Editor’s note: Due to heavy flows, Sunshine Trips won’t start running rafts this year until June 8. Flows are expected to be above average throughout the summer.
KNIGHTS FERRY — It was somewhere just below the Knights Ferry Resort and a minute after getting nailed by a kid sporting a water launcher from the safety of the bank that my apprehensions about rafting down the Stanislaus River disappeared.
I am not comfortable in water, period. Setting foot in any pool of water isn’t high on my list of things to do.
So naturally when I suggested to friends that we try a float trip down the Stanislaus River with Sunshine Rafting Adventures from Knights Ferry to Orange Blossom Park I thought I had lost my mind.
I started having flashbacks to parasailing over the Pacific Ocean some two to three miles off Maui.
But I was committed. Two weeks later, there I was in a raft with five other people, a few small personal ice chests and a goodie bag.
There is only one real “rapid” and a series of smaller rapids on the seven-mile trip that takes about four hours to complete (time varies based on river current) but we did it in slightly less due to a bit of aggressive paddling from time to time. If it weren’t for those few rapids, the trip would be rated Class I instead of a combo Class I-II.
After navigating the Russian rapids that come about 10 minutes into the trip and realizing that the company representative back at Knights Ferry giving us our safety instructions said it was the worst stretch, I started to relax and enjoy the idea of rafting on the cool Stanislaus water accented by extensive vegetation including trees seeming to grow sideways as they jutted out across the water.
It was those trees that actually produced some of the most “fun” for us as we struggled in vain several times to avoid going under them. The safety instructor’s lean forward rule (to avoid getting whacked in the face should a limb get caught) worked well on all but one huge limb we found ourselves confronted with.
That’s when the lady on the bow of the raft suddenly leaned back as far as she could when we swept toward the bank on one bend after trying vainly to paddle away. One side of the raft then dipped into the river as we took on about seven inches of water. A friend almost went out the back.
We were able to clear the undergrowth of the tree and get back toward the middle of the river. This is when we discovered the real use for the personal ice chests — bailing water.
As odd as it may sound, the close encounter with the tree was fun. (See, I told you I had lost my mind.)
During the journey to Orange Blossom, we came across the spectacular “Two Bluffs” volcanic area that created a canyon-like feel, passed under Lover’s Leap which has been marked by an American flag since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 and plenty of wildlife from wood ducks to catfish we could see through the clear, cold water slithering along the river’s bottom.
The human parade was just as interesting and pleasant. It ranged from a group of teens trying to battle us with their water guns — they got us wet but that was only after we overtook them — kayakers, canoers, and fishermen in the water and on the banks as well as a family camping at Horseshoe Bar where we beached to use the restrooms and stretch our legs.
But perhaps the best part was simply soaking up the beauty and tranquility with five friends.
At $35 per person (including the return trip via bus to Knights Ferry) for the self-guided tour, it is the best weekend entertainment value you’ll find in these parts. Sunshine Adventures does offer weekday trips for $30 per person.
It is an honest-to-goodness float trip unlike the Class III-IV adventure from Goodwin Canyon to Knights Ferry. This is a real whitewater trip with rapids dubbed “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” and “Haunted House.” That guided trip requires good swimming skills and costs a lot more and requires wetsuits.
Most people, however, will be more than thrilled with the Knights Ferry to Orange Blossom trip. They provide the life vests, paddles and rafts. They recommend you bring an extra set of clothes (to keep in your car), sneakers, bathing suit or shorts, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses with leash and a windbreaker on windy days.
For more information, contact Sunshine Adventures at (209) 829-7238 or visit their web site at www.raftadventure.com.