General Information & FAQ

General Information for California Whitewater Rafting trips. Includes most common FAQ’s, policies, safety issues and useful links for planning your trip. Please contact us if you have a question that is not answered here!

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Terms & Conditions

After Trip Photos

On most of our California whitewater rafting trips, professional photographers shoot at various locations on the river, and proofs are available for viewing soon after the raft trip. On some rivers these are also available for viewing online — visit our Whitewater Photos & Videos page for more details & links.

We may also be able to arrange for the services of a company to shoot video, so please inquire. We will do our best to ensure memories of your California white water rafting trip are captured.

What is included in your Rafting Trip:

  • Complete safety and paddle briefing
  • Wholesome meals except on 1/4 and 1/2 day trips. See Meals for more detail
  • Shuttle options vary per trip. Find more information about our shuttles here.
  • An experienced white water rafting guide in each raft
  • All necessary equipment for a safe and exciting rafting trip
  • On river camping on all multi-day trips and available on some shorter trips. Facilities vary by river

Our Whitewater Rafting Equipment:

Tributary Whitewater provides all the necessary rafting equipment:

  • top quality Coast Guard approved life jackets,
  • helmets on some Class III rivers and on all our Class IV and Class V rafting trips,
  • waterproof bags and boxes for wilderness camping trips
  • self-bailing rafts, which are very maneuverable, safer and more comfortable than the older “bucket” boats. They do not require any bailing of water from the raft.
  • wet-suits & paddling jackets may be required in the spring and may be provided on some trips free of charge, but otherwise they are available for rent. Advance reservations required.
  • on multi-day rafting trips, all eating utensils are provided and we do all the cooking!

How large are the rafts?

We have various sizes of rafts and pick what is best depending on the particular river, the water levels at the time of the trip, and if there are small children. We always try and take in consideration the group sizes and plan accordingly, but there are sometimes limitations to what we can do.

Up to 8 clients/raft (most Class 2-3+ Rivers)
South Fork American River
Main Trinity River
Lower Klamath River
Lower Middle Fork American River
Lower North Fork American River

Max 6 clients (Truckee River and Class 4-5 rivers):
Truckee River (sometimes max 4-5 due to water levels)
Middle Fork American River
Upper Klamath River
North Yuba River
North Fork American River
Burnt Ranch Gorge (Trinity River)
Cal Salmon River

If it is important to you to have rafts with no other participants, our reservations staff will be glad to take your requests. However, we cannot guarantee that unoccupied spaces will not be taken by other clients. The best bet is to bring a group and fill the raft. The trip leader on the day will make the final decision.

On easier Class 2-3 whitewater rafting trips, inflatable kayaks can be provided for sharing (capacity 1-2), but these may be reserved for sole use for an additional fee (water levels permitting).

Weight and Physical Limitations

Nearly everyone can participate at some level including disabled and pregnant persons. If anyone has or has had in the past any medical condition we suggest you initially consult your physician. Some conditions may include:

  • Back and Knee Problems
  • Recurring injuries
  • Heart Condition
  • Overweight (see below for size restrictions)
  • Poor physical shape
  • Currently taking serious medication

We have no specific weight limitation, however, each participant must fit into one of our life jackets with all buckles fastened. Our regular flotation devices PFD’s (aka. life jackets) fit a torso circumference of 52 inches maximum. We have a few jackets that will fit up to 56” but they MUST be requested in advance. For whitewater sports, PFD’s without a “heads up collar” attached are not permitted.

It is also important for us to know in advance about any conditions that may affect anyone from being fully able to participate to ensure the enjoyment of all our guests. We also recommend you inform us ahead of time if anyone in the party exceeds 300#. At times of high water, additional criteria may be applied.

For younger children, we must also ensure that PFD’s fit correctly, and that is another reason for our usual min. age of 4 yrs. We have small children’s PFD’s that fit from 30-50 pounds and chest size of 20-25″, our youth jackets fit children from 50 pounds and up.

For those with disabilities or concerns, please see our rafting participation requirements page for more specific criteria that may apply for safety reasons.

Risks of Whitewater Rafting

There are risks involved in any outdoor activity and accidents can happen. However, we have been providing safe trips since 1978 and are permitted on some of the most difficult whitewater trips in California. Though there have been some injuries (people can sprain an ankle walking across rocks when not even in a raft), we have never lost anyone on one of our trips and there are outfitters who cannot claim that safety record. All participants will be required to sign an Assumption of Risk or Liability Release form prior to the trip.

What you need to bring

For ½ day or one day trips during the summer, all you probably need is a swim suit, sturdy foot wear and sun block. For spring time rafting, wet suits and/or splash jackets may be required. If this is expected, your trip confirmation letter should specify that. However, weather can sometimes be unpredictable, so if in doubt bring some of the recommended spring or fall rafting items on our what to bring list, or call and ask.

Camping equipment may be rented from us for any overnight trips, but must be requested and paid for in advance. On some wilderness style trips, we load all the overnight equipment on to separate rafts, so we request that you travel more “backpack” style and leave the cabin tent and heavy camping mattresses at home in those situations.

Please refer to your email confirmation which will include what to bring information for your specific river trip. For a full detailed list of what to bring and what not to bring check out our What to Bring and Wear Whitewater Rafting page.

Tipping your Guide

It is customary to tip your river guide. Though our staff is well compensated for their time, a gratuity is most appreciated. It is a great way to say thanks, especially if you received outstanding service. We hate to give fixed guidelines, and clients ability to pay extra will obviously vary. Any amount you think appropriate will be well received and will probably depend on the length of the trip. On overnight trips especially, our guides will have prepared at least 4 meals for you and have spent several days entertaining you, keeping you safe, and keeping you comfortable. However, tipping is entirely at your discretion.

California River Rafting Guides

Tributary Whitewater Tours employs only whitewater rafting guides who are highly trained, warm and friendly individuals chosen for their ability to make your rafting trip safe, fun-filled and unforgettable. Because we run some of the most difficult rivers in the west, you can be sure your guide is a skilled and experienced professional. See About Guides page for individual biographies of our guides and support staff.

Making Reservations for a Rafting trip

Select your trip and choose your dates. See CHOOSING YOUR CALIFORNIA RAFTING TRIP or call for assistance if any doubts.

We recommend you call or email to confirm availability before booking online. It is best to plan your trip well in advance (especially for weekends and holidays) and some rivers may be booked months in advance. However, if you wish to schedule a trip on short notice, call us as we can often times accept late reservations as space allows.

You may reserve online, by mail or by phone with our friendly reservation personnel.

If trip is more than 14 days ahead, we can usually hold your trip for up to 10 days, or you can confirm immediately with a deposit. For each person, the deposit is $40 for ½ day or $50 for EACH DAY of trip ie. $100 for a 2 day trip.

Full payment is due 21 days prior to the trip. All payments are due in full before the trip and we regret that we are unable to take cash on the day.

Upon receipt of initial payment, we will email you a confirmation including everything you need to know like what to bring and where to meet.

Trip/Travel Insurance

We highly recommend that you obtain travel insurance to protect yourself against any losses for any reason (cancellations, accidents, baggage etc.). Some things may be covered under your homeowners insurance, but things like cancelled trips due to sickness is not.


All our California rafting trips include on-river transportation from our various meeting locations and back to your vehicle. Please see the specific river description and related maps and area information for the exact location of where you will be meeting. All this information is also provided with your confirmation package.

Comfortable motor coaches may be available from Southern California to the American River ($65 – $75 per person) and group transportation may be possible from any location at cost. Tributary Whitewater Tours can also have transportation available from Redding airport for clients rafting on our Northern California Rivers. Please inquire as certain restrictions and costs apply.

How difficult is each river?

The categories below show the International Scale of River Difficulty. The descriptions may sound rather scary, but remember, the descriptions are primarily designed for the inexperienced boater with no professional training.

In general, Class III is of moderate difficulty – plenty of thrills and ideal if you have never been whitewater rafting before. Class IV is more challenging but some are fine for adventurous first timers. Class V is the most difficult and should only be undertaken by strong swimmers with previous Class IV whitewater experience. The difficulty of a river often increases one level during the high water of Spring months. Please check out Choosing Your California Rafting Trip for the rivers we offer by level of difficulty. If any doubt, please call us for assistance in selection.

Class I – Easy: Waves are small, regular; riffles.
Class II – Medium: Rapids of medium difficulty; swift current, passages are wide and clear.
Class III – Difficult: Waves numerous, high, irregular; rocks, eddies, rapids with passages that are clear though narrow, requiring expertise in maneuvering.
Class IV – Very Difficult: Long rapids, waves powerful and irregular; dangerous rocks, boiling eddies; powerful and precise maneuvering required.
Class V – Extremely Difficult: Long and violent rapids following each other almost without interruption; riverbed extremely obstructed; big drops, violent current, very steep gradient.
Class VI – Unnavigable: The upper extreme of whitewater rivers, commercially unrunnable.


Our meals always consist of plentiful, fresh and wholesome ingredients, and we find our clients are often surprised at the sumptuous feast that is produced riverside – even on a wilderness style trip when all the food and equipment is transported in separate oar rafts.

We will cater to special requirements on request, including vegan diets, and gluten free restrictions. Vegetarians usually have no problems, even if we are not informed ahead of time. However we always prefer to know so we can adjust the quantities accordingly, especially if many in the group do not eat meat. Unfortunately it is not possible to supply kosher meals as we have found that the items are just not available in the local area.

Visit our Rafting Meals & Menus page for more details.