Written by Angela Goodwin

So, you want to raft a river? How do you know where to start? What to do? Should you go with an experienced guide?

Courtesy of Alaska Mountain Guides

Courtesy of Alaska Mountain Guides

Rafting usually involves different degrees of whitewater. The sport involves enormous amounts of fun, but it can be dangerous without the proper experience and knowledge.

Taking a few float trips down a river with experienced guides might just be the first step you should take. Not only will you see firsthand what it’s like to be in a raft in varying degrees of whitewater, but you’ll begin to get a feel for how it maneuvers in fast water.

Whitewater is classed in grades generally from a Class I, which is easily maneuverable, to a Class VI, which is extremely dangerous. It can change easily with the seasons, too.

Know the weather before going out. It plays a large part in all areas of watersports. Depending on location, rivers can rise rapidly during heavy rains, or from the melting snow of spring run-off.

While on the water always wear the most important safety gear, which includes a helmet, PFD (personal floatation device), and appropriate footwear (closed toe shoes for protection). It is important that each of these items fit properly for the best protection.

Courtesy of Alaska Mountain Guides

Courtesy of Alaska Mountain Guides

Will you need a wet or dry suit? Well, according to the American Canoe Association (ACA), if water temperatures are below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or the combination of water and air temperature is below 120 degrees Fahrenheit, a wetsuit should be worn, or a dry suit is highly recommended.

What should be on the raft? – Equipment and gear on the raft, Ore rafts require: ores, frames to attach the ores to, straps to attach the frame, extra straps, carabiner, (a metal loop with a spring gate used to attach vital gear to the raft), pulleys, runners, throw bags, spare ores and/or paddles, extra ropes and straps to secure all objects, and dry bags, which are used for stowing sleeping bags, tents, cooking utensils, extra clothing, food, personal medicine and a first aid kit.

Overnight trips: Everything above, some of these things might need to be different depending on your location, air temperature, and weather conditions.

Preparing and booking a trip: How many people and ages of all of those in the group? Many rafting companies have a minimum age for those seeking greater than a Class III trip.

Courtesy of Alaska Mountain Guides

Courtesy of Alaska Mountain Guides

Can you swim? According to many rafting outfits, a non-swimmer can only float up to a Class III rapid, mainly due to safety concerns. Although a personal floatation device will keep you afloat in rough water, swimming will help the pick-up crew pull you out of the water much quicker, if you happen to get thrown in.

How long of a trip would you like to plan? Many outfits have anything from a few hours to a few days or over a week.

Prices depend on the number of people in your group, how many days you will be on the river, and the Class of rapids you are requesting. Some companies offer a fish-and-float package or a combination of hiking and rafting.

A Brief History:

Rafting has been around for hundreds of years. Not only was rafting used for traveling, it was used to transport goods.

Some of the first rafts built were made from logs, tied together by natural materials such as vines.

Another raft called a keelboat was steered by ores and propelled by ores or paddles. Occasionally they were fitted with sails. These were mainly passenger boats.

Today rafts are mainly made out of synthetic materials, but are still propelled by oars or paddles.

What are the perks of rafting a river?

Feeling the rush of adrenaline as the raft climbs over waves and drops, leaving your mind with nothing to do but concentrate on the fun you are having.

Life is fun when you are on a raft in the middle of nowhere, paddling through canyons and mountains, dodging boulders and getting wet.

Jumping on board and learning a new sport that puts you out in the middle of it all.

Here are a few rivers in the United States that look like a great time:

Colorado River: The river runs through Colorade, Utah, and Arizona and has whitewater from Class I to Class V.

Salmon River, the Middle Fork: It flows through Idaho and has a Class IV rating.

Arkansas River: The river runs through Colorado and has up to a Class IV rating.

Deschutes River: It runs through Oregon and has a Class III rating.

Green River: It runs through Utah and has a Class II to III rating.

Tatsenshini River: It runs through Yukon and British Columbia in Canada before flowing into Alaska. Eventually, it meets up with the Alsek River and runs into Dry Bay, Alaska. The river is classed as a III to IV depending on the water level.

Rogue River: A Class IV river that runs through Oregon.

Niagara River: This is a Class V river that runs through New York State.

Gale River: A Class I to IV river that runs through New Hampshire.

Penobscot River: This is a Class III to V river and flows through Maine.

Housatonic River: This river runs through Connecticut and is considered a Class I through V.

Gauley River: It runs through West Virginia and is considered a Class IV through V or more. Please remember that these rivers are all subject to change due to rainfall, snowmelt, and dams being opened and closed. Consider this as a guide only, if you decide to float one of these rivers, talk to a professional who has experience on the river you have decided on.

While on your trip, please remember to Leave Nothing Behind and have a great time.

Here are a few places to start looking for rafting equipment:





Or, simply look around on the Internet.

Here are a few companies I found that may help you get started:














A special thank you to Sean Gaffney of Alaska Mountain Guides for help with this article.

Books I found in the library:

Whitewater Rafting: An Introductory Guide

Whitewater Rafting in Western North America