You’re invited to join outdoor and river enthusiasts in a national celebration of rivers! Whether you’re floating down a lazy river, fishing in a clear eddy or charging through churning whitewater, river trips are fun and fascinating. They’re more than a once-in-a-lifetime experience -- they can also improve your health as part of a river-lovin’ lifestyle.
Come explore deep gorges, serene stretches of meandering channels and exhilarating rapids by planning an adventure on a wild and scenic river.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a historic landmark in river conservation. Since 1968, 12,734 miles of some of the nation’s most impressive rivers have been protected in their free-flowing state. What better way to celebrate our nation’s rivers than by enjoying some river time with friends and family?
Like any trip, it’s important to plan beforehand so you’re prepared to embark. Trip preparation reduces risks and helps everyone in your group have a safer and more enjoyable experience.
River trips come in many different flavors. Different watercrafts allow you to experience various aspects of rivers. Kayaks, canoes, and rafts are great for both quiet and rapid water. Are you interested in a more individualized immersion on the water? Consider a boat you can pilot yourself, like a kayak. Are you interested in using teamwork to get down a stretch of river? Check out canoes and rafts.
Inner tubes and stand up paddle boards are a lot of fun for calmer stretches -- and maybe some simple rapid sections. Inner tubes are generally easier to get a hold of and use, while stand up paddle boards give you a chance to challenge yourself and your balance. Whatever you choose, you will walk away with a unique and truly memorable experience!
Looking to start your adventure? Check out the National Rivers Project and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Map to find a designated river near you.
By design, a river trip means you need to literally go with the flow. You should be prepared to work with the river while you’re on it, which means understanding the river’s fast and slow currents as well as where they may take you.
What is whitewater? It’s river currents that bounce off boulders to form frothy waves. Whitewater can be lots of fun in a raft or boat. It also means business, so you should have the skills to safely navigate rapids before attempting whitewater sections of river. Knowing the international standard levels of whitewater difficulty will help you choose the best experience for you and your group:
You have many options to get out on the water, whether you go through a commercial outfitter or on your own personalized trip with your friends and personal equipment. The choice depends on your expertise level, type of river trip and preference.
New to the river? Seek a commercial outfitter to rely on their river expertise and paddling gear. They may also provide you with a guide, trip itinerary, safety instructions, meals and shuttle back to your vehicle especially for multi-day trips. Some outfitters only rent canoes and kayaks but are often happy to provide basic shuttle services too. Another option is to hit the water with a friend who has experience.
Experienced paddlers may choose to plan their own trips, which allow more flexibility for the group to enjoy the river at its own pace. Remember, you’re responsible for planning the trip, securing appropriate permits and ensuring everyone in the group has a safe and enjoyable time. Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help you get started!
Additionally, at least one person in your group should know first aid and what to do in the event of an emergency. Find wilderness first aid course near you.
When choosing a paddling trip, understand that there is a chance you could end up in the river -- either from a flip or from being tossed overboard. It happens to the best of us. That means, you must be a competent swimmer. Rivers can have cold and fast currents, so be honest about your own swimming and paddling abilities when you’re picking a stretch of river, and choose a trip with a level of difficulty that matches your skills.
The same goes for a group trip on the river. Make sure you know what your fellow tubers, paddlers and anglers are comfortable with before you hop in the car and head out for your adventure. The trip you design should suit the most inexperienced members in your group. Agree on a buddy system and stay together as a team.
If you’re with a commercial group, listen to your guide and follow instructions. And remember, sometimes the best option for getting down a section of river may be to portage around the rapids.
Some rivers -- especially wild and scenic rivers -- are so popular that they require permits to launch. If you’re planning your own trip, look online to see if you need to get a permit in advance of running the river you’ve chosen.
Just like any trip outdoors, the weather and other conditions (like streamflow) are subject to change and should influence your planning. Check weather forecasts and river gauge levels. If you’re planning a trip on a dam-controlled river, search how releases of water from the dam will affect levels while you’re on the water. Plan your arrival time and estimate your trip duration with time to spare. Talking to rangers and other boaters when you arrive will help you learn if there’s anything unusual or notable on the water. If you’re on a commercial trip, your guide will know current river conditions and plan accordingly.
Is your trip an overnight fishing trip on the Missouri Wild and Scenic River in Montana, or is it a splashy afternoon on the White Salmon Wild and Scenic River in Washington? Knowing these specifics will help you plan out how much food, water and other gear you will need to pack. Things to consider for your river trip:
Now that you’ve checked off all your preparations, it’s time to get out on the water and have some fun! Throughout your trip, make sure you and everyone in your group live by the three H’s of outdoor recreation: stay happy, humble and hydrated. Ultimately, a safe trip is a happy trip!
And while you’re having fun, remember to Leave No Trace, be respectful to other guests and private landowners, and ALWAYS wear your life jacket. Contrary to what some may think, life jackets are quite fashionable in the river community. So wear it!
At the end of the day, you’re responsible for your own safety, starting before a trip is planned and after a trip has ended. Make decisions early in the trip planning process to prevent accidents and ultimately have a good time on the water. For more information about boating safety, check out the National Park Service’s boating safety website.
River trips are best when they’re shared, so bring friends and family along to make lasting memories. Post photos of your adventures on social media using the hashtags #findyourway and #makeyoursplash so others can learn about your experiences.
Whether you’re new to paddling or a veteran boater, 2018 is a great year to get out on a wild and scenic river!