Outfitters offer plenty of options, with trips that focus archaeology, wildlife photography, yoga and bluegrass music.
After riding the rapids of more than a dozen major streams on three continents, Bruce Legernes was looking for something a little different for his next trip.
It wasn't that he was bored. Whitewater outings are never a snooze.
Blasting through big waves, pinballing down boulder gardens and paddling as though your life depends on missing a giant obstacle (in some cases, this could be true) are guaranteed to get your juices flowing.
Legernes, who lives in San Luis Obispo, had found excitement in spades on streams as farflung as Northern California's Salmon, Chile's Bio Bio and the Zambezi, which forms the border between the African nations of Zimbabwe and Zambia.
But when a friend of the retired attorney suggested an OARS wine-tasting trip on the wild and scenic Tuolumne River, which tumbles through and then west out of Yosemite National Park, he didn't hesitate to sign on.
Legernes isn't alone in enjoying more eclectic whitewater experiences. And rafting outfitters have responded by offering a variety of options, with trips that focus on topics as diverse as archaeology, wildlife photography, yoga and bluegrass music.
Some even offer bachelor and bachelorette outings on California streams and rivers throughout the West. Others are aimed at families with kids as young as 7.
Legernes' August sojourn on the "T" featured not only three days of Class III and IV (challenging) rapids and magnificent scenery but also the chance to sip fine California wines after a day on the water.
Better yet, he got to learn from vintners Kate MacDonald and her husband, Boyle, of the Boyle MacDonald Winery about a variety of wines. To top that off, the wines were paired with special, gourmet meals made by Damon Jones, executive chef of the Ashland Springs Hotel in Oregon that made dinner seem a bit like dining at a fine restaurant.
"We learned a lot about wines from the foothills," says Legernes. "And the food was absolutely marvelous. We even had duck confit, cooked in its own fat right there along the river."
"It really added to running the Tuolumne, which is one fun river in any event," adds Legernes, who is considering another wine-tasting trip sometime downstream.
For Becky Yates, a veterinarian who lives in North Hollywood, rafting southern Oregon's Rogue River on an ECHO river trip turned her into a full-fledged bluegrass fan.
"Some friends invited me, and it was all very magical," says Yates, who had run the Trinity River years ago when she was a student at Humboldt State University in Arcata.
On the Class III (moderate) Rogue, Yates and her friends were serenaded by Berkeley-based, Grammy award-winning musician Laurie Lewis, who was accompanied by partner Tom Rozum.
"The Rogue is pristine, and the music they played fit it perfectly," says Yates. "I liked it so much I plan to do another bluegrass trip this July."
If you go on a whitewater trip with Susan Fox, she'll ease the pain of strenuous paddling with some of her favorite stretchy Vinyasa yoga poses.
Fox says she often starts the day with stretching on some Rogue River trips.
"We get going while the guides are making breakfast," says Fox, a former guide for ECHO who now lives with her husband, commercial photographer and former guide Peter Fox, and their two boys in Palo Alto. "It's nice to do some poses in the morning — while the guides are making breakfast — on an empty stomach."
Some of her favorites include downward facing dog, the triangle, the half moon and several of the warrior poses, all of which limber up various body parts.
"After sitting in a raft and paddling all morning, downward dog is nice because it stretches out the shoulders" and hamstrings, she says. "And 10 minutes or so of other stretchy poses before dinner, while you're watching the river roll by really can relax you for a pleasant meal."
As for those bachelor and bachelorette outings, Walnut Creek-based All-Outdoors can arrange for a mild-to-wild river send-off for the betrothed on any of the 10 stretches of streams it runs from the Klamath near the Oregon border to the Kaweah, which runs west of Sequoia National Park in the southern Sierra.
"We regularly customize these trips and have been doing them for about 10 years," says All Outdoors owner Scott Armstrong. "Once, we got veils for everyone who was part of a bachelorette party and they put them on their sun visors. And everyone gets a special T-shirt."
But Armstrong says the company warns participants that they probably don't want to spend the whole evening drinking after a day on the river — if they plan to boat the next day.
"Rafting isn't much fun with a bad hangover," he said. "But usually, people who do these are more into bonding than boozing it up. So commonly, who we get tend are pretty mellow people."
If you want to go all out, you can even get hitched along the river. All-Outdoors has a seven-acre property on the South Fork of the American River where it can host casual weddings. Better yet, it is next to the Lotus Inn and Café Mahjaic, good sites for wedding rehearsal dinners and hosting guests.