Plan your Whitewater Vacation!

Because there is nothing like being on the river!

How to plan a personal River Trip

Step 1: Which river should I paddle?

If you have the time and experience, why not plan your own river trip? The first step is to figure out what river you want to go on. The western US many different ecosystems ranging from desert corridors to high alpine waterways. Each area requires different camping skills. Along with the surrounding environment, each river has a unique classification ranging from Class I - easy small moving water with small waves, to Class IV - intense powerful but predictable rapids requiring skills. The river classification for each river changes depending on the time of year. Rivers that are not dam controlled will experience high water (generally more difficult) in the spring and low water (generally less difficult) later in the summer.

Step 2: Can I do it?

Now comes the big question. Do we as a group have the skills and necessary equipment to successfully run the river? If you want to organize your own river trip make sure you have prepared thoroughly, obtained all required information and skills to run the particular section of river. Even if a river is rated Class I, there are inherent risks with running any class of whitewater. If you want to run a particular trip and you feel you don’t possess the skills or equipment, it is best to use an outfitter.

Step 3: Who should you invite?

This can be a tough question for the trip leader. Sometimes it is best to ask around to see who has the time and skills required for a possible trip. Once you have your group you can better decide which river might be most appropriate.

Step 4: When should I go?

The busy time of year for most rivers is the summer season. But there are rivers that are busy year round such as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Most of the western multi day rivers require permits, and it takes luck to win some of the lotteries. However, don’t give up if you put in and don’t receive a launch date. Folks do cancel and if you are someone who is a diehard, keep calling the respective agency. Also remember desert rivers tend to be extremely hot in the summer.

Step 5: How long is the trip?

Each river has a recommended time and permitted rivers have maximum time on the river during periods of heavy use. The period of time can be dictated by the managing agency. For example, the middle fork of the Salmon has a varying maximum number of nights per launch depending on group size. When the water levels drop later in the summer, the time it takes to navigate the river increases. It really depends on the river so research the river you plan on running and have fun in the process. 

Step 6: Do I need to obtain a permit?

Most rivers in the west require a permit. There are times to apply for a permit for some rivers. There are rivers that you can call on the day of to get a permit, and do not require a permit at all. Check out each river and see what is required.

Step 7: What water craft should I use?

Most trips consist of rafts which haul the gear and passengers with one person rowing the boat. Paddle rafting is a great way to run a river but these rafts don’t generally carry gear. Another great option is canoeing: a canoe can carry gear, although much less than a raft. When researching your river trip, some trips are much more conducive to canoeing, such as the Missouri River.

Step 8: How do I find a shuttle service?

Back in time, river runners used their thumbs, multiple vehicles or their feet and they still do. Now there are lots of services that will run your vehicle from the take-out to the put-in for you. Some rivers also have jet boat shuttles. These can be a little more expensive but less time consuming.

Step 9: How should I plan the food and group gear?

If you want to run your own trip but don’t want to bother with gear and food, you can hire a company that will set you up. You arrive at the put-in and your raft is rigged with equipment, food and supplies. All you have to do is pack your personal gear in a dry bag and tie it down. Once you complete your trip you take your personal gear and leave the de-rigging and cleaning to the hired company.  This is great option for those traveling a long distance to the river or those who don’t have all the gear.