Floating the Truckee River

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Sunshine, smiles and water toys were on the agenda as I checked in at Truckee River Rafting in Tahoe City for a day of floating on the Truckee River. I was joined by friends Kelly Womack and Matt DePierri as I followed the trail of white footprints from the check-in counter to the river where we were outfitted with life jackets and paddles and given a brief safety talk before climbing in a raft and floating off.

(I recommend parking at the Transit Center at the wye between Highway 89 and State Route 28 and following the bike trail to the check-in station located near River Grill.)

The Truckee River is the only outlet from Lake Tahoe, flowing north from Tahoe City and ending at Pyramid Lake in Nevada. The water flow in the river is controlled by the Lake Tahoe Dam, which was built in 1913 as part of the Newlands Project that provides irrigation water for Lahontan Valley and other parts of western Nevada.

Floating this particular section of the river will take you from Tahoe City to River Ranch near Alpine Meadows with several small rapids, a few places for a pit-stop and plenty of opportunities for swimming. Even if you do not plan on swimming, it is a safe bet to assume you will be getting wet, so dress accordingly and leave any valuables at home. The gift shop at Truckee River Rafting sells waterproof cameras

Be sure to pack a cooler with snacks and some cold beverages, but be aware that glass is not allowed on the river. Dogs, however, are allowed on the river, so bring your four-legged, water-loving friends along for the ride.

The float takes around two or three hours or more depending on how many stops one makes along the way. There is no time limit, so feel free to stop often. The last shuttle back to the top of the river leaves at 5:30 p.m.

Timing the beginning of a rafting trip will have a considerable affect on the overall experience. Starting early in the morning will mean less people on the river and a quieter experience, but also will mean colder temperatures in the beginning of the trip. Starting around 11 a.m. will ensure a full day in the sun, but also is the busiest time to be on the river. A trip beginning late in the afternoon will mean the last section of the river will be shady and it might be a race to catch the last bus.

After leaving the dock, we spent the first few minutes on the water getting used to paddling and navigating the raft. After a bit of spinning in circles and bumping into fellow rafters, who laughed at our disorganization, we were on our way downriver alongside a few families. The river was fairly quiet on this Tuesday morning, but during the weekends, people flock to the water often bringing water guns and donning costumes. Occasionally, music can be heard from the spot locally known as Party Island about half-way down this section of river. The scene at Party Island can range from quiet picnics to a mini version of spring break depending on the day.

For those who are not interested in Party Island, there are plenty of opportunities to stop for a quiet lunch or break along the way. Additionally, bathrooms and garbage cans can be found about every mile along the route. Keep an eye out for the ice cream truck that occasionally parks near the bike path between Highway 89 and the river.

While the water moves at a quick pace, navigating is not too complicated. The key is to keep an eye out for rocks, which can cause the raft to get stuck, and to stay out of the bushes along the sides of the river; although neither of these obstacles will cause more than a minor inconvenience. We often found ourselves bouncing through both rocks and brush and laughing.

The surrounding landscape of impressive granite cliffs and lush green pine forests is home to many animals that might be spotted on the route. The ducks are not shy about swimming up to the rafts for a snack, but, please refrain from feeding them. The river is full of small trout, but fishing gear and sharp objects aren’t allowed in the rafts.

The last section of rapids are the trickiest, so be aware as you head into the final stretch. The current flows around a bend and becomes rocky before dropping rafters into the large lagoon at River Ranch. From there, Truckee River Rafting employees will be available to take the raft and direct the traffic to the bus, which shuttles rafters back to Tahoe City.

The River Ranch is a good spot to stop and re-fuel before heading back to the car. The dinner menu features steaks, seafood and pasta dishes ,while the café menu features smaller dishes including nachos, pulled pork sliders and sashimi.

Truckee River Rafting is open daily at the wye in Tahoe City, with a free shuttle bringing rafters back to their cars. To make a reservation, call (530) 583-1111. Look for the ad in this edition of The Weekly for a $5 off per person coupon.

Story and photos by Jenn Sheridan 

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Jenn Sheridan
Jenn is a freelance writer using words, photos and digital media to connect people to the outdoors.