A Yosemite spring rafting trip is an experience you remember for a lifetime. Few events in nature can match the spectacle of spring in the Sierra Nevada. As the weather starts to warm in mid-April the snow that has compiled in higher elevations begins to melt, first filling small drainages and creeks and eventually raising the water levels on rivers and lakes. Rafting guides look forward to spring as a time to get back to work and for the exciting water levels that come with the snow melt. Weather is milder in the spring with high temperatures ranging in the 70’s. During this period wildflowers come in waves, covering the hillsides and canyon walls. For a brief window the hills turn green and then to gold. Yosemite rivers like Cherry Creek, the Merced and the Tuolumne can run high and sparklingly clear, and the combination of water and scenery make for some sweet days on the river. Even during drier periods, water levels rise and stay that way for for a window of time. Typically spring runoff will start building in April and May and peak around Memorial Day weekend.
The beauty is breathtaking and it is matched by the fun and excitement on the river. Smaller rapids that are sleepy later in summer are wide awake in the spring creating new waves and hydraulics that keep rafters focused and attentive. Large rapids become larger, and in some cases wash out into long bucking wave trains. Because volume has increased, the river is moving quickly and guides and paddlers work in tandem to successfully negotiate each turn and drop. The adrenaline is intoxicating.
Each year is different in the amount of water stored in the snow and the rate at which it melts. Water levels can vary depending on the weather, rising and dropping along with daily temperatures. In June snowmelt begins to recede, causing rivers like the Merced, which has no upstream reservoirs, to finally drop to unraftable levels by mid to late July. Both the Tuolumne and Cherry Creek have reservoirs upstream from where we raft that release water throughout summer and fall, allowing us to raft these rivers into late summer.
For overall rafting conditions, summer’s long days and warmer air and water temperatures are hard to beat. But if you have the chance, a Yosemite spring rafting trip is a wonderful way to avoid crowds and wake up the senses.