Here’s how to prepare for a guided river cruise
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A guided river cruise could be the perfect inland transition for people looking for an in-depth introduction to the outdoors.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the backcountry and I’ll admit I love it – it’s a hassle. I am responsible for my food, my equipment, my comfort and my sense of security.
If something goes wrong, I’m the captain now. I am a guide, cook, guide, maid and customer. I’m not always perfect in each of these roles. And I don’t always want to take it over. And I’ve done river trips before in the spirit of teamwork and independence.
But last week I had the pleasure of being a customer for the first time. For 5 days and 4 nights I put my security, my hunger, sense of direction, local knowledge and general basic supplies in the hands of four very experienced and extremely courteous river guides.
And wow guys. Everyone should be so lucky.
I flew them Green river through the gates of Lodore with Dinosaur River Expeditions in Vernal, Utah. Owners Tyler and Jen Callantine – and their mega talented group of guides – do everything for their guests. And they certainly set a high precedent for this article (and future river trips).
If you’re interested in an overnight guided river cruise, read on to learn what to expect and why to go.
A guided river cruise lasting several days: what to expect
Prior to travel
If you’re not used to packing for the outdoors, figuring out what you’ll need for a period of time with no access to the developed world can be overwhelming.
But a good tour guide will send a package with a lot of information. For my trip they sent papers that needed to be signed, a complete packing list meant for the time we would be on the river and a sample route.
As for equipment, many tour operators offer equipment for rent if you don’t have a suitable one, for example Sleeping bag or pad. Or maybe you need to rent a tent for the excursion. A good outfitter will do just that – make sure you are outfitted for whatever you need.
If you have any questions, please contact us! River guides are experienced nature lovers and have often done so. If answering your questions before a trip will help prevent something bad from happening or just make you feel more comfortable, they want to help.
I called and asked if I could bring my fishing gear and they gave me the green light. Pick up the phone and call. Or email with questions. You never know. But they definitely do.
Get on the river
Day one at the entrance to the gates of Lodore; (Photo / Nicole Qualtieri)
Orientation is always helpful, even if it is a bit dusty to hear. “I know, I know,” we all want to say. But rivers demand life – even on guided tours – and safety is important.
This was my first time whitewater rafting and I have to admit that I was a little nervous. Learning the various signals and safety precautions in case something should go wrong was important during prime time. Our lead guide Jakobe Mold said all of this very clearly and concisely. Questions were always welcome throughout the trip.
Everyone was given two pack sacks – a big one and a small one. The first is big enough for all of your necessary equipment; the second is a smaller day bag for the river.
Another expectation is that you will not have access to your main gear on the river. So you have to pack this day bag with everything you need, be it sunscreen, warm clothing, medication or a favorite snack. (By the way, many snacks are recommended.)
Put-ins for the river can be crazy places, and with Labor Day weekend in full swing, the energy of the first boat ramp was high. It will probably be the last time you see an enclosed bathroom in a while. Use it or lose it.
On the river
Rafting on the Green River; (Photo / Nicole Qualtieri)
The transition from the boat ramp to the water is coming. Suddenly you are in the flow and the tempos of your days change. If you head west like us, you will likely travel through high and narrow river gorges, witness incredible mountain scenery, and hit fun rapids along the way.
We surfed rapids from Class I / II to Class IV, with a lot in between. Smooth expanses of water were lined with beautiful sandy beaches littered with bighorn hooves, bobcat prints, deer marks and much more. Occasionally we would pass wildlife on the river bank and many songbirds and birds of prey joined us.
Walking slowly just leads to seeing things. And driving quickly through whitewater increases the stakes. Juxtaposing the two helps move the flow time over the day. And our team of four guides were great at breaking the river time with food stops, hikes, special spots along the river, and historical spots with their own stories.
You continue to take care of the essentials. Water was plentiful and always available from a cold cooler. Drinks were close by. Snacks were even provided.
