The rush of floating down a river. The anticipation of what lies ahead as your raft turns a corner. These sensations amplified by the beauty that surrounds you are unmatched in their ability to make us feel present and take stock in the vibrancy of life. River rafting is the ultimate social distancing escape and a perfect way to cool down on a hot summer day. Whether you are venturing out with your family or trusted friends, there’s no doubt that time spent on the river will not only boost your morale after months at home, but it will also help you make lasting memories.
Similar to RV travel, rafting has become an increasingly popular activity in a world still grappling with COVID-19. Given that it’s an eco-friendly, human-powered activity that almost anyone can enjoy, it’s no surprise that rafting will continue to dominate travelers’ must-do lists this summer and early fall.
Here, experts from whitewater rafting outfitters from around the country share tips and safety precautions to plan the best river rafting trip this summer.
Talk To Experts And Read Reviews
“If you’re not sure what trip is right for you, talk to the experts. Read the online descriptions and reviews to help you make the decision,” suggests Roger Wilson, CEO of Adventures on the Gorge (AOTG) in West Virginia. If you already have a rafting outfitter in mind, talk to its sales agents and get their insights, recommends Wilson.
Rick Blanchard of Wyoming River Trips suggests people to ask a lot of questions. “Anyone with questions or concerns should call and discuss them. And look at Trip Advisor and other reviews when trying to decide on an experience”. For beginners, Wyoming River Trips offers tame rafting on the Shoshone River, which runs through the town of Cody.
Find The Right Level
Based on your experience and who is in your group, choose the right river and level for your adventure. If you are looking for a calm day out on the water, choose a stretch that’ll allow you to gently float down, with occasional breaks to swim and splash around. For a more heart-pumping adventure filled outing with drops, consult with the outfitter to find an advance class trip that is a good match for your skill level.
Wilson says, “The New River is a great river for new rafters because different sections provide different experiences. The Upper New River has gentle rapids, which is especially great for kids. The Lower New River has bigger rapids but is still easy to paddle.”
If you are traveling with kids, ask questions about the outfitter’s experience rafting with young ones, suggests Steve Lentz, owner of Far and Away Adventures in Sun Valley, Idaho.
“Make sure they have child-sized personal floatation devices and wetsuits. Find out about any off-the-river child-focused activities like camp games and guided hikes,” says Lentz. He encourages first-timers to also inquire about different types of boats, special menus for kids, and any tasks that guests are expected to perform while on the outing.
Guide-To-Guest Ratio And Training
Before booking, find out about the guide-to-guest ratio and the amount of training guides go through. A good ratio on a typical rafting trip is a guide for every six guests.
“Ask about guide training and how long guides have been with the company. Find out if guides have Wilderness First Responder Certificates. It’s important to have guides who are good with and like kids. Above all, if you have any concerns or questions, ask them,” emphasizes Lentz.
Dress Appropriately And Pack Light
“Dress for the weather and the water temperature. When the water is cold, you’ll want to wear a splash jacket, wetsuit and neoprene gloves and booties. In the warm weather, a swimsuit and quick-drying shirt. No cotton,” suggests Wilson. If you are wearing sunglasses, secure them with a strap. And be sure to use water-proof shoes or strapped sandals. Under no circumstances should you wear flip flops.
Before packing, consult the outfitter’s packing lists and plan accordingly. A few packing essentials include sunscreen, a wide brim hat, waterproof case for your phone, and energy bars/snack (if not provided by the outfitter). A water bottle that can be secured to a rope, will also come in handy.
Bring a rain jacket even if the forecast doesn’t indicate rain. “Rain is always possible in the mountains and it’s important to be prepared,” says Zach Collier, with Northwest Rafting in Hood River, Oregon.
“Don’t bring too much stuff. It’s amazing how little you need when you’re on the river. More stuff means more fiddling with your stuff,” recommends Collier.
Listen To Your Guide(s)
It’s important to listen to guides and be honest about your needs on the river. “While your safety is always paramount, AOTG guides are trained to sense how their guests are responding to the experience, and there are some things they can do – such as rearrange seating in the boat – to make guests more comfortable,” says Wilson.
“When first-timers get into that raft, they should know exactly what to do for maximum fun while staying safe,” says Andy Neinas, owner of Colorado’s Echo Canyon River Expeditions. The guides at Echo Canyon River Expeditions get intensive training to learn ways to establish a good rapport and communicate clearly with the guests.
Be Upfront About Medical Issues
“First-time rafters should also be up front about any medical issues, no matter what they are. Guests should also bring medications such as asthma inhalers,” says Neinas.
Before COVID-19, guests were allowed to store their medications in a collective dry bag, but to minimize contact with others, it’s recommended that you bring your own small dry bag or zip-loc bag (secured in a zippered pocket) to store medications.
COVID-19 Safety Precautions
Check the outfitter’s COVID-19 response before booking your trip. Find out if the staff are screened daily and are required to wear face coverings. Note that they may not wear a face covering while guiding the raft. Make sure that robust cleaning routines are in place so that all surfaces guests come in contact with, including helmets and PFDS, are sanitized properly and that food staff are following health department guidelines. Use the hand wash station and hand sanitizer prior to trip departure, as well as immediately after the trip.
The river is calling. What are you waiting for? Have a grand and safe trip on the waves and rapids.