Index, Washington

Do not try this at home.  Or even the Skykomish, unless you are nuts. River Rafting

Thanks to Brent Roth, Mark Knokey and a well-worked Go Pro or two.

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Leavenworth, Washington

River Rafting Lessons from the Gauley


Sixteen Orion River Rafting guides trekked cross country in a revitalized school bus last September to test their skills on one of the premier white water rivers to be found anywhere in the world – the Gauley River in West Virginia.  The Gauley River, dam-controlled and administered by the National Park Service, offers two sections of river to whet your white water appetite which are not-so-cleverly known as the Upper and the Lower.  The Upper reach of the Gauley, which sports five noteworthy drops, was the section where we spent four lengthy days recreating and – ultimately – getting schooled.


Here is what we learned:


Never underestimate the kindness of strangers.  Whether it was the kind-hearted campers at the put-in who welcomed our oversized rig to crash their party or the boaters strewn throughout the river offering encouragement and advice or the acquaintance of one of our party who was willing to take time out on a Friday to show us all the well-worn, white water routes, we found nothing but people willing to give.  It certainly made our stay more comfortable.


Constant water levels are your friend.  Unlike many dam-controlled rivers I have encountered, when they say “dam-controlled” on the Gauley, they mean water levels that remain constant for hours and days.  Once you are familiar with the set water level, you know – pretty much – what the river is going to do at any given point along the way.  At the least, you know exactly how much rock will be exposed, exactly how big the wave will be and just how the ‘sticky’ the reversal will be.


Back country roads in West Virginia are hell.  Even though the Gauley is one of the most popular rivers in the world, and even though it is administered by the National Park Service, the roads in and out of its egress sites are narrow, rutted, pocked with boulders large and small and hell on a one-time 48 passenger school bus.  Just try getting lost on one to really learn how hellish they can be.


When difficult white water is not also frigid more fun can be had.  I wouldn’t say the waters of the Gauley were warm, but they were nothing like the snowmelt, glacier and cold rain fed rivers of the Pacific Northwest where neoprene is fashionable deep into summer.  I am a cold water wuss due to my Southern roots, but even I relaxed a notch in the temperate waters of West Virginia.

Surfing on the Gauley River

Surfing with a raft on the Gauley


Even dam-controlled rivers can surprise you.  There is an air horn near the launch site for the Upper Gauley which is operated by the Army Corps.  The Army Corps are responsible for the dam.  The purpose of the air horn is to alert boaters and anyone along the banks of the Gauley downstream of the dam that there is going to be a sudden rise in the water level.  It still surprised us on one of our two run days but, fortunately, it merely made for a better tale to tell.


Don’t let the local white water boaters egg you on to do something stupid.  The attitude of white water boaters on the Gauley is schizophrenic.  On the one hand, they are highly cognizant that a majority of the rapids on the Gauley, both Lower and Upper, are dotted with undercut rocks which are especially hazardous to swimmers.  On the other hand, “cash for trash”, meaning tips are better when rafts unload guests, is a definite rallying cry and guides bored with the ‘safe’ routes tend to opt for style over safety (assuming the undercut rocks are as ubiquitous as they claim).


Due to opting for style over safety in the terminal Class V rapid – Sweet’s Falls – partly in response to the local peer pressure, we wound up parking a raft permanently in the middle of the falls and then having to abandon it because it was draped over a boulder midstream.  At least that was an easier lesson to learn than having someone in the raft, or several someones, seriously hurting themselves, or worse.


The white water of the Upper Gauley River was everything we had hoped it would be and, as a bonus, we came away with a few lessons firmly planted in our minds and only a small dent in our pride.



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Leavenworth, Washington

“If itʼs raining, will the raft trip be canceled?”
I canʼt tell you how many times I have heard this question over the last four decades. I
suspect more than a few guests have come up with some elaborate excuse to get out of
their reservation to go white water rafting when the real reason for their ʻcold feetʼ was
the thought of being on the river in the rain.
First of all, the majority of our clientele live in the Puget Sound – now known as the
Salish Sea – region of the Pacific Northwest. A region I like to call ʻthe wet side. It rains
often, though rarely hard, west of the Cascade Mountain range. Seattle ranks 44th
nationally in annual rainfall (38 inches), but the drizzle is chronic and the air temperature
is less than conducive to heighten desires to go outside.
But I mention the source of our clientele because our most popular rivers are on the
other side of the Cascades – the side considered high desert, or, in other words, dry.
Where the forests consist of ponderosa pine and not Douglas fir.
Now, mind you, it is not always dry, but Puget Sounders wake up for their morning
coffee on the day of their reservation, turn bleary-eyed to check the weather conditions
outside their door, and when they encounter 40 degrees and raining, it is
understandable that a shudder runs up their spines at the thought of floating down a
river. The odds are, however, the weather east of the Cascade range is much milder, or
even the opposite. The Cascades make a pretty impenetrable curtain against the
march of the clouds eastward from the Pacific Ocean.
Secondly, you are going RAFTING! WHITE water rafting! Unless you were picturing a
leisurely inner tube float including a drink with a tiny, colorful umbrella in it – the whole
idea is to get wet. Which is the reason we supply our guests with neoprene wetsuits,
booties and splash jackets, and recommend bringing non-cotton, warm, optimally fuzzy,
tops to keep your torso toasty. In the spring, warm, fuzzy caps, like the kind you don on
the ski slopes, are a wise addition to your river rafting attire.
Many years ago, in the early days of Washington white water raft trips, we tried to
cancel a river trip because of a down pour and persistent inclement weather. We had a
company from Seattle booked on the Wenatchee River, a company of engineers, and
the weather had turned abysmal, even by eastern Washington standards. We thought
we would do this group of employees a favor and give them the option of canceling, so
we didnʼt even put the rafts in the water before we went to meet them. We were
confident that no group would want to brave the rainfall.

See how wet you will get?

We could not have been more mistaken. When we reached the rendezvous point, fully
expecting a party of gloomy guests praying that we would offer them a way out, we
found instead 40 enthusiastic guests clad head-to-toe in bright yellow rain slickers and
ready for their day on the water. We were impressed. We sheepishly inflated the rafts
and set about having a fantastic day.
And that was the last time we ever considered altering rafting plans due to rain. We
have never canceled a rafting trip in 36 years because of less-than-adequate weather
Once you are on the river, you are going to get wet, and quite possibly, drenched. Just
be sure you have come prepared. Bring extra warm clothing for on the river and off.
Maybe even some energizing snacks that are easily transported. Jackets with hoods
are essential, as are ski caps.
Think like those hardy engineers and turn a weather-induced frown upside-down.

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Seattle, Washington

As of this morning, (Thursday, May 9th) rivers on both sides of the Cascade Mountain Range are swollen with snow melt.  Temperatures in the Puget Sound region have been bumping up against 90 degrees for the past few days, while on the arid side of the Cascades they are seeing the kind of heat normally encountered in the blisteringly hot month of August.  Consequently, there are flood watches for some of the smaller river drainages and high water everywhere else.

If you are going white water rafting in the next few days, please bear in mind the rivers were snow fields a half day earlier and they are going to be chilly.  Wetsuits, wetsuit boots and good splash gear are strongly encouraged – just in the event you take that unscheduled dip in the river.  Of course, they will also come in handy when you get pummeled by those frigid standing waves.  If you happen to own a dry suit, that would be even better.

As I said, rivers on both side of the Cascade divide are brimming with snow melt, but the rivers of eastern Washington (Wenatchee and Methow) are more suitable for first-time rafters.