We also had the opportunity to go on one of the three guided rafts or on “duckies”, smaller single and double rafts that the company brought with them. I used the ducky time to paddle and experience the river on my own. And on the final day, I confidently bombed class III rapids. It. Was. Fantastic!
In the camp, the guided world meets your own. We brought our own tents and sleeping systems for our group and were able to set up within the confines of each campsite we landed at. We all slept separately and had our own little sides.
But guides load and unload the rafts. And when you’re in an area that needs bathroom decor, it becomes a high priority. The bathroom system known as the Groove is often outside of the warehouse and in a room where you can seek a bit of privacy. But peeing in the river was normal where we were, and we were often relatively open. You just get used to it.
“Don’t be so crazy,” our guides told us. Because of me.
The crew also set up the kitchen and cooked all of our dishes, from morning coffee to dinner. We have prepared our own dishes to make this hassle easier. And our guides were often part of our nightly campfire circle. It turned out that these professionals have many stories and the personalities to go with them. Who knew (Wink, wink.)
And since campfires were not allowed, the guides used a propane-powered fireplace This enabled a warm and environmentally safe alternative to your typical wood fire.
Our guides Mary and Peyton dug into their river flair for the final dinner of the trip; (Photo / Nicole Qualtieri)
In the notes I received before the trip, a single reference to river flair was missing. What the hell is river flair? I looked up hashtags and googled and texted friends and then … a-ha!
River flair is the crazy, fun side of the river. Some of the private excursions we encountered were in full costume on the river throughout the trip. Crazy leggings, wigs, sequins, and formal dresses weren’t out of place by the river. Also the nightly change of clothes into comfortable river dresses and soft flannels and inappropriate outfits and, my goodness, what a joy they made.
I bought a river dress for the trip which, in my opinion, served two purposes. Put on a dress and suddenly you have an instant locker room that is less likely to cheat on people. It was cozy AF too, making the cooler nights so comfortable.
But I also brought some fancy clothes for a final dinner and found that I wasn’t alone in my endeavors. Bring some flair, have fun, let it rip. (And remember, Flair works for other outdoor trips too!)
Leaving the river: tip your guides
You will find that the pattern of life is imprinted on the second or third day. On shorter trips like ours, we hopped off the river on day five. But it felt like we just picked up the rhythm.
So it can be a bit overwhelming to switch from river life and the river pace back to a van and into the open world. I gave myself a few hours before checking my phone, calling someone, or going back to real life.
Aside from discussing this transition, we just need to discuss: Tilt.
River guides depend on tips for much of their cash flow. And for all your hard work, a tip of $ 20-30 per day per guide is acceptable. More than that is welcome, and if you can afford it and they do a great job, give it up!
The same goes for mountain guides, climbing guides, etc. – if you go on a guided tour, you will probably want to remember a tip for the end. The upfront cost of the trip does not include this tip, and it is important!
Last note: the guides usually share the tip at the end of the trip. So keep that in mind when cruising the river.
Thinking about my first guided river trip
At the camp on the fourth day; (Photo / Nicole Qualtieri)
This river adventure was full of joy, success, education and new friendships with guides and the group I traveled with. Between whitewater rafting and camping under the stars on the beaches of the Green River, I really wasn’t worried. Knowledgeable hands were available at every corner, and care was worthy of gratitude. For me, that’s maybe the most important part.
It was nice to write down my own responsibilities for a change and to be the newbie on the river. Even though I’ve done river cruises, it was a pleasure to go whitewater with really knowledgeable professionals. And it gave me the confidence to make future journeys through larger bodies of water.
Maybe iconic excursions like Cataract Canyon or the grandfather of all who Grand Canyon, could be on my future whitewater menu.
But if you want to get started on the river or just in the great outdoors, a guided multi-day river cruise is a hell of a good way to hop on. And I can only recommend meeting the amazing Gates of Lodore with dinosaur river expeditions. An experience everyone should have at least once in a lifetime.
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