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Whitewater Rafting – It’s Easier Than You Think

By Christopher Pyle

Have you ever considered going on a whitewater rafting trip, but weren’t sure of what you were getting yourself into? Not to worry – you are not alone. This popular but elusive vacation option comes with its fair share of misconceptions around what to expect, how safe it is, and whether or not it is worth the money. Once you understand these elements, you will soon learn that this is one of the most doable, affordable, and valuable vacations around. Here are some tips that will answer all of those questions.

First things first – what is whitewater rafting? It is the maneuvering of a boat down a river. The term “raft” implies that the boat is a Coast Guard-approved raft (which we will explain in further detail in a bit). The raft can be used in a variety of ways – one person can operate it with large oars rigged to the raft, a group of individuals can hold paddles and follow the instructions given by their guide (the most common practice), or a combination of the two tactics, where the oarsman is responsible for the majority of the power and control and the individuals act as backup.

We all know what rivers are by sight, but the technical definition of a river is flowing water that works its way down an elevation, toward another body of water. Most rivers are given a classification of I-VI, based on the intensity of the rafting ride. A I is nearly flat and has almost no current, while class VI is un-raftable – whether that means a body of water as intense as Niagara Falls or as narrow as a trickle along the side of the road. The classification is specific to rafting, while other sports have their own unique classifications (for example, a kayak can maneuver in areas that may be un-raftable). For most people, class II to IV is doable, but class III offers the ideal rafting experience. The South Fork of the American River offers some great class III rafting and is extremely popular with a wide variety of audiences, including families, children as young as seven, youth groups, and even senior citizens.

A typical raft trip includes a professional guide. Whether this individual is male or female, the guide is a professional who makes a living guiding whitewater trips. Some of these guides even follow summer around the globe! As a result, many of the guides are international, so don’t be surprised to hear an Australian or Canadian accent on board! But no matter what the nationality, these guides know the river you are rafting and are used to individuals of all ability levels. They know how to read the river and navigate it, so rest assured that you are in good hands! Don’t forget to tip your guide at the end of the trip – this practice is quite common on the river.

Your trip also includes a whitewater raft (naturally). These boats are specifically designed for the purpose of whitewater rafting and are incredibly tough. There are two materials commonly used in crafting a raft: Hypalon (a rubber-based material) and Urethane/PVC (a plastic-based product). These boats can smash rocks, pound waves and take people climbing in and out of them for years before they need to be retired. Do make sure you rinse your feet before climbing into the raft, as sand is this boat’s worst enemy. It wears holes in the seams and causes leaks. The average whitewater raft costs nearly $5,000!

Unless you are in an oar-rigged raft, you will also receive a paddle, which you will use to help power the raft down the river. The paddles are around six feet long, and are made of an aluminum shaft, a durable plastic blade, and a plastic coasting.

Another important component of your rafting trip is getting fitted with a class V Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD). The vests float individuals of all shapes and sizes, and are the most buoyant, high-quality PFDs that exist.

It is also becoming more common for outfitters to provide helmets for their guests. The designs may not be identical, but the helmets have several common themes – they are lightweight, are designed to be used in the water, and are a GOOD IDEA. In other countries, helmets are a requirement, and U.S.-based outfitters that have been exposed to foreign guides are catching on and are mandating their clients to wear helmets as well. When you choose a rafting provider, find out if they require you to wear helmets.

Certain outfitters, including the vast majority of those on the American River, offer a gourmet-style deli lunch that is actually served during the trip, right on the river! Food options may vary but generally include two or three bread choices, lettuce tomato, avocado, sprouts, onions, two meats, two cheeses, mustard, mayonnaise, peanut butter and jelly, chips, fruit, cookies and water.

For rafters who are lucky enough to go on overnight trips, the rafting package includes two full days of rafting, two lunches, a breakfast, a dinner, and overnight accommodations at a campsite. The staff even prepare the meals for you!

The typical price for whitewater rafting is around $100 per person, per day. Considering everything that is included – professional guide, professional equipment, the opportunity to see the beauty of a river canyon from a unique vantage point, the opportunity to travel through whitewater rapids, excellent meals and lifelong memories – this is a very cost-effective vacation option.

The experience can be likened to a visit to Disneyland. Upon entering the park, you are not provided with meals or a professional guide, the experience is fun but somewhat artificial, and the price is tremendously higher per person, per day. Value is in the perception and knowledge of an experience. We hope that with this brief article, you will overcome any fears or trepidations and will encourage you to create your own lifelong memories with a whitewater rafting vacation!

Nature’s-Classroom is the leading provider of Whitewater Rafting summer camps in the United States. The parent organization, Action Whitewater Adventures, located on the American River, delivers world-class service for a unique rafting experience that anybody can enjoy!

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Pyle, Christopher "Whitewater Rafting – It’s Easier Than You Think." Whitewater Rafting – It’s Easier Than You Think. 6 Jul. 2010. 4 Aug 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Pyle, C (2010, July 6). Whitewater Rafting – It’s Easier Than You Think. Retrieved August 4, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Pyle, Christopher "Whitewater Rafting – It’s Easier Than You Think"

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