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A raft of options from lazy days to overnight

A guided whitewater rafting trip costs $100 to $150 per person, based on duration, special requests and the outfitter chosen. Discounting usually starts with groups of 12. Gear and lunch are included.

Our 11-mile trip on the south fork of the American River -- from Camp Lotus near Coloma to Folsom Lake -- lasted from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., including a lunch stop. Most outfitters also offer two-day trips with overnight camping.

Who goes rafting?

"We have people from every demographic group you can imagine," said W.E.T. River Trips manager Betty Lopez, who has rafted the south fork "about 400 times."

"We do a lot of bachelor parties, corporate team-building trips, birthday parties, anniversaries and family reunions, and we take friends and families who just want to have fun on the river," she said.

"We also customize a lot of trips for groups, depending on their needs. The number of reservations coming in this year has been phenomenal. I hear through the outfitters grapevine that everybody has had a bump-up (in business)."

The industry is heavily regulated, Lopez said, with state and federal agencies overseeing licensing and rafting operations. Four agencies are involved on the south fork alone.

W.E.T. River Trips: (916) 451-3241, (888) 723-8938 or www.raftwet.com.

Self-guided trips

As a tamer option to guided whitewater rafting, beginners can organize a group of friends, break out the water cannons and rent a raft. At one time, 20 such rental companies operated west of Folsom Dam. Only two are left, River Rat and American River Raft Rentals, both of which opened in 1974.

They offer six-mile self-guided trips for fees based on raft size, which works out to less than $14 a person, including the shuttle ride back to the put-in point near Sunrise Boulevard and Highway 50. Trips last three to four hours, depending on river flow and how many stops rafters make. The water on this stretch is mostly flat, with a couple of Class II rapids.

Both companies are open now, but 80 percent of their business is between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It's not unusual for more than 1,000 rafters to cruise the river over any given summer weekend. Not surprisingly, the nickname for this stretch of the American River is the "Beer Run."

"We get two types of groups -- church, youth and family; and those who want to party," said River Rat owner Randy Calvin. "It's the cheapest thing you can do for a daylong activity."

River Rat: 4053 Pennsylvania Ave., Fair Oaks, (916) 966-6777, (800) 500-7238 and www.river-rat.com.

American River Raft Rentals: 11257, S. Bridge St., Rancho Cordova, (916) 635-6400, (888) 338-7238 and www.raftrentals.com.

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