Water World | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Water World

Alex Close
A family brings it home on the final section of the Truckee River before River Ranch. / Photos by Ryan Salm / Sierra Sun

As the weather heats up and the snow continues to melt, raising the lake and the Truckee River, we are reminded that there is just about no better way to spend an afternoon than floating down stream, with a cold drink in hand and soaking up the sun.

There are plenty of mostly bare bodies drifting along to ogle, there are squirt gun fights to be had, most coolers naturally float even when properly loaded, there are pools for swimming and trees for jumping out of.

Float rafting is one of the best summer activities there is and the Truckee is a great place to do it. Launching out of Tahoe City, the hustle and bustle of town drifts away, replaced by the serenity of the river as it meanders lazily through meadows, under old bridges and through tranquil turquoise pools. At the end of the journey, perhaps after a little too much sun, floaters can exit at River Ranch and take full advantage of the restaurant and lodge’s ideal deck, barbecue and drafts.

A trip down the river is like a three-hour vacation from the real world, where time slows down to the speed of the river and all you have to do to cool off is roll over.

There are two basic ways to float the Truckee, and a few different options within those two methods. One can rent a legitimate whitewater raft from one of the two companies operating in Tahoe City, or one can supply their own floatation device and launch just downstream of Tahoe City.

Raft Rental

There are two companies that supply rafts out of Tahoe City for self-guided floats. They both offer the same basic service, and both launch from just about the same place. For a fee, clients get a tough-as-nails commercial whitewater raft that will hold a group comfortably, paddles, life jackets and, most importantly, a shuttle back to the launch point.

This is a great float option for folks from out of town, one-time floaters or people who don’t have the vehicular means to set up their own shuttle back to town.

It’s also a great option for those who don’t necessarily want to get wet. The rafts supplied by these companies don’t leak and will stay dry, that is if you can avoid a water fight.

Mountain Air Sports

Located upriver from Tahoe Raft and Gas Station, behind The Dam Cafe, Mountain Air is the closest outfit to the beginning of the Truckee River. While it’s only 50 yards, it is the longest float of the two companies.

Call (530) 583-RAFT for more information or a reservation.

Truckee River Raft Company

Located between the raft and gas station and Front Street Pizza in Tahoe City, Truckee River Raft Co. sets up its exit right on the River Ranch landing, providing the shortest walk from raft to burgers and draft beers.

Call (530) 583-0123 or visit http://www.truckeeriverraft.com to make reservations.

Do it yourself

Don’t want to pay for a raft? Planning on floating the river every weekend all summer? Just floating solo and think a commercial raft is a bit too much to handle?

River floating is such a great activity because it is virtually free, if done in the right area requires no skill or knowledge beyond an ability to swim and some sunscreen.

Make sure to launch downstream of both raft companies. They don’t like free floaters launching on their pads. There are nice launch stations on the south bank of the river, accessible from 64 acres.

There is also some necessary equipment needed when properly floating the river.

Flotation device

These can come in many forms. Canoes and kayaks are great, but they’re bulky, heavy and you have to sit up in them. Items of choice for experienced float rafters are the “yellow Costco raft,” which is basically a cheap little inflatable raft designed to hold two people. These are very comfortable to lay down in solo or with company. These rafts are also a better option for keeping things dry, as they have a bottom or floor. They usually also come with oars or paddles and when deflated will pack up nice and tight.

Perhaps the most popular devices are inner tubes. These can be purchased at just about any place that sells tires. Often, the bigger the better. Agricultural tubes are the biggest, usually measuring up to eight feet in diameter and capable of floating four people comfortably with a cooler in the middle. Also great are semi-truck tubes, which usually stand three feet inflated and are perfect for one person and very affordable at around $20. The downfall of a tube is the hole in the center. Don’t plan on staying dry if you’re floating on a tube.

Also very popular are inflatable mattresses or inflatable pool furniture. These often come with pillows and cup holders built in, are very affordable but not too sturdy. Don’t plan on staying dry and don’t plan on navigating any rapids or going past River Ranch.

— Check out the Squaw Valley Sports Shop on the Lake side of the “Y” in Tahoe City for a great selection of flotation devices. Also check out the Chevron Station in Tahoe City or Sierra Country Tire and Automotive in Kings Beach for automotive inner tubes.


One of the most important facets to floating a river is hydration. Sitting in the sun for hours on end can take a lot out of a person. One has to remember to hydrate. While navigating the river, a floater’s drinks must also have a place to float. Tying a six pack off the back of the innertube works great, but what if it strikes a rock and you lose one?

Most plastic coolers will float due to basic laws of buoyancy. Stay away from Styrofoam, as it will break and create a non-biodegradable mess. Find a plastic cooler with the lid on top and a handle that can be tied to your raft or tube.

Also, make sure to put empty cans back in the cooler. Put the can back in, take another full one out. No one wants to float down a river with empty cans and garbage. There’s no one to clean up after you, so do your part.


Make sure your skin is protected. It’s a good two to three hours without stops, so make sure you have waterproof sunscreen applied before you launch, and reapply if needed. There’s nothing worse than getting all lobstered out as penance for having such a relaxing afternoon. Plus there’s that whole skin cancer thing.


Make sure to cover your feet. There are fun places to get out and walk around, but without some sort of sandals or shoes, this can be a painful experience.

Squirt gun

This is optional, but know that water fights are a regular occurrence on the Truckee, and without a paddle or something to defend yourself with, you will get wet and have no revenge. The best option is a pump-activated pressure gun, like a Super Soaker. Fill it up with water and air pressure for maximum distance.

Pack out what you pack in

Who doesn’t love a picnic on one of the many ideal stopping points or meadows along the Truckee? What’s float rafting without a cooler of nice cold drinks?

Just make sure to pack out your trash. No one wants to float along with garbage and cans or step on your broken glass bottle on the beach. The Truckee is fun to float because the water is clear and clean and the scenery is beautiful.

Anyone who floats it should automatically recognize that and do what they can to keep it that way.

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