Tuolumne River Trip Details

Where and when to meet:

We’ll meet you at 8:00 am on the morning of the trip starting date at The Lucky Buck Restaurant – 

The Lucky Buck Restaurant 7647 CA-120 Groveland CA 95321 .

The Lucky Buck is 11 miles east of Groveland on Highway 120. If you will be late, please call 209/962-7873. ARTA will provide transportation back to the Lucky Buck; arrival time back to the Lucky Buck should be between 5:00 and 6:00 pm. 

We will begin our adventure with 3 mile down-hill walk on a gravel Forrest Service Road. The walk has been taking roughly 40 minutes to an hour to complete and is very scenic with sweeping views of the river canyon. Please be prepared with comfortable walking shoes (Teva/Chaco/Keen water shoes or athletic shoes have been fine – water socks, Crocks, flip flops have NOT been fine) and a full water bottle. You will be able to switch shoes once you reach the river as well. At the end of the trip, there is an hour-long boat tow into Don Pedro reservoir, where you will then be shuttled back to the Lucky Buck. This is because Ward’s ferry road is closed on both sides of the canyon.

How to get there:

The Lucky Buck Restaurant is on the north side of Highway 120, approximately 11 miles east of Groveland. Driving-time from the San Francisco Bay Area is approximately 3½ hours (through Livermore, Tracy, Manteca, and Oakdale); from Los Angeles, approximately 7½ hours (through Merced, Snelling, La Grange, Coulterville, and Greeley Hill – you will bypass Groveland and join Highway 120, 4 mile west of The Lucky Buck). There is some cell phone and gps service at The Lucky Buck, But download the directions or bring a good map. 

There is no public transportation available to Groveland. San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and San Jose airports are all roughly 3 hours away.

Where to stay:

The elegant Groveland Hotel, and the cute Hotel Charlotte are both in “downtown” Groveland, (near the historic Iron Door Saloon). Evergreen Lodge, a unique collection of cabins on Yosemite’s doorstep, and the new Rush Creek Lodge are both about 30 minutes east and are great options for extending your stay in the area before or after your trip. Red Tail Ranch, a tiny Bed and Breakfast on 50 acres just up the road from us, is a relaxing place to stay if you have time before or after your trip and want to unwind. Another unique option is Sugar Pine Ranch, an old homestead with cabins halfway between Groveland and La Casa Loma. Additional accommodations are available in Yosemite National Park, one hour away. Rustic camping is available at the Forest Service campground “The Pines” 1 mile east of La Casa Loma; reserved camping is available 10 minutes away at Yosemite Pines RV Park and one hour away in Yosemite National Park.

What we provide:

  • All taxes and government access fees.
  • Shuttle service from the meeting place to the river and from the take-out point back to the meeting place.
  • 1 day trips – Lunch; Multi-day trips – all meals from lunch on the first day through lunch on last day.
  • Wetsuits and splash jackets when needed.
  • Waterproof bags, lifejackets, and other specialized river touring equipment for the trip.
  • Friendly, entertaining and professional guide service.

What you are responsible for:

  • Meals and lodging before and after your trip.
  • Personal clothing and other miscellaneous items (see equipment list).
  • Sleeping bags and tents on 2 and 3 day trips (these items can be rented from ARTA – see equipment list).
  • Soda, wine, alcoholic beverages on 2 and 3 day trips (see below).
  • Guides gratuities (see below).

Additional Information:

Water Levels and Daily Itineraries: The Tuolumne is a dam-controlled river with wide fluctuations in flow. The high water season depends on winter precipitation and lasts for one to seven weeks, peaking around the end of May. During the high water period, the river has many solid Class IV+ and Class V rapids and everyone should be in good physical condition and ready for a challenging day on the river. All one-day trips are long and arduous and include two formidable shuttles, an intricate warm-up session, 18 miles of challenging river, at least one extended scout, and only a short stop for lunch. All one-day guests should anticipate and be ready for a full day of adventure. Two and three day trips are less rushed and allow more time to enjoy the beauty and solitude of the canyon. During the summer, the river flow is regulated and we raft on daily hydroelectric releases from upstream reservoirs. These flows are exciting and fun, but do not require the same physical qualifications that spring trips require. Due to the distance from the dams, the water levels often do not rise at our downstream campsites until after noon. There is a lot to do near camp, but a good book, snorkel and mask, fishing rod, or other toy can be helpful in passing the time.

Types of rafts: Because of the difficulty of the Tuolumne, we use self-bailing rafts configured as either paddle rafts or oar-paddle combination rafts, depending on the flow, paddler experience, and interest.

Paddle rafts are 14 feet long and carry between 4 and 6 paddlers who actively paddle through the rapids and down the river. Everyone has a paddle, sits on the outer tube of the raft and follows the commands of the paddle guide who sits in the rear.

Oar-paddle combination rafts are 14 feet long and are steered by a guide using two oars and assisted by 2 to 6 paddlers riding in the front. This configuration allows for slightly more control by the guide and puts slightly less demand on the paddlers, but everyone should still be ready to participate.

Meals: We’ll provide lunch on one day trips and all meals from lunch on the first day through lunch on the last day on longer trips. Our meals are tasty, well-balanced and consist of quality foods with fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables. Our guides will double as camp chefs and the menu includes a wide variety of dishes. Lunches usually consist of hand-foods and are served picnic-style at riverside stops. If you have special dietary requirements or are celebrating a special event during the trip, please let us know in advance.

Drinks: We will provide water, lemonade and punch during the day and hot coffee, tea, and cocoa in the morning. If you would like soda, beer, wine, or liquor with your dinner, please bring your own in unbreakable containers, (beer and soda in cans, wine in bags/boxes or plastic bottles and liquor in plastic bottles).

Camping: Tuolumne River campsites are idyllic spots deep in the heart of the canyon. Some are at sidestreams and offer great swimming and hiking opportunities, others are big beaches with lots of shade and space. We’ll set up a central kitchen area and you’ll pick out a spot nearby to pitch your tent or lay out your sleeping bag. It rarely rains, bugs are insignificant, and nights are generally mild, so sleeping out under the stars is a great and popular option. We’ll help you set up your camp, introduce you to The Groover, our portable toilet, and help you feel right at home.

Weather: Tuolumne trips in April are sometimes cool and rainy, but just as often they are cool and sunny. By mid-May rain is pretty rare and the temperatures warm up nicely. By June the weather is usually great with daytime highs in the 80’s or 90’s and nights cooling off into the 60’s. Mid-summer Tuolumne weather is ideal for rafting: hot, dry, clear days and pleasant evenings, nights and mornings.

Fishing: The Tuolumne has a lot of rainbow trout and the fishing is pretty good. You’ll need a California fishing license and either some light spinning or fly-fishing gear. The regulations require single barbless hooks and artificial lures and flies only (no worms). You don’t need a lot of tackle but you do need to protect your rod in a sturdy case.

Travel Insurance: Because life is full of surprises, we suggest you consider purchasing supplemental travel insurance for your trip. Trip cancellation, evacuation, baggage loss and other coverages are available for between 8% and 15% of your trip cost. You can get more information through ASI Travel Insurance Services (please select American River Touring Association from the drop down menu).

Gratuities: If you truly enjoy your trip, tipping is a great way to show your appreciation. Tipping is optional and personal, but since a lot of people ask, a customary amount is between 10 and 15 percent of the trip cost. Tips can be given to the Lead Guide who will share them with the entire crew. And the entire crew will appreciate them and put them to good use. (And thank you.)

Local Attractions: Welcome to Groveland! This is our hometown and we are very proud of it. Things here are rustic, remote, and beautiful. And even though Groveland is a tourist town (in the summer), we don’t have the facilities of Lake Tahoe or Napa Wine Country. Things here are pretty simple; one grocery store, four or five restaurants, half a dozen places to spend the night and spotty cell phone service. Here are the don’t miss attractions (local knowledge):

Yosemite National Park. A no-brainer. If you’ve never been, plan at least one day before or after your Tuolumne trip to check out the Park; taking a Tuolumne trip and not visiting Yosemite would be like going to Hawaii and not swimming in the ocean. The popular Valley attractions are the Mist Trail (anytime, but particularly in the spring), Yosemite Falls, and strolling along the Merced River while gawking at climbers. A quick drive out to Glacier Point is stunning. If you have more time and are in good shape: hike up the back of Half Dome and at least look at the cables (you need a permit to actually go up on the cables, worth it if you aren’t afraid of heights). A visit to Tuolumne Meadows will give you a new perspective on the Park (flat meadows versus giant cliffs). There is some great information on day hikes at Mountain IQ.

Stanislaus National Forest. Almost everything around Groveland that isn’t National Park is National Forest. There are numerous campgrounds, lots of dirt backroads, and a few secret swimming holes. Just a few miles east of La Casa Loma on Highway 120 is Rainbow Pool, a cool waterfall and swimming hole; too popular with the locals on weekends, but worth checking out on a weekday. Further east, off of Evergreen Road, is the less visited Carlon Falls.

Evergreen Lodge. A collection of renovated cabins and a rustic restaurant in a beautiful setting. If you want to extend your visit and can’t find accommodations in the Park, this is a great option.

Camp Mather, Berkeley Tuolumne Camp, San Jose Family Camp, Camp Tawonga. A collection of family-oriented campgrounds with tent cabins, campsites, and formal activities all situated along the Tuolumne. Very popular vacation destinations.

Cocina Michoacana. THE place to eat in Groveland. Small, rinky-dink, and deceiving, but authentic, friendly, and tasty (and we’ve never gotten sick). If you’re unsure of what to get, just say “Number 20. Chicken. Flour.” and you’ll be happy. Trust us.

The Iron Door Saloon. Groveland’s most famous landmark (“the oldest saloon in California”). Full of history, mystery, and locals. Live music and dancing on most weekends in the summer.

More Information:

A pdf of these trip details (along with more information about what to expect on your trip) can be found and downloaded here:

1 day trips

2 & 3 day trips

If you still have questions, please feel free to call us (209-962-7873) or e-mail us (arta@arta.org). We love to talk about our trips!