American River – Middle Fork

Section of river: Oxbow Reservoir to Driver’s Flat
Difficulty: Class 4
Length: 16 miles; 26 KM
Season: June – September
Best rapids: Cartwheel, First Flip, Kanaka Falls, Chunder, Tunnel Chute

The Middle Fork of the American River rushes through a beautiful, secluded canyon where a mix of pounding whitewater, Old West gold-mining lore, and the splendor of the Sierra Nevada foothills combine to offer an incomparable river trip. In the California Gold Rush of the mid 1800s, prospectors form around the globe flocked to the Middle Fork, seeking fortune in and around the river. Every tool and trick of the trade was employed as the miners tore into the ground with a vengeance, searching for the Mother Lode.

Today, the miners’ mark on the river is hardly noticed by rafters who plunge through the exciting waves and drops of the Middle Fork – with one major exception.  In an effort to divert the flow of the river in search of gold in its bed, miners blasted a tunnel through the side of a cliff, creating a new channel for the Middle Fork.  The dried-up riverbed, called Horseshoe Bend, was reported to be one of the “richest diggins” in the Gold Country – but that’s not all the miners produced with their explosion.  They also unknowingly created one of the most unique whitewater features anywhere – Tunnel Chute, a long, roiling rapid that concludes in a stretch of river flowing underground.

Besides the subterranean Tunnel Chute, numerous Class III-IV rapids crash down between calmer pools of glassy water on the Middle Fork, challenging rafters with constant technical maneuvering and aggressive paddling in both raging whitewater and flatter stretches.  The river even boasts a 35-foot, Class VI waterfall that we’ll portage.