Sierra South Mountain Sports, which has operated whitewater rafting tours since 1985 in Kern County, California, used to be able to take visitors out onto the rivers each summer season until Labor Day.
Last year, the outfitter had to close up shop in mid-August due to a lack of water.
Two years ago, business ran dry in July.
But in 2023, the floodgates will reopen after years of drought. According to the Los Angeles Times, the intense rain and snows that poured over California this winter will translate into an epic snowmelt this spring.
For the first time in years many of California's most beautiful rivers will once again be flush with fresh flow, reminding the world why they became so world-famous among outdoor adventurers.
If you've never been whitewater rafting in California, that makes sense. In recent memory, the state's recurrent water issues have prevented its most attractive river courses from operating at full tilt.
This year, as fresh water runs anew from the peaks of the Sierra Nevada range, the whitewater rivers that California was once famous for will finally be able to show younger adventurers what the rapids are really made of.
If you love rafting, 2023 may be the year you've been waiting for on California's rivers.
Outfitters are expecting a banner year in regions including the Kern River in the southern Sierras of Kern County; the Tuolumne that flows through and out of Yosemite National Park, which was so inundated with snow that it was forced to close for a few weeks in early 2023; and the American River near scenic Lake Tahoe.
The influx of newly melted snow may be a boon to tourism, but it will also come with problems. California residents are bound to get hit with flooding and mudslides, and on the newly swollen rivers, novice rafters might not be ready for the deceptive risks that come with a dramatic escalation in flow. Rapids that usually have a moderate difficulty rating can move into a danger zone.
"This year, with conditions so outsized and unfamiliar, guides may have to rethink those ratings and reassess what 'safe enough' means," writes the L.A. Times' Jack Dolan. "High water not only makes rivers flow faster, it also changes the dynamics of previously well-known rapids. That increases the odds of things going wrong and raises the stakes when they do."
So if you're heading to California to catch up on the river rafting you've been missing all these years, make sure you head out with an experienced guide or outfitter. Here are 9 recommended by California's official tourism authority.
If you're the type who prefers the lower impact of admiring the state's epic waterfalls, which rank among the most spectacular in the country, keep your distance from the water. Even a placid surface may disguise a rip-roaring flow beneath, and visitors are regularly swept to their deaths even during seasons with below-average snowmelt.
2023 will be a year to remember among outdoor enthusiasts in California. Explore safely—and make sure it's remembered for the best reasons.