The South Fork of the American River

The South Fork of the American River changed world history on January 23, 1848, when California’s first gold was discovered in its stream bed at Sutter’s Mill by James Marshall. This discovery triggered the California Gold Rush of 1849, sometimes referred to as the largest human migration for a single purpose. Unfortunately, once the easily found gold was removed, the miners made a mess of things with their hydraulic pumps, causing folks downstream to complain. Eventually, the mining operations were shut down, and today you can still find evidence of the miners 150 years ago. Marshall Gold Discovery Park in Coloma is a great place to go to learn about the history of the California Gold Rush.

The Coloma-Lotus Valley is now the major destination of the South Fork of the American River. The area is shaped by the river today as it was in 1848. Three riverfront parks provide opportunities for family picnics and wading, and Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park brings California’s history to life. This stretch of the South Fork, the most popular whitewater in California, provides many great opportunities for river recreation. The 20-mile run from Chili Bar to Salmon Falls features over 20 named rapids and countless waves in between. Most paddlers and rafters run the river with a commercial rafting company. Outfitters provide the equipment, experienced guides, life jackets and other safety gear, so that you can enjoy the outdoor adventure without the hassle or expense of investing in your own equipment.

One huge feature of the South Fork American River is that it is one of the only rivers in the western U.S. to have guaranteed recreational water flows throughout the summer. Even in dry years and extreme drought, the power agencies upstream continue to release their water at times which are beneficial for rafting and recreation. 

2019 Water UpdateThanks to our cooperation with the Utility Districts on the American River, we will have recreational water releases daily for the summer of 2019! Even in drought years, the American River is the most popular river in the west for whitewater rafting and also has the most dependable flows during low snowpack years:

South Fork American - Guaranteed rafting water is released on Saturday, Sunday and Monday in April and early May. 7 days per week from Mid May through August. Saturday and Sunday flows in September and October.


Book your rafting trip with us and discover what makes the South Fork American River the most popular rafting river in California!


"Best trip ever!" - Roland French