Skip to main content

Link copied to clipboard

The Best Rivers in California for Every Activity
Health & Fitness

The Best Rivers in California for Every Activity

Whatever activities you choose, the best rivers in California have your back with the coolest settings and most beautiful backdrops.

Share

5 min read

June 03, 2021

The 15.7-mile-long Big Sur River has major tributaries, including Redwood, Lion, Logwood, Terrace, Ventana, and Post Creeks.

Recomended businesses

Show me California.com
Recommended Businesses near

Discover the best of California. Our recommended businesses are top-quality and are committed to their communities.
The Delta was formed by the rising sea level following glaciation, leading to the formation of Sacramento and San Joaquin River sediments.
The American River is associated with the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in Coloma in 1848 that started the California Gold Rush.

American River

The American River in California runs from the Sierra Nevada mountains to its confluence with the Sacramento River. This river is divided into three main forks: North, Middle, and South. Despite originating from the same watershed, each of these three forks has a distinct personality that uniquely reflects the environment it floats through. However, they are all go-to spots for river rafting in Sacramento.

The North Fork American River is the longest branch of the three and a favorite spot among expert whitewater rafters in NorCal during the spring and autumn months. During the summer, the flows become too low for boating—this is when the North Fork becomes an incredible hiking and swimming destination. The Middle Fork also accommodates experienced rafters but is slightly less intense, while the South Fork is the most beginner-friendly.

When it comes to river rafting excursions in NorCal, the South Fork is the river of choice, and for good reason. The trips here range from half to two-day expeditions and are all within a short drive of Sacramento.

Flowing 257 miles through Oregon and Northern California, the Klamath River begins in the high desert and flows toward the mountains and ocean.

Klamath River

The picture-perfect Klamath River in California actually flows in from Oregon. Winding and twisting through mountain ranges before spilling into the Pacific Ocean, this California river is rich in beautiful scenery.

Are you a boater or rafter? Whichever your choice is, Klamath is one of the best rivers in California to make your paddling dreams come true. If you’re looking for views and calm waters, paddle around the Lower Klamath River and enjoy the incredible wildlife. Are you more experienced and looking for a challenge? Try tackling the wild waters along the Upper Klamath River. After you’re done paddling and rafting, enjoy picnicking, swimming, hiking, and fishing in and around Klamath.

The Yuba River is a tributary of the Feather River and its headwaters are split into three major forks.

Yuba River

The Yuba River in California was one of the most densely populated Native American areas in the state until the beginning of the 1850s Gold Rush Era. Today, this California river is one of our favorite spots to go tubing. Start floating at Hallwood on the north bank of the river and soak in the incredible views as you stop at different beaches on your way to Shad Pad Park. 

Whitewater rafters also frequent this California river, so stick to calmer waters for a more tranquil tubing experience. After you’re done with your tubing escapades, explore the quaint swimming holes and forests nearby. Make sure you have a map on you since cell service isn’t always available at the Yuba River.

Draining a rugged area of 3,684 square miles in five counties, the Eel River and its tributaries form the third largest watershed in California.

Eel River

Another wild river with three main forks is the Eel River in California. Also similar to the American River, the three forks of this California river have distinct characteristics, each emulating its surrounding environment. The Eel River is a sight to see—it originates in the mountain pine forests, flows through steep canyons, and empties into the Pacific Ocean in a gorge of redwoods.

While it's still great for fishing, you won’t find any actual eels in this California river.  Take a dip in the cool waters without worrying about getting stung by a sneaky eel. 

Nowadays, the Trinity River is an important water source for irrigation and hydroelectricity generation and a center of recreational activities.

Trinity River

Flowing 165 miles through lush mountain meadows and tight canyons, this California river is a treasure trove of water-based activities. While Trinity has a lot to offer, the most popular recreational opportunities enjoyed here are fishing and whitewater rafting. 

Cast your line in the picturesque Trinity River in California and you’ll likely score a few of its most prolific catches. Steelheads, Chinook, and coho salmon are almost always on the menu. If good old-fashioned fishing is a little too tranquil for you, Trinity also provides fantastic white water rafting adventures in California.

The calmer Lower Trinity—set in a scenic wilderness environment—provides great floating, rafting, and wildlife-watching opportunities. Burnt Ranch Gorge on the other hand, offers the most extreme whitewater conditions on the Trinity River for those looking for a challenge.

RELATED Articles

Discover More

fueled by the power of California love
We’re committed to helping you discover the places, people and businesses that make our state Golden. Our online publication, updated daily, brings you all the content you need to live your California dreams. And that’s just the beginning…
LEARN MORE ABOUT US
Purpose section
Purpose section