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Truckee River rafting is wide open for summer with ‘epic’ conditions

The Boca run on the Truckee River near Lake Tahoe is a great introduction to whitewater rafting. | Courtesy Tahoe Whitewater

Despite what you’ve heard, the Truckee River is open for rafting this summer—and the conditions are incredible. 

“The historic snowpack has created the best rafting we have seen in years due to the bountiful water in the river,” said Pauly Miltner, owner of Tahoe Whitewater Tours. “We have been operating river tours for 30 years and have rarely seen epic seasons like this one.”

And though Tahoe Whitewater and two other Truckee rafting outfitters—IRIE Rafting Company and Tributary Whitewater—have been open and running rafting trips every day on the Truckee, their business is down for two reasons: the closure of “float” raft trips near Lake Tahoe and the perception that rivers are too dangerous this year.

“Rafting the Truckee is still a great option this summer, whether you’re a thrill seeker or a family looking for a float,” said Jeremiah Copper, owner of Tributary Whitewater, providing trips on the Truckee and other whitewater adventures around the West.

A raft trip on the Truckee River passes through gorgeous High Sierra scenery. | Courtesy Tributary Whitewater

The confusion started in late May when the two rafting companies offering the popular “Truckin’ on the Truckee” float trips from Tahoe City on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe announced they would shut down for the summer 2023 season

Melt from record winter snowfall left Lake Tahoe extra full, making it too dangerous for officials to release water into the river. Translation? The first few miles of the Truckee nearest to Lake Tahoe would be too low for safe rafting.

Unfortunately, the headlines caused the public to think the entire river was closed. 

“The floats outside of Tahoe City run the first three miles of the river, but the Truckee extends for 160 miles,” Miltner said. 

The three rafting companies that run whitewater trips on the Truckee are based in the town of Truckee, about 20 minutes from the North Shore of Lake Tahoe.  This stretch of the river does not rely exclusively on Tahoe outflow for its water levels; several tributaries as well as Donner Lake and other bodies of water contribute to the river flow, making it extremely strong this year.

Much of the Boca run on the Truckee River is mellow, Class II waters. | Courtesy Tahoe Whitewater

“When the news came out, we received 30-40 calls a day from customers asking if their trips had been canceled,” said Erik Anderson, owner of IRIE Rafting Company. “And we’ll never know how many bookings we missed because people didn’t call us, thinking that the river is completely closed.”  

Callers to Tributary Whitewater had also heard that the big winter was rendering all rivers too dangerous to raft. Rafting companies are not allowed to take guests out when river flow is too high, so taking a guided rafting trip with a professional guide and proper equipment is extremely safe.

“In May and early June, the rivers were really high, but now they’re at the top end of normal,” said Copper, making the whitewater as fun as it gets.

A New Rafting Tradition

The shutdown of the “truckin’” floats presents an excellent opportunity for longtime Tahoe summer vacationers to take their rafting to the next level by trying something new: A beginner-level whitewater trip. 

Rafting on the Boca run of the Truckee River includes spots for swimming. | Courtesy IRIE Rafting

“The Boca run is a great first whitewater trip,” says Miltner of the most popular half-day Truckee River trip. “For those new to whitewater, it starts slow and then progressively builds.”

The Boca-to-Floriston run starts with paddling through easy Class II waters before progressing into Class III rapids in the Floriston Gorge. The two-hour trip passes through scenic areas and provides time for swimming, too. The trip can be made by nonswimmers, “active” grandparents and kids, too, depending on the outfitter and the route. 

Rafters of all ages can enjoy a whitewater trip. | Courtesy Tahoe Whitewater

And each company can often customize a trip to match the needs of the group.

“We offer a variety of trips in the Truckee region,” Copper said. “We can set up a booze cruise for a bachelor party or a family float with kids as young as 4 years old on other parts of the river.”

Consider starting a new rafting tradition on your Tahoe vacation this summer—and be sure to tell your friends, “The Truckee is open.”

How To Raft the Truckee River in Summer 2023

The three Truckee River outfitters below run a variety of whitewater trips near Lake Tahoe—on the Truckee and Carson rivers—and around California and the West. The popular half-day Boca run departs every morning and afternoon. Trips cost $80-$100 per person and include all equipment and transport. Check the websites for more information.