Donna Hunter started whitewater rafting as a hobby, but after spending 15 years as a social worker in San Diego, she was drawn back to the river as a career. With a few friends for support and a goal to start a rafting-adventure company, she went to night school and honed her business skills. Today, with some of her staff boasting more than 20 years experience leading tours, Donna orchestrates trips down various forks of the American, Merced, Kings, and Tuolumne Rivers to pit participants against rapids as high as Class V. Certified guides lead these tours in Hyside self-bailing rafts and inflatable kayaks, with some rafts holding up to eight people.
Wilderness guides also connect their guests with civilization, often combining rafting excursions with wine tastings and trips to local vineyards. On these overnight trips and other multi-day rafting excursions such as family gold-panning trips, they build relationships with their guests, garnering a clear idea of their paddling skills and the amount of time they've spent practicing in their washing machine.
The company’s camp boasts tent cabins—with names like Eagle's Nest and Falcon's Nest—which populate riverside clearings between picnic tables, swimming holes, and volleyball courts. A camp shop prepares guests with river gear, and hot-water showers let them wash off river water. When not seeking action on the river, staffers organize camp entertainment, such as live music, games, and visits from a local gold panner who demonstrates his craft.
Mother Lode River Center sits amid tall oak trees on a 19-acre plot of Sierra wilderness. Also adding to the site's natural majesty is a half-mile stretch of land on the American River's south fork. When guests arrive here, staff members welcome them with an open embrace and an encouraging smile, pointing the way along indigenous river rock pathways to the many camp activities and accommodations. With its perch on the American River, it's no surprise that the center's marquee activity is its whitewater rafting, which the center has been practicing for four decades.
Even with all the outdoor creature comforts that await guests—a commercial kitchen, modern showers, "glamour" camping—Mother Lode maintains a steadfast commitment to education and wildlife. A river science program acquaints students with the local riparian environment, and the gold rush/Native American history program shows youngsters what life would have been like here many years ago. The center also prides itself as a beacon of environmental stewardship, engaging in sustainable practices such as solar power, organic gardening, and yodeling to produce energy.
Day hikes can cover a variety of locales around the Sierras, including Woods Lake and Grouse Ridge. The basic mountain bike trip can be tailored to both those newly liberated from training wheels and experienced shredders. Those with tenacity to spare (kept in extra jars) might consider joining the Cult of Rock Octopus with the basic rock-climbing course, where they'll find a fittingly challenging introduction to entry-level techniques, knot tying, and belaying (intermediate climbers will have plenty of time to play and build upon their pre-existing skills). Check Peak Adventures' calendar to reserve the next time that works for you, and the friendly adventure specialists will add more excursion dates to accommodate a high volume of Groupon customers.
Groups meet at Camp Lotus for a brief orientation and safety prep before the rafting rally down to Lake Folsom begins. Ideal for all skill sets, CRA's program accommodates passengers ages seven and up. The four-hour journey shoves off into a gentle warm-up section of class-II waters to prepare for the gorge's jostling class-III rapids. Fourteen-foot self-bailing rafts equipped with first aid, river-rescue kits, and Coast Guard–approved life jackets safely seat eight passengers plus an expert guide. As a team, the boatload of adventurers navigates the water like a squirrel surfing in a washing machine, punching through white caps and splashing about wavy highs and lows along the 12-mile route. All gear is included, and participants are only required to pack products that make the trip more pleasurable (swimsuit, drinking water in a durable bottle, sunscreen, shoulder-mounted boom-box, and a dry change of clothes).
The founders of Adventure Connection believe in magic. Not the trickery of the stage or spells cast by mysterious neighbors, but of the spiritual, environmental, and economic boons of the rivers they have spent their lives traversing. More than 25 years ago, a group of believers came together to share their love and passion for the rivers of California, building a company that combines whitewater rafting, wine tasting, and camping along the waterways they love.
Over the course of the last two decades, the staff has guided boats of up to 18 people through the rapids of the American, Kaweah, and Tuolumne Rivers, coasting through mild ripples or white-knuckling class V rapids. Groups often leave the rafts behind to explore the scenic countryside and renowned wineries of the surrounding El Dorado region or to pitch tents and sleep under the stars.
River and Rock Adventures' experienced guides help whitewater rafters traverse the three exciting and challenging forks of California’s American River. The Class-III south fork is ideal for first-timers testing the waters, and the Class-IV middle fork keeps intermediate paddlers on their tippiest of toes. Floaters on the popular lower south fork trip, also known as The Gorge, will journey through 14 miles of beautiful scenery and legendary rapids. After taking off from the base camp in Rivers Bend Resort at 11:30 a.m., rafts will pass through a relaxing stretch of Class II rapids as the Sierra foothills taper off to give the river a rocky hug. Photographers will be present to catch flashes of adventurous heroism and poorly timed nose picking while rafters swirl around in Class-III whitewater before the 2.5-hour tour comes to an end.