Floating down a cool river under the hot sun is a quintessential summer experience. For years on our annual family trip to Lake Tahoe, I’ve looked longingly at the Truckee River, imagining myself basking in the sun in one of the bright blue rafts. Finally after years of inadequate river water levels or having children that were too small, my summer river dream came true and I got to be the person in the big blue raft…
A River Rafting Outfitter Vs. DIY River Float?
Going with a River Rafting Company: There are several companies that you can book with. We went with Truckee River Rafting and were really impressed with how straight forward, friendly, and organized they were. We made a reservation the night before and when we showed up we were checked in, given life jackets (children are required to wear them, adults just need to have them in the boat), oars, some safety tips and loaded into our raft. This all happened in under 15 minutes and that was with 5 adults and 4 children, which is quite the vacation accomplishment. You have all day to float your way to the end point, stopping at beaches for a dip in the river. As you near the end point you will see a wooden sign on the right hand side of the river alerting you to “rapids ahead”which signals that the journey is about to end. Once you get your last rafting thrills you will see a small dock where staff will help you out of your raft. You’ll then walk up a short hill to catch the Truckee River Rafting school bus back to where you parked your car. Or before heading to the bus, grab a bite to eat at the adjacent restaurant, River Ranch, and watch other rafters bounce their way through the last set of rapids. Cost: Adults are $48. Children ages 6-12 are $30. Children 2-5 are free. Book ahead online and save $5 per person.
DIY Day on the River: If you have a couple of cars, some rafts or inner tubes, and a sense of adventure you can put together your own river tour. Just be aware that it will probably take some craftiness to get you, your friends, and your cooler down the river. You’ll also definitely want to end your journey before the last section of rapids. If you’re going with this option, start at 64- acres park in Tahoe City. There is a large parking area, outhouses, and near the pedestrian bridge is an ideal DIY rafting launch zone. Float down the river as far as you want, although no further than the “rapids ahead” sign. Have someone pick you up or if you really planned it out well you will have parked a car near your end spot so that you can drive that car back to the Tahoe City lot. Cost: Free
*In a nutshell: Going with a rafting company is more expensive but it’s also infinitely more convenient and you get the experience of lumbering down the river in a raft. This is definitely the way to go if you have small children. A DIY float is great for adventurous souls on a budget but be prepared to do some planning..
What to Expect
- Crowds: By mid afternoon on a hot August day the river is a congested highway of rafts, inner tubes, and paddle boards. Don’t be surprised to see the occasional dog floating down on a paddle board or get ambushed with water squirters by some playful fellow rafters.
- Mostly Mellow Floating: Aside from a few faster, bumpy sections ( my husband described them as .5 to .75 class rapids) you’ll mostly be cruising along at a slow, easy pace.
- Paddling is Minimal: You’ll be given paddles but you won’t need to use them too much. The river will carry you along and you’ll mostly use the paddles to steer your way under bridges and push yourself off any rocks that your raft gets lodged on.
- A 2-3 hour journey: It’s only five miles and you can certainly get to the end point quicker if you do more paddling or don’t stop. But it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey so take your time.
- Rafting is seasonal and not guaranteed: There are years when the river level isn’t adequate, therefore the rafting companies don’t operate. Typically rafting season is mid June beginning of September. If you’re unable to go rafting due to the conditions it’s just another reason to come back to Lake Tahoe which you will want to do anyways!
What to Bring
- Wear a swim suit
- Flip flops or sandals
- Dry Bags -If there’s anything you don’t want getting wet, put it in a dry bag or at least a garbage bag. Everything in the raft gets pretty wet.
- Lightweight cooler. (heavy coolers and styrofoam aren’t allowed)
- Hydrating drinks
- Alcoholic beverages are allowed but avoid glass bottles
Who Should go?
Kids under the age of two aren’t allowed on the rental rafts. Ages 4 and up will probably love it and be able to follow the necessary simple instructions (i.e.: duck your head when we go under a low bridge, don’t whack your brother with a paddle..) People with back or joint problems might not be comfortable sitting in the raft for an extended amount of time or the occasional jostling.