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Float On: The Ins And Outs Of An American River Float

Melody Stone / Capital Public Radio

Melody Stone / Capital Public Radio

One of the best things about living in Sacramento is access to beautiful rivers.  Because boats are limited on the American River, this waterway provides a clean and calm place for swimming and floating.

On any given weekend, the river fills up with lounging floaters in tubes or inflatable boats. A river float can be a wonderful way to spend a summer afternoon.But it’s vital to prepare for a long day and to think of ways of preventing sunburn and dehydration.

This guide provides a list on how to make the  most of a river float day.

The Gear


Get the right flotation device. Skimping on a tube and getting a $10 River Rat will technically do the trick. It’s a good choice especially if you’re not planning on doing lots of floats. But the black plastic gets pretty hot and they are difficult to blow up. They’re an even bigger pain to deflate. Those who want to become river float regulars can  splurge on a $20 River Run tube complete with large intake valve, handles and cupholders. There are also small inflatable boats for snacks, drinks and personal items.

Be sure all the floats have a rope and a carabiner. Once in the river, float participants will want to be connected so no one gets left behind. Once the entire party is attached together via ropes,  be careful when passing bridges and try not to get stuck on a either side of a column.

Procure a dry bag. A dry bag isn’t very expensive and it could prove to be very useful. If a tube pops and you become stranded in the middle of the float, you’ll be able to call for help. The dry bag will also keep keys and other valuables or electronics  safe and sound. Target has one available for about $7.

Use a life vest. Strong and weak swimmers alike should consider using a life vest to stay safe. River waters can be unpredictable at times, with some parts moving lazily and other parts moving swiftly.

Invest in a good battery operated pump. It’s no fun inflating several floats in the hot sun before a float. An electric pump saves time and lung-power.

Consider bringing a paddle, or at least a long stick. It’s nice to be able to direct floats away from the bank, snags or other floaters.

Wear sun protection. A river float could take a up to few hours in direct sunlight. Jumping in the water will keep you cool, but that doesn’t stop a sunburn. A high SPF sunscreen and a wide brimmed hat is always a great idea.

Arm yourself. Other floaters will be on your expedition, it’s important to have a water canon in hand or Super Soaker loaded in case you have to defend yourself and your crew from a water attack.


Plotting A Route


There are a number of river access points along the American River. One popular starting point is at Sunrise. Examine the route on the map below.



Getting On The Water 

A good river float depends on ironing out the logistics beforehand. Pick a spot to leave the bulk of the cars, like Ancil Hoffman Park, in Carmichael. Parking costs $5 a car.

Leave your picnic and BBQ grill with the cars staying downstream. It’s always nice to have food ready to go, at the other side of a float. Be sure to take a look at the river bank before heading upstream to start your float. Get a good mental image of where to get out.

Pile as many people into as few cars as possible with all your float gear and drive to the put-in spot.

Once you’re at the put-in site, pump the floats, load up supplies and get on the water. This is the part when you can sit back, relax and let the river carry your troubles away.

There are two rapid sections of the river, but they’re minor and can be easily navigated even by a river newbie.  

The float from Sunrise to Ancil Hoffman takes about two hours. Once you see the designated spot to get out, start paddling. The water can move fast and it’s important to give yourself plenty of space to hit the landing spot.

After getting out of the water,  the only thing left to do is fire up the BBQ. A couple of people can drive back to the starting point to pick up the other cars.  

Let us know your favorite river spots and float-hacks in the comments.

 Summer Guide

Melody Stone

Former Interactive Producer

After working in newspapers and doing print journalism for years, Melody transitioned into digital marketing and design. With a healthy blend of journalistic and digital media skills she builds out interactive web stories for Capradio.org.  Read Full Bio 

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