Serene & sublime | Floating the Truckee River

The author’s Truckee River Rafting photo suitable for his wall. | Joyce Chambers

Rafting the upper portion of the Truckee River between Tahoe City and River Ranch is an iconic Tahoe activity.

I gathered a few friends and we jumped on a raft from Truckee River Rafting. It is one of the two rafting companies just below Fanny Bridge in Tahoe City. Jennifer Courcier, who was in my class at North Tahoe High School, is one of the owners of Mountain Air Sports, which was started by Jennifer’s dad, Bob Bell, back in 1974. Her brother, husband and daughters are now all part of the team running the operation. I still fondly remember a senior class goof-off day when Jennifer’s then new company took us all on a rafting adventure downstream from Goose Meadows to Truckee.

My biggest piece of advice is to
take your time. … It’s not about
reaching the end, but about
enjoying the journey.

The challenge with a rafting business is that you are beholden to the water, which recently meant that at 5 p.m. they discovered there would be enough water to run rafts the next day. By 6 p.m. they were putting together a group of folks to work the next morning. Fortunately, they have a loyal crew of mostly local kids in high school or back in town from college who look forward to spending their summer working on the river.

But all of this was not on my mind once we shoved off into the river. Instead, I was focused on what this Truckee River float is about: relaxation. While the two- to three-hour trip to River Ranch does pass by a few mild rapids and culminates with a bit of excitement just before the take-out, it’s mostly a gentle float —an opportunity to enjoy the sunshine and the beauty of the river, take a few swims in water that is warmer than Lake Tahoe and simply decompress.

A family relaxes down the Truckee River.

In the summer, we all drive along busy State Route 89 and look over the equally busy bike trail to the rafters floating downstream. But, what we might not realize is that once you get onto a raft, the river is a slower, different world. Sure you hear the cars, but they become background noise. Underneath the crystal-clear water you see fascinating rock formations rolling by and along the shoreline you are surrounded by thick riparian vegetation. You also hear and see red wing blackbirds, ducks and geese that flutter in and out of view.

Sometimes you are flowing swiftly over water that is just a few inches deep and at other times, you float slowly over deep pools. When you are gently making your way across these pools, be sure to look up. You will discover that the steep slopes of the Truckee River Canyon are full of volcanic-rock formations surrounded by thick carpets of brush. It’s a view you just don’t see from your car or your bike.

A quiet spot below Tahoe City. | Joyce Chambers

My biggest piece of advice is to take your time. Bring some snacks and drinks — no glass — stop along the route and immerse yourself in the water. It’s not about reaching the end, but about enjoying the journey. Once you reach the end, you have the choice of hopping on a bus or joining the crowd on the patio for some good eats at River Ranch.

One of the great things about floating the Truckee River is you can choose your experience based on the time of day you set out to float. Looking for a quieter, more relaxing trip or some good family time? Head out before 10 a.m. when there are fewer people on the river. Want to feel the heat and hang with more folks on the river? Start your float late in the morning or early afternoon.
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