Riding the rapids on the Truckee

The perfect way to spend a hot summer day in the Sierra is to raft the Truckee River. While for many, rafting the Truckee means the gentle float from Tahoe City to River Ranch, awesome stretches of exciting whitewater can be found just 20 miles downstream. Tahoe Whitewater Tours takes small groups on half-day trips down the Truckee between Boca and Floriston, giving floaters the opportunity to experience both tranquil sections and exciting Class II and III rapids.

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Rafters leave the banks of the Truckee River to embark on a whitewater adventure.

 

It was nearly 80 degrees when we piled into the bus in Truckee for the short drive from the Tahoe Whitewater Tours office to the outlet below Boca Reservoir. After disembarking, we grabbed paddles and donned life jackets and helmets before an entertaining, safety and paddling instruction by Adam Paul, who would also be my guide for the day.

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“There were amazing volcanic, conglomerate rock formations abutting
the river and the rush of a massive freight train roaring just above.
The view is spectacular and interesting.”

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Most of the first few miles of the route are Class I rapids with some calm sections and a few more entertaining, short Class II rapids. As soon as we hit the first rapids, we realized that our guide’s proclamations that we would get wet were true — very true — which was great because it was hot and that water, especially early in the season, is refreshing and bracing. No worries, you dry up lickety-split and will soon be pining for your next dunk.

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Adventurers ham it up for the cameras during the whitewater raft trip on the Truckee River, including author Tim Hauserman, on the far left.

Although the rapid sections in the last mile are where the thrills and excitement come in, there were three things that made the non-rapid sections equally enjoyable.

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Trained guides provide safety information before each trip.

First, the trip allows you to see a segment of the river that even longtime locals never get to see. Interstate 80 sits high above this section of the river, which you can briefly glimpse while motoring to Trader Joe’s for a resupply of dark chocolate-covered, peanut-butter cups. On a raft, the river is up close and personal at a lovely and relaxing speed. We saw vibrant fields of California poppies hugging the shoreline, folks fly-fishing and a smattering of little creeks pouring snowmelt into the Truckee. There were amazing volcanic, conglomerate rock formations abutting the river and the rush of a massive freight train roaring just above. The view is spectacular and interesting, even without the thrills of the rapids.

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Two groups of rafts maneuver through the rapids.

Second, our guide Adam was full of interesting stories, tall tales and useful information. He kept calm as a cucumber throughout the float, even with five newbies who were not always quick to follow his instructions. In other words, we were in the capable hands of a guy who had spent a lot of time on the river and we felt comfortable that he would get us there in one piece.

Thirdly, some of those placid sections of the float enabled us to jump in and experience the full joy of immersion in a slowly moving river. There is nothing as relaxing.

Still, it is the thrills of the big rapids that you remember and the best of these were saved for last. First, came a nice section of Class II rapids as we passed under a railroad bridge. This was where our first passenger unintentionally disembarked. Then came the quick drop that is Jaws. While Jaws is a scary name, it was the more sustained series of rapids before the end known as Pinball that was the most fun. Several more folks ended up taking a dip in this section, and we all got wet, loved the big drops and bumps, and did our share of hooting, hollering and most importantly, grinning.

Tahoe Whitewater Tours operates the Truckee River-Boca Run twice a day at 8:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. until mid-September. The cost is $68 per adult and $63 for ages 12 and younger. The cost includes transportation, equipment and guides. Tahoe Whitewater Tours runs a variety of regional rivers, including the American and Carson rivers. | (530) 587-5777 or gowhitewater.com

 

Photos by Chris Mortimer

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Tim Hauserman
Tim Hauserman wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail, as well as “Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children” and the children’s book “Gertrude’s Tahoe Adventures in Time.” Most of the year he writes on a variety of topics, but you will find him in the winter teaching cross-country skiing and running the Strider Gliders program at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area. He has lived in Tahoe since he was a wee lad and loves to be outdoors road and mountain biking, hiking, paddleboarding, kayaking and cross-country skiing.