Park Rangers Warn Rafters of Dangerous Conditions on American River

COLOMA -- Park rangers are warning white water rafters of potentially dangerous conditions on the American River.

At one point during the drought, water flows near the south fork of the American in El Dorado County moved at just 250 cubic feet per second. Now, those flows are moving at 6,500 cfs. It's great news for thrill seekers, but it's also dangerous for those taking unguided trips.

“We have more water in that river than we’ve seen since 1983 on a regular basis," Nate Rangel, president of Adventure Connections, told FOX40.

The VanPeborgh family made the trip from Santa Rosa. They've rafted this river for years, but Friday was different.

“It is a blast," Loretta VanPeborgh said.

It’s looking to be a banner year for kayakers and rafters.

“We’re getting a lot of interest from people who haven’t been on the river in a few years, a lot of interest from folks who want to do bigger water," Rangel said.

Earlier this week, the El Dorado County sheriff’s rescue boat had to make a rescue of two people stranded on the river. And, on numerous occasions, professional guides have had to assist unguided rafters who have gotten into trouble.

“We’ve already seen a lot of carnage and we’ve had to help out several different groups. There was one group that lost their boat completely and they had to hike out," Adventure Connections guide Anna Weber said.

The conditions are so challenging that newer river guides are getting extra training. Companies agreed this spring to raise the age limit for guided trips from seven years old to 12 years old.

The high flows have caught the attention of thrill seekers, but old hands advise caution.

"Know what you’re getting into, make sure you have the skill set to be able to tackle this and make sure you have the equipment to be able to tackle this," Rangel said.

The VanPeborghs only do guided trips that provide helmets, wet suits and personal flotation devices, which makes the thrills more fun and less frightening.

“It’s fun to watch people get flipped out of the boat and land in the water. As long as it’s not you right?" Mark VanPeborgh said. "As long as I’m not the one doing it we’re all good."

Rafting companies say water levels will stay high into July. After that, they may reduce the age limit -- depending on the flows.