The South Fork is a great starting river! I might be a little biased though... it’s my local river and I’ll be paddling it tomorrow! If it’s your first time rafting, I would start running the Gorge section, which is the lower part of the river. Right now flows are still high from our amazing snowpack, so if you want a calmer ride, wait another few weeks.
I can’t help much on the outfitter question, since a lot of my friends are guides, so I run mostly private trips. But they all guide for different outfitters, so I would feel good about all our local ones! One thing to think about when picking an outfitter is what kind of experience do you want? The more expensive ones will provide fancier lunches and nicer lunch spots. I always like sticking to a budget outfitter, enjoy my sandwich lunch and then checking out the local spots! Hit up the Argonaut for coffee before the trip and stop by Marcos for pizza and ambiance afterward! I’ll see you on the river or hanging out in Coloma!
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