Information: White-water rafting trips vary widely in price, depending on the rafter's age, duration of the trip and accommodations. Free information, advice and bookings are available by telephoning a consultant at Friends of the River at (415) 771-0400.
Also, information, including prices and schedules, will be mailed to those who request them from the Western River Guides Assn. message service at (800) 552-3625.
River Classifications: Rivers are classed by degree of danger and difficulty, as follows:
Class I: Flowing ripples. No problems for anyone.
Class II: Some rapids, obstacles and small falls, but relatively tame.
Class III: Some major white water, with good drops and obstacles. Children OK but good guide/expertise required.
Class IV: Strong hydraulics, larger drops, adventurous rapids. Precise maneuvering requires very experienced guide. Ages 14-up only recommended.
Class V: Violent currents and drops, with danger of capsizing. Advance scouting advised. Not for novices.
Class VI: Don't even think about it.
The West's Best Rafting Rivers:
South Fork American (Class III): West Coast's most popular rafting river may not be able to be run all year but will have sufficient flows all summer.
Middle Fork American (Classes III to V): Good flows six days a week. For now, the power company turns off the water on Sundays.
North Fork American (Class IV): With no upstream reservoir, its flow is finished for the year.
Kern (Class III-IV): Worthwhile flows will be released through June and July; August seems doubtful.
Kings (Class III): Would rate Class IV with heavy flows, but still has more water than any other Sierra river and will be good through June.
Tuolumne (Class IV): Power release schedule indicates it will be strong all summer. The Cherry Creek portion above the regular run rates V-plus, perhaps the most challenging run in the state.
Merced (Class III-IV): Will probably shut down in early June. Lower flows increase the technical challenges.
Main (Old) Fork Stanislaus (Class III): This historic Mother Lode river, quiet for nine years, is making a comeback, with upstream releases to refill the New Melones Reservoir. Should be good all summer.
North and Lower Forks Stanislaus (Classes IV-V): Through for the year.
Salmon (California/Class V): Had a short run before trickling out.
Trinity/Burnt Ranch Gorge (Class V): Good through June, OK in July, finished by August.
Upper Klamath (Class IV): Good through summer, except for two-week closure in mid-July for power plant maintenance.
Lower Klamath (Class I-II): Backed by large reservoir and mandate to protect the fishery, will be strong all summer.
Rogue (Class III): Far enough north for good snow pack, and flows supported by fishery mandates.
Colorado/Grand Canyon (Class I-IV): Generally unaffected by drought years, with normal releases from Lake Powell.
Colorado/Cataract Canyon (Class III): Should run into August, although lower flows reduce it from Class IV.
Salmon (Idaho/Class IV): Smaller tributaries down, but main river has always been able to be run all summer.