Oh the magic of Rivers. Few out door adventures offer the ability to completely escape day to day life the way river trips do. When you put on the river and float downstream, often cut off from roads and cell service, it can be liberating and scary. Once the put-in is out of sight you don’t miss what you have left behind, rivers in the West will amaze you with their scenery, wildlife, geology, flora and history.
Your guides will teach you different paddle strokes and go over commands so you and your fellow rafters can work together as a team. Once the instruction is taken care of your guide will undoubtedly entertain you with history, fun facts and many a tall tale. River trips allow you to have a wilderness experience while being self-supported and self contained. It’s an amazing way to experience the outdoors with family and friends. Bonds made on the river endure, as you really learn to trust each other and work together as a team.
Whether you are floating calm water or navigating challenging rapids rafting out West has something for everyone. Fortunately rafting in the West offers something for every ability and thrill level. You can tour the states and get to know the best of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona on a variety of rafting trips for every level. Below I listed some of my favorite rivers for whitewater rafting. Outfitters offer a variety of trips that make it possible to slip away for a few hours, days or even longer. Most outfitters can customize trips for groups and help you find lodging, places to eat and other area attractions.
The Royal Gorge is the deepest canyon in Colorado. Just a mere 50 ft wide at the bottom, Royal Gorge is a 10-mile steep narrow canyon on the Arkansas River. The canyon features spectacular 1000-foot granite cliffs and you’ll float under the Royal Gorge Bridge, one of the highest suspension bridges in the world at 1118 feet above the ground. You will paddle like you mean it as you ride the big waves through rapids like Sunshine Falls, Wall Slammer and Boat Eater. With class III-IV whitewater the Royal Gorge offers some of the best whitewater rafting in Colorado.
The Snake River-Wyoming
Few Rivers can complete with the views of the Snake River, depending on which section you raft you’ll be looking at the Teton Mountain Range, Grey’s national Forest and the limestone cliffs of the Snake River Canyon. Eagles, moose, osprey and beavers are just a few of the wild animals you will see. With rapids ranging from mild to wild, there is something for everyone. The Snake River is a very family friendly river to raft. You can expect to hear many tales of the Old West as this area has a colorful and rich history.
The confluence of the Colorado and Green River forms the spectacular start to Cataract Canyons, a 100-mile long whitewater canyon through Canyonlands. With whitewater rapids ranging in difficulty from III-IV, combined with peaceful stretches of whitewater that Cataract Canyons provides a truly stunning adventure. As the river makes it way through Canyonlands you can explore pictographs and native America Ruins and experience the unique geology of Southern Utah.
The Grand Canyon- Arizona
Stretching 277 miles across Northern Arizona the Grand Canyon is easily the crown jewel of the west. Due to the extreme ranges in elevation (from 2400 Feet to over 7000 ft above sea level) the Grand Canyon has the biggest and wildest rapids of them all with names like House Rock Rapid, Sheer Wall Rapid and Lava Falls. The Grand Canyon is a must do for serious whitewater enthusiasts. Trips on the Canyon range from 1 day to 14 days (shorter trips are available but you have to be able to hike in or out of the Canyon on very strenuous trails). Grand Canyon trips are as much about experiencing the rapids as they are about exploring the side canyons and that can only be reached from the river, camping every night and relaxing through the long stretches of flat water.
No matter which river you raft you should know a few basics to make your trip more enjoyable:
The clothing you chose to wear rafting needs to be comfortable and performance oriented. You are going to be in water and working hard. You need clothes that will keep you warm even when you are wet. Even in warm weather you can catch a chill in the shade, so dressing in light layers is recommended.
Neoprene booties can keep your feet warm in cold water, and will protect your feet when you are walking around the beach or on rocks. Another option for warmer weather is a ‘river sandal’ that can be paired with a synthetic sock in colder temps. Sandals are more versatile but many outfitters rent booties and you have to buy river sandals.
The outfitter you book your trip with will provide the specialty and safety equipment you need for your trip. Equipment you need includes: a pfd (personal flotation device), a paddle and a helmet. Many outfitters also rent wet suits and specialty jackets and pants to help keep you warm in cold water and cold weather.
Eyeglass retaining strap. If you wear eyeglasses or sunglasses on the river you absolutely must have a strap. Your glasses will come off and fall in the river. Most outfitters have a large assortment of eye glass retainers, so pick one up before your trip.
Sunscreen: You might not feel the burning rays of the sun as you charge through the rapids but guaranteed you will feel them after your trip. Apply liberally before you head out and ask your guide if they can keep it for you, so you can re-apply at lunch.
Ball Caps (they’re uncomfortable under helmets)
These items are non-essentials and you will not need them on your trip. If you take them be prepared for them to get damaged, wet, or to get lost. Outfitters take you directly to the river and bring you straight back after your trip. If you are going on a multi-day trip and want to take a camera or a phone, ask your outfitter for their best advice (ie: is there a safe dry place for your electronics, can you re-charge your phone)
White Water Rafting Safety
1) Go with an experienced and reputable Outfitter.
2) Listen to your guide: guides are experienced and want you to have fun and stay safe. Ask them questions and let them know if you don’t understand their directions.
3) Don’t go from 0 to Class V; if an outfitter advertises a trip and says you need experience, I recommend that you listen and start off with an easier section of river, get some experience and then do the hard stuff. You’ll have a lot more fun, less fear and you won’t endanger anyone else on the trip.
4) Wear shoes and all of your safety gear at all times when you are in the water.
5) Drink lots of water and eat when you are hungry! So many people forget to drink water when they are floating on it.
6) Be open to the adventure and have fun.
Rafting in the West brings all the elements of a truly great adventure together: enjoyable whitewater, spectacular scenery, wild life and the opportunity to dis-connect from day to day life. If your idea of outdoor adventure is paddling through roaring rapids, floating through pools, exploring river canyons, spectacular scenery, and visiting with wildlife than whitewater rafting is definitely for you. The friendships and the memories made on the river stay with you for life. “The song of the River ends not at her banks but in the hearts of those who have loved her.” Buffalo Joe
Filed Under: Best of Travel