A paddle trip down the six-mile stretch of the Lower American River between Sunrise Bridge off Highway 50 and River Bend Park (called by its former name, Goethe Park, on many maps) is a signature summertime experience for residents of and visitors to Sacramento. Don’t let the occasional headline-making aberration like the recent Rafters Gone Wild event put you off: placid floating, not brawls and mass misbehaving, are the norm.
Dogs are allowed "at the owner's discretion" on rafts rented by American River Raft Rentals, but not on those supplied by River Rat, the other primary outfitter. Have one member of your party wait with the pooch while another takes a shuttle bus back to the car after the fun is over. (Shuttles are $5 per person, with service provided Memorial Day to Labor Day.)
Expect a bit of exertion as you haul your conveyance from the Sunrise parking lot ($5 for the car, plus a $3 per-watercraft launch fee) to the put-in site. Then sit back and relax as the languid current transports you through a river-hugging greenbelt that is the pride of Sacramento. Expect a head wind to pick up as the morning progresses—and when it does, you may find yourself getting a workout.
Depending on water releases from Folsom Dam and how many breaks you take on shore, the trip can take from an hour and a half to four hours. There are plenty of places to pull over for a rest and a swim, but put a tether on Tanker if you’re in a designated city or county park, as leash laws are strictly enforced.
This is Class I water all the way except for the usually unaggressive San Juan Rapid, which runs at Class II. Take it far to the left to avoid dumping.
Even if your dog is a good swimmer, it's a good idea for her to wear a canine life jacket. The American River is cold (around 60 degrees at the height of summer), and on high-release days the current is very swift.
Photo: Zapata - Trevino (CC)