Upper Truckee River float a local favorite

Adam Jensen
Members of "Floatopia 2013" put their boats in the water for a float of the Upper Truckee River Friday afternoon. Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily Tribune

With nothing but blue skies and warm weather in the forecast, an annual migration is underway at Lake Tahoe’s South Shore. The journey has nothing to do with birds heading north for the summer or kokanee salmon making their way upstream to breed.

This movement is dedicated to the most relaxing way to get from Elks Club Drive to the Tahoe Keys — The Upper Truckee River.

A tradition among some residents, floating the stretch of the river is about a smooth a ride as one can find. The shore is never far away and any “rapids” amount to little more than riffles. The river meanders through forests and meadows for about four miles before concluding near Lake Tahoe’s shoreline.

Mendocino County resident Dave Grealish, one of about a dozen Upper Truckee River floaters that dubbed themselves “Floatopia 2013” last Friday, holds the drift in the highest regard.

“It’s the best thing to do in Tahoe in the spring and summer,” said the former South Lake Tahoe resident before hopping into the river. “It’s possibly the most relaxing thing you can do.”

It’s also inexpensive. While a small industry has formed around the Truckee River float starting near Lake Tahoe’s North Shore, the Upper Truckee remains a largely do-it-yourself affair.

The Intex Explorer 200 was the predominant craft among the group. The Explorer is a suitable, if disposable, vessel for the mellow trip. One member of last week’s flotilla mentioned he went through three of the less-than-seaworthy vessels on the river last year alone.

With low snowfall equaling scant runoff, floating the Upper Truckee is set to be a prime shoulder-season activity. The river will likely be too low to float by the time the busy summer really gets going.

Peak flows on area rivers are expected over the next couple weeks, El Dorado County Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Becker said in a statement.

Upper Truckee River floats can take a couple hours, or all day.

“If you just go for it, it’s real fast,” said South Lake Tahoe resident Alex Murphy, who adding that it is easy to waste away the day on the river’s pullouts.

One aspect of the float that is apparent, but often overlooked, is that the Truckee’s water was just recently snow.

Area river water temperatures are expected to be in the 40s and 50s this weekend. When taking to waterways, people should wear a life vest, keep a close eye on children and be aware that drinking alcohol accelerates hypothermia, Becker said.

South Lake Tahoe resident Tom Grealish got a first hand taster of the frigid water temperatures.

“Oh dude, this is kinda cold,” Grealish said while getting into what amounted to the battleship of “Floatopia,” a two-seat inner tube with, unfortunately for him, mesh seats. “I’ll get used to it,” he quickly concluded before heading downstream.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.