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Tuolumne River Rafting Guidebook
The Tuolumne River, known to many in the rafting world as “The T” is a Wild & Scenic River with its headwaters located in Yosemite National Park. If you are near Yosemite, it can be an awesome adventure to add to the agenda. The trip can be run as a one-day bullet run with a long shuttle or as an overnight trip. The Tuolumne River flows east to west through the Emigrant Wilderness, Cherry Lake, and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir into the Don Pedro Reservoir. Along its journey, the Tuolumne mixes high-octane whitewater with stunning mountainous scenery.
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About This Guide
This guide outlines the Tuolumne from Meral’s Pool to Ward’s Ferry covering rapids, camps, creeks, and river access points.
The Tuolumne is an intermediate to advanced river run. The run starts off with a bang, with numerous Class IVs for the first six miles leading up to the confluence with the Clavey River. The ability to boat scout, catch eddies, ferry and communicate within a group is essential to everyone staying safe on the Tuolumne River. Wet suits or dry suits are recommended. Wrap kits are also recommended on this river as there are numerous places to wrap a boat.
During high season, permits are required.
A $15.00 fee is charged for the first 10 people, and an additional $2.00 will be charged for each extra person on the trip up to 26 people. For more information about rafting permits, visit the permits page on the Groveland Ranger District site. Permits are not required if you are rafting from October 1 through April 30.
Permits can also be reserved online. It is still highly advisable to reserve these well in advance, as this is a well-known and sought-after section of whitewater. Permits are valid for 3-days. Learn more about Tuolumne River Permit Regulations here.
The Tuolumne River has a particularly long & complex shuttle involving a drive down a winding rut-filled dirt road. Winter storms cause excessive damage at the many tributaries crossing the road crosses. As Ward’s Ferry is considered a Federal Highway, and because it is a major maintenance road for Hetch Hetchy Water and Power, it often closes for repairs after big Winters. We recommend a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle to avoid vehicle damage. Leaving a vehicle at Ward’s Ferry Bridge overnight is not recommended, as there have been numerous reported vehicle break-ins. For overnight trips, our recommendation is to park your car at Casa Loma, and pay to have your vehicle shuttled, which will cost you ~$100 and save you several hours of driving.
The Tuolumne River has plenty of camps for private and commercial parties that choose to run an overnight trip. At the put-in, South Fork and Lumsden Bridge Campgrounds are great places to camp the night before putting on.
There are a few rules to know about before choosing your campsite. If on a private trip, please help commercial outfitters run smooth trips by noting the below. It is encouraged to communicate your campsite preferences at the put-in and along the river as you go. Fires are only allowed in fire pans. They are heavily discouraged by the USFS, and illegal once campfire restrictions go into effect.
During Odd Years (i.e. 2023), commercial trips will be using the following camps:
- Clavey (upstream/right)
- North Fork (downstream)
During Even Years (i.e. 2022), commercial trips will be using the following camps:
- Clavey (left)
- North Fork (upstream)
Tuolumne River Flow
The Tuolumne River is raftable from 800 To 13,000 CFS, with flows greater than 7,500 CFS considered to be very high water. Like many Sierra rivers, the Tuolumne River is dam-controlled, however, the water is shutoff every day at 11AM from the Holm Powerhouse, so you will want to get an early start to your day. to avoid getting stuck high and dry. It is common for water not to be released on “No Water Wednesdays”, which occur every other Wednesday so plan accordingly around this. Click here for the Dreamflows gauge.
Meral’s Pool to Ward’s Ferry
There’s only one run for the Tuolumne and that’s from Meral’s Pool to Ward’s Ferry. It packs in 18 miles of scenic whitewater, done either as a one or two-day trip.