Best White Water Rafting in the Tuolumne River

Adventure travel for our family is like oxygen. We need it to breathe. Travel feeds our soul so we needed to work with this new 2020 normal and try to plan a Covid-19 safe getaway. We needed to ditch our computer screens for new surroundings. We desperately needed to relax with the sounds and beauty of Mother Nature, and fill our hearts with sunshine. After experiencing the solitude and tranquility of Yosemite Valley, we were hungry for adventure, and a two-day white water rafting trip on the Tuolumne River seemed to fit the bill.

White water rafting on the Tuolumne river

There are many White Water Rafting operators to choose from. We chose ARTA since their reviews were great, they have been around since 1963, and they are a non-profit organization.

Our two-day adventure was spent exploring the free-flowing Tuolumne River on a raft (during Covid ARTA was operating at 50% capacity). We benefitted because our family had our own raft and guide, rather than sharing a raft with 4-5 others. Our rafting experience was incredible!

Ready to raft with ARTA

White water rafting on the Tuolumne river

The Tuolumne is a powerful river with spectacular scenery, thrilling class IV rapids, great side hikes, and beautiful beaches to camp, all hidden inside an 18-mile stretch of pristine canyon.

As we navigated the powerful currents of the Tuolumne, each bend in the river revealed spectacular scenery that captured the essence of California’s wild landscapes. The towering canyon walls stood like statues over the river, their sheer faces providing shade and providing a majestic backdrop. The play of light and shadow across these ancient rocks, along with the cool mist from the river, creates an appreciation for nature like nothing else.

White Water Rafting – Day 1

After a short hike down to the rafts around 8am, we met up with our guides for the safety talk and prep. We were walked through every scenario we might encounter on the river and felt very prepared and confident in our guides. After being fitted for safety gear, it was time for our adventure to begin.

white water rafting, day 1, with the fam

We had our own raft for our family, the weather could not have been more perfect, and we all felt as safe as possible.

class IV white water rapids tuolomne river

white water rafting with Arta river trips

The river conditions change frequently and we found ourselves floating on the peaceful river watching the birds at times, and at times we were digging deep and  dropping a few feet as we all worked together to paddle through a challenging class IV part of the river. It was exhilarating!

Diving off rocks after rafting

jumping off rocks in the Tuolomne river

Around noon we stopped for a delicious lunch (all provided and prepared by the guides) and we also stopped at a hiking spot to enjoy the scenery and jump off some high rocks and swim. Around 4pm we pulled over to the perfect riverside campsite and settled in for the evening.

camping in the Tuolomne river

Camping on the riverbank

We pitched our own tent (the guides would have been more than happy to help) and relaxed. The guides were busy setting up camp, preparing dinner and chatting with guests. We had the option to rest, swim in the river, paddle or hike. It was all very casual and low-key, which is exactly what we were hoping for. We found plenty of shade and sandy flat areas, chatted with the guides, enjoyed our cold beer and enjoyed our stunning surroundings.

After dinner, we were given instructions on how to use the ‘Groover’… you know.. when you have to go. The ‘Groover’ is a sturdy box with a toilet seat attached to the top that takes care of human waste. I immediately decided that it wasn’t for me. I need all conditions to be optimal for me to feel comfortable when I ‘Groove’. Julian on the other hand, was fascinated by the whole process, and was the first to take his flashlight to the plastic bowl set up under a private tree, 50 feet from our campsite! Later in the evening we lay down, tried to figure out the different constellations, and slept under the stars. It was heavenly.

white water rafting - paddle faster!

White Water Rafting on the Tuolomne – Day 2

We woke to the birds singing, and around 8am we walked over to get coffee and breakfast (again prepared by the guides) as we slowly geared up for the day. After breakfast, our guides began to pack up the campsite while we packed up our tent, and loaded our raft for another fun day on the river.

packing up for more rafting!

arta white water rafting trips, pure serenity

We spent our second day on the river relaxing, ferociously paddling through class IV rapids and we stopped again for a peaceful lunch. After lunch we found more rocks to jump from, and we were even given the opportunity to swim in the rapids.

jumping off rocks on white water rafting trip

We didn’t need to be told twice, and we all jumped off the raft into the river and swam in the mild rapids. It was so refreshing. After our swim we leisurely made our way down the river to the pick up spot, and by 6pm we were in our car driving home with amazing memories.

This was our first rafting trip and we felt 100% safe the entire time. The river was beautiful, clean, and wild, and offers just the right amount of excitement. Tuolumne River has many class IV rapids we encountered as we traveled 18 miles over two days. This is not for the faint of heart or out of shape and we often felt exhilarated but never scared. The guides were outstanding, hard working, friendly, organized, and extremely knowledgeable about the river.

me and Hot Hubby rafting

The International Scale of River Difficulty classifies rapids, (not rivers), on a scale of I to VI with I being easy and VI being un-runnable, (for guided whitewater rafting, Class III is considered beginning level).

Clas 4 rapids on the Tuolomne river

ARTA  was professional from start to finish, with an emphasis on safety first and then fun. ARTA is a non-profit organization, donating all of their profits at the end of the year to conservation groups. Their respect for the environment was obvious. We were able to soak in the simplicity of nature, and for a short time we disconnected from the incredibly stressful year and the Covid-19 pandemic.

ARTA guides white water rafting

Our ARTAguides took great care of us! They were very professional, organized, and extremely experienced.

I would most definitely recommend ARTA if you are considering a white water rafting adventure!

Have YOU been white water rafting?  If so where have you been?

Let me know in the comments below and join me on Instagram and Twitter!

About The Author


I’m a travel and health writer, digital brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising an active family, life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.


  1. Tamra Armistead | 25th Aug 20

    Samantha…wonderful article and stunning photography! I would have jumped in the raft and joined you in my youth when I was a bit of an adventure seeker! Loved the read!

    • Samantha | 26th Aug 20

      Thanks Tamra! It was so lovely to get away and breath the fresh air! xx

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