Some of the most exciting white-water in the Sierra Nevada mountains rushes outside the doorsteps of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, just a half-day's drive south of Yosemite.
Although most of these southern Sierra Nevada rivers are too rough and dangerous to run inside the national parks (where watercraft are prohibited by law), just outside the parks you'll find several expert outdoor rafting outfitters ready to take you on the white-water trip of a lifetime.
Take your pick of one-day or overnight guided rafting and camping trips, some of which are easy enough for novice paddlers and even kids. The river-running season usually lasts from April into July, depending on water levels and the snow melt from the Sierra Nevada that year.
Farther south of Sequoia National Park, the small towns of Kernville and Lake Isabella are the jumping-off point for some of California's most ferocious white-water. Even if you're a beginning paddler, don't worry. The Kern River rapids start out at Class II for novices and top out at Class V for experienced paddlers only.
Local rafting outfitters happily teach paddling skills classes, lead guided white-water rafting trips, and offer kayaking lessons on calmer stretches of the river and on Isabella Lake. Usually children aged 6 years and older are allowed on introductory rafting trips, including full-day, overnight, and week-long adventures.
Right outside the foothills area of Sequoia National Park, the Kaweah River offers more opportunities for white-water rafting trips on Class III-IV+ rapids during late spring and early summer.
Along the way you'll pass through forceful rapids, peaceful tree-shaded corridors, and natural water slides of polished granite rock.
Most guided rafting trips take out at Lake Kaweah, an artificial reservoir where canoeing, kayaking, and boating are allowed. this reservoir lies just outside the small town of Three Rivers, near the park's southern entrance. Full-day and overnight trips along the Kaweah River are best for paddlers with some experience and who are in excellent shape and at least 15 years old. Reservations are recommended.
Although rafting, kayaking, and canoeing on the Kings River is prohibited inside Kings Canyon National Park, several outdoor outfitters offering guided white-water rafting trips starting on national forest lands just west of the park. Families and groups of friends can choose either a one- or two-day rafting trip that passes through Class III rapids. Reservations are recommended and bookings can be made with Zephyr Whitewater on zrafting.com.