Rafting on the Sacramento River

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The Sacramento River, the longest river in California, begins in northern part of the state at Mt. Shasta. The upper river flows south for 30 miles with lots of whitewater, including more than 50 rapids. The river calms as it approaches and flows into Lake Shasta. Beyond that point, it is no longer suitable for rafting trips. The rapids on the river vary in difficulty, and rafting trips are available for everyone from active beginners to experienced rafters.

Whitewater rafting requires teamwork.

Whitewater rafting requires teamwork.


The rapids on the Upper Sacramento River range from Class III to Class V. Class III rapids are considered intermediate, with irregular waves and strong currents. Class IV rapids are strong and powerful, but predictable. Precise boat handling may be needed in turbulent areas, with fast maneuvering required. Unpredictable Class V rapids are recommended for expert rafters only.


Rafting on the Upper Sacramento River lets you feel the thrills of the rapids, but you’ll also see incredible scenery when you have a moment to take your concentration off the river. Rafters can catch glimpses of Mt. Shasta and the granite peaks of Castle Crags. Tours take you through Shasta-Trinity National Forest, with cascading side creeks and waterfalls. Box Canyon runs past moss-covered canyon walls. Traveling along the Upper Sacramento River provides ample opportunity to observe the wildlife of the region. Birders may observe osprey, herons and migratory songbirds along the river. You might see deer and bears as well.


There are put-in areas all along the river, with some sections providing longer stretches and more rapids than others. Most trips take place in the spring during April, May and June. Rafters can enter the river at Dunsmuir for a five-mile rafting trip with take-out at Castle Crags. The trip has Class III and IV rapids and is suitable for rafts, kayaks or whitewater canoes. Brushy banks and low bridges along the route can be hazardous for rafters. Rafters can choose a nine-mile section of the river with put-in at Castle Crags and take-out at Sims Flat. This trip includes Class III and IV rapids and is suitable for rafts or kayaks. A longer 12.5-mile rafting trip begins with put-in at Sims Flat. This section of the river includes Class III and IV rapids, as well as Class IV pool drop rapids. Box Canyon is recommended for experienced rafters. Put-in is below Box Canyon and take-out is in Dunsmuir. This seven-mile portion of the river includes more difficult Class IV and V rapids and scenic views of Mt. Shasta.

Rafting Companies

Several rafting companies run guided rafting trips on the Sacramento River. The companies provide all the equipment you need for your trip, including wet suits, splash vests and Coast Guard approved life jackets. All rafters are expected to assist in the paddling of the rafts. Whitewater Tours (whitewatertours.com) offers rafting trips on the Upper Sacramento River. Their most popular day trip leaves from Sims Flat and travels 14 miles to Dog Creek near Lake Shasta. A two-day trip begins upstream from Sims Flat at Dunsmuir, and includes Class III and IV rapids and a IV+ rapids, Mears Creek Falls, with triple drops. Rafters can walk around this difficult section and reenter the river past this point.

Living Waters Recreation (livingwatersrec.com) has half-day trips that cover 8.5 miles and full-day trips that cover 13.5 miles. The full-day trips include lunch along the way. Overnight trips, with camping at Forest Service campgrounds at Sims Flat, cover 27 miles of river. Gourmet cooked dinners and breakfasts are included. Tents and sleeping bags are available for rent.


Michele Norfleet is a freelance writer who writes on travel, home and garden and education topics. She has coauthored a handbook for teachers on school-wide discipline and has contributed tips for special-needs students in the basal curriculum for RCL Benziger. Norfleet holds a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University and has experience as a special-needs teacher and speech pathologist.


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