar Run on the Lower North Yuba is an invigorating Class III - IV stretch ideal for intermediate paddlers and fit, adventurous beginners. This run ends with a heart-thumping Class IV section that includes an amazing Class V cascade-Maytag Falls.

The normal raftable season on the North Fork Yuba is approximately April through June, with the highest spring flows usually occurring in May. Flows on the North Fork Yuba are entirely dependent on snow pack, weather and spring temperatures.

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North Yuba River - Below Goodyears Bar

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1000-1500 CFS: Normal flow. Very exciting Class III - IV+ whitewater. Excellent for both adventurous beginners and experienced rafters. Wetsuits required during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 12.

1500-2500 CFS: Medium flow. A fast-paced challenge for both adventurous beginners and experienced paddlers! A continuous and intense section of Class IV+ whitewater! Wetsuits required during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 12.

2500-4500 CFS: High flow. Powerful, continuous, and strenuous Class IV-IV+ whitewater. Exciting for fit, experienced paddlers and very daring first timers. Wetsuits required during cooler months.
Usual minimum age: 14.


Upper North Yuba River
Union Flat Run ( Advanced / Class IV+ - V )

The Union Flat Run of the Upper North Yuba River flows through the scenic Gold Rush hamlet of Downieville while delivering some of the biggest spring Class IV and V whitewater in the Sierra. Upstream of Downieville, Moss Canyon is a continuous Class IV+ gorge that ends with a sticky Class V waterfall-Boss Moss! After picking up volume near Downieville, the Yuba drops into Rosasscos Ravine-a continuous and demanding section of Class IV+ and V rapids with one portage. Only experienced paddlers should venture on this upper section.

The raftable season on the North Fork Yuba is approximately April through July, with the highest spring flows in May. Flows on the North Fork Yuba are entirely dependent on snow pack, weather and spring temperatures.

Graph

North Yuba River - Below Goodyears Bar

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600-1000 CFS: Lower flow. Technical Class IV - V whitewater. Well suited to fit, experienced paddlers. Wet suits recommended.
Usual minimum age: 16.

1000-2000 CFS: Medium flow. Exciting Class IV+ - V whitewater. Best suited to athletic, veteran paddlers ready to paddle hard! Wet suits required.
Usual minimum age: 16.

2000-3000 CFS: High flow. Challenging Class V whitewater. Big waves, swift current, very formidable rapids and cascades. Suitable only for very adventurous, athletic, veteran paddlers. Wet suits mandatory.
Usual minimum age may be increased.

Above 3000 CFS: Extreme high flow. Class V+ whitewater. Powerful waves, racing current, rapids blend one into the next.
Not recommended for mortal boaters.


To learn more about flows, rivers and rafting, check out the section For Enthusiasts !

For further information or more flow data of other rivers please visit: http://www.dreamflows.com/realtime.php.


Other River Trips You Might Like:

South Fork American River Fun Run
Class III-IV - 1 Day

Lower Kern River Jungle Run
Class III-IV - 1 Day

Lower Kern River Big Water
Class IV - 1 Day

Lower Kern River Southern Sierra Escape
Class III-IV - 2 Days

Upper Kern River Snap, Crackle and Pop
Class III-IV - 1/2 to 1 Day

Kings River Mega Joy Ride
Class III+ - 2 Days

Merced River Foam Dancer
Class IV - 2 Day

Middle Fork American River Blaster
Class II-IV - 1 or 2 Days

Kaweah River Sequoia Shooter
Class IV+ - 1 Day

Kaweah River Sequoia Gateway
Class IV+ - 2 Day

Lower North Yuba Shangri-La
Class IV-V - 1 Day

North Yuba River Maytag Whirl
Class III-IV - 1 & 2 Days

" We were there on the 4th of July weekend and had an excellent time! We camped out by the beach and felt like we had our own little town. The people there were great hosts and made out trip very enjoyable. I highly recommend rafting with these people because they will take care of you. Thank you again to the staff of Whitewater Voyages. "
- Karen Feliciano
South San Francisco, California

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11252 Kernville Road, Kernville, CA 93238
Call Toll Free: 800-400-7238
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