double click11 Myths of Whitewater Rafting - Western River Blog

11 Myths of Whitewater Rafting

MYTH #1- “Rafting is for adrenaline junkies”

We know that the videos and photos of extreme (extremely questionable) rafting antics seem to be the most viral, but they only perpetuate the myth. Trust us, not every rafting trip is extreme, in fact most are great for just about anyone. Like a caffeinated beverage, they will all stimulate your senses, but there is a wide variety. Even the packaging helps, such as Western River’s patented J-Rig boat that matches the size of the waves in Cataract Canyon or Grand Canyon to combine maximum ride with maximum safety and comfort. Kind of like a smooth Cappuccino? The result is that even first-time river rafters can enjoy some of the largest whitewater in North America.

Whatever the case, you should know that river rafting is very popular among the “Bucket-Listers” and active “kids” between the ages of 40 to 70. If you don’t know what a “bucket list” is, then you’re too young to get it.


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MYTH #2- “I will be sitting on a raft all day”

First of all, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would hurl rocks at you if you complained about sitting on a raft all day long. But even they had their adventures off the raft. Each day of a river trip offers something new around the corner. In fact, on a multi-day rafting trip, you’ll generally spend much more time out of the raft than in it. One day it may be catching a short hike to a moonshiner’s cabin, or pondering Native American etchings into prehistoric stone, or jumping into a waterfall hole, or climbing for an hour to a photographic vista you couldn’t possibly contain in a photo. You might think you can’t contain yourself in a raft all day, but more accurately, you will not be able to contain the adventures you’ll encounter into anything coherent and describable to anyone back home. Maybe that’s why the myth continues…people just can’t find the right way to describe the magic experience of a river rafting trip.


P.S. You should get familiar with Western’s patented J-Rig raft if you’re uncertain about the small rafts you’re accustomed to seeing on rafting trips.

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MYTH #3- “There’s only canned food on rafting trips”

Here’s food for thought: Western River Expeditions’ J-Rig raft carries 750 pounds of ice per trip down the Grand Canyon. We’re not giving out any secrets about our fresh salads, fresh fruits, grilled meats, and ice-cold dessert items, but 750 pounds of ice is certainly not for keeping canned food cold! Sure, these are expeditions into remote wilderness canyons, but who says you can’t combine a little bon appetit with your bon voyage! (Various and sundry food supplies per trip totaling over 1000 pounds include: 24 pounds of bacon,14 bunches of bananas, 360 eggs, 30 kiwi, 70 apples, 65 oranges,100 gallons of lemonade mix and 128 pounds of the finest BBQ charcoal briquettes. Oh yeah, and one large jicama).


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MYTH #4- “I have to enjoy camping”

Many guests with Western River experience camping for the first time in their lives. Do they have to enjoy it? Well, they don’t have to like witnessing the Milky Way up close and personal, under a cloudless night of endless stars. While they say their lives will never be the same again… they don’t have to enjoy it! They don’t have to enjoy having mouth-watering meals prepared for them for up to 7 days, dining under golden sunsets as the river rolls by at their feet. They don’t have to enjoy resetting their internal clocks by the rising and setting of the sun, or bathing in a cool river before bedtime…but they DO enjoy it.

If you’re still not sure about the camping part of it, you can run the Rogue River in Oregon where you stay each night in a different lodge along the river for 3 or 4 nights. You’re out of excuses now.


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MYTH #5- “There are no bathroom facilities on rafting trips”

Warning: There will be no clever double meanings in the busting of this myth. This is serious business. Rest assured, thousands of guests we host down the river each year have been just fine with both the privacy and the accessibility of the two systems we provide. Yes, we set up bathroom facilities at camp each night. Other than a flushing handle, these toilet facilities are just like you are familiar with at home. You may find a large enclosed tent in a remote corner of the camp. The second option is down a designated trail, outside of camp, to a highly secluded area, which is off-limits for any other use except the one person at a time who uses it. It is worth mentioning that you’ll never find a view from the bathroom facilities quite like the ones we provide at each camp. We recommend you experience them for yourself – and, of course, by yourself! Both of these facilities are regulated through a staging area next to a hand wash system that ensures our guests’ privacy while using it. Hey, it’s not as complicated as the stuff the NSA does, but it may provide better privacy! Very clear instructions will be provided during the camp orientation by your guides.

During the day we issue a self-contained disposal kit for solid waste which can be carried off to any private location if anyone ever requests a stop for this purpose. We also take frequent comfort stops during the day. On the river, daytime temperatures can often be quite warm. Most guests jump in the river to cool off frequently, while taking care of other needs at the same time (liquid waste only, of course). We also have tents available to set up in camp for changing clothes, often the natural vegetation provides nice private areas for campers.


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MYTH #6- “I have to be a good swimmer”

Swimming is for the Olympics and the English Channel. The first plan is always to stay in the boat, but if you find yourself having an “out of boat experience” on a rafting trip, the proper technique is more like “orchestrated floating,” than swimming. The orchestrated part will be explained by your guides when you get to the river, while the floating part is far easier than you may think. After all, you’ll literally be wearing a tightly-buckled Personal Flotation Device (PFD) at all times on the river, in case you have a “personal flotation experience.” Involuntary personal flotation experiences are not very common, but if it happens, you’ll need to be comfortable making active strokes in the water to propel yourself toward a safer place (ie. towards the boat or the shore). Either way, you won’t have to be concerned whether you will sink or float if you are wearing your PFD properly.


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MYTH #7- “The best rapids are gone after spring runoff”

The more water in a river, the bigger the rapids, right? Not always. Every rapid is caused by the surrounding terrain: canyon walls, boulders, gravel bars, and constriction within the channel. If the volume of water increases to the point where the boulders on the river bottom are far below the water’s surface, then a rapid will wash out. Sometimes the boulders that seem high and dry during late summer flows become rapids-forming boulders in the higher water of spring runoff (and vice versa). In other words, it is relative. One absolute, however, is that high flows mean swifter water while low flow means slower water speeds. Lower water can give a guide more time to react between obstacles, but it can also reveal more obstacles! Also remember that dams can regulate a river to the point that high or low flows of spring and fall are virtually forgotten. The Snake River through Hell’s Canyon is dam regulated and so is the Colorado River through Grand Canyon and the Rogue River in Oregon.


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MYTH #8- “The quality of the trip depends on guides and outfitter”

The quality of your experience, the standard bar of river lore, canyon history and all-round “info-tainment” will increase with outfitters that specifically select their guides for such qualities. Western River guides know how to tell a joke, tie a knot, cook a meal, dress a certifiable boo-boo, lead a talent night competition, pontificate on a variety of topics from ancient philosophy to modern day astrophysics. Western River Expeditions has a unique hiring philosophy: Individuals are selected for the extraordinary personalities and then trained “in-house” with skills like river navigation, whitewater rescue, geology, culinary arts, wilderness first aid, and more. In fact, every Western River guide will have had over 300 hours of training before guiding their first guest down the river.


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MYTH #9- “I have to be athletic to enjoy rafting”

Athletic people may have an advantage when compared to, let’s say, clumsy people. But if you can grip a rope, walk, step over stuff, occasionally do a slow-motion butt slide, and carry a bag to your campsite in soft sand, then you’re golden. We often tease that the only true requirement of a river trip is being able to get in and out of the raft! True, some of those maneuvers are not done on a daily basis in regular life, but they don’t require athleticism, or even grace – especially on a rafting trip. Yes, we do have short hikes. Yes, these hikes are optional, but they lead to majestic waterfalls and slot canyons, so you won’t want to miss them! Pre-conditioning for your “Trip of a Lifetime” is always a good idea. Being self-aware (aware your surroundings, and what you’re capable of) is far more important on a rafting trip than athleticism alone. After all, sometimes over-confidence can be a detriment. It’s also worth a word that river trips have a way of revealing that we are more capable than we may think we are – sometimes we shatter the comfort zone shackles we never realized were there. That’s part of what makes a rafting trip so life-changing!


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MYTH #10- “I will miss my electronic devices”

We do important things in our day-to-day lives, and we rely on little rechargeable devices to get those important things done. It can be hard to imagine leaving all that important stuff behind. The funny thing is, we hardly ever forget to recharge those devices each night, but sometimes forget the importance of recharging our own batteries! Ironically, humans have to unplug in order to recharge. So many other vacations allow at least a trickle connection to drain that precious unplugged recharge. It really can be hard to not “check in” when the access is available. A multi-day rafting trip is one of the last vacations on the planet where you can truly disconnect.

Give yourself the gift of true “roaming” mode on a longer trip like the Grand Canyon 6 or 7 day trip, or the Desolation Canyon 5 Day, Cataract Canyon 4 Day, or any trip Western River offers in Idaho. Life on the river is so straightforward and simple. The linear flow of events unfold on a river trip in a way that is very different from regular life “up on the rim” where life comes at you in all directions. You’ll feel untethered, and it will be a feeling you’ll want to share with the world – once you plug back in!


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MYTH #11- “Rafting is the same no matter where you go”

Going whitewater rafting before you kick that proverbial bucket might satisfy the bragging right, but if you think it’s the same no matter where you go – or that going just once will do, then you’re missing the boat, or boats, as it were. Every river trip is unique, even if you do the same run every time. There is hardly a way to see everything the canyons of the West offer in just one run! You might think you’ve seen what there was to see, but then a second trip reveals new side canyon gems you never knew were there on the first trip through. As you begin to explore the various rivers of the West, you find not only obvious differences in canyon landscapes and vegetation, but you see that each river and canyon has its own personality and temperament.


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If you don’t have a “bucket list” yet, then you may want to get busy making one that includes a river rafting expedition – But don’t forget what John Lennon said about making plans: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Don’t hesitate – especially now that the myths you’ve read about here have been resolved. “Climb aboard, we’re expecting you!”

Do you agree with our list? Did we miss anything? Share this page with a friend you think needs it, and get a conversation going… Let’s bust some myths!

Choose Your Next Trip

Kam Wixom
Kam began guiding in the Grand Canyon in 1991, met & guided with his wife in 2000, and is the proud daddy of 5 kids. He now works as the Marketing Director for Western River Expeditions.
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