March 1, 2020 – Aaron Cavagnolo
The Tuolumne River is one of the best whitewater rafting rivers in the world. Being next to Yosemite National Park makes this trip an even better destination river. There two main variables when deciding on a Tuolumne rafting trip, the time of year and the outfitter.
The Four Tuolumne River Rafting Outfitters
There are only four rafting companies on the Tuolumne River: All-Outdoors, ARTA, OARS, and Sierra Mac. Anyone else you are talking with about a commercial whitewater trip is acting as a booking agent for one of these four outfitters or running an illegal trip. While all four companies run quality trips, there are major differences in the experiences. I have worked with all four of these outfitters on the Tuolumne and have found each to be the best in their own ways.
The Local Company
The most unique of the outfitters is Sierra Mac. Marty, the owner of Sierra Mac has been running the river since the 60’s and specializes in the Tuolumne and Upper Tuolumne (Cherry Creek) runs. Call and most likely you’ll get to talk with Marty. His guides are characters many having grown up in the area. Running Cherry Creek allows him to select from many experienced guides for his crew. His crew averages the most years of experience guiding and seasons on the Tuolumne. Marty also has the nicest meeting location with paved parking and flush toilets.
The California Rafting Specialists
If you are looking for a company that you will want to be able to do trips with on many rivers than you are looking to decide between the other three outfitters. All-Outdoors specializes in one and two-day trips throughout California. They are your best bet to see as many California rivers as possible. They and OARS are much larger companies with hundreds of guides. All Outdoors best guides work on the Tuolumne and many people enjoy getting to see these same guides on many of the class 4-5 rivers they run.
The Multi-day Rivers of the West Companies
Finally, there are ARTA and OARS which both specialize in multi-day rafting trips across the west. ARTA is a little more hippy with a bunch of college students and recent grads on their crews. OARS is larger with more guides that are looking to run rivers as a career. Both are quality companies, OARS feels a little more professional while ARTA has more of rafting with your friends vibe.
Final Deciding Factor
For many people the dates they run the river are limited. There are only two commercial launches allowed per day and some days one outfitter has both launches. When contacting an outfitter and you are date specific, if they don’t have a launch that day they can tell you who has that launch, if they are nice!
The Tuolumne River is such a high quality rafting trip that the choice of company is a minor variable in the experience. All four outfitters are safety conscious, use excellent gear, provide tasty food and run great trips. A final thought, if you are wanting more excitement head out in the spring/early summer for high water or later in the summer check out Cherry Creek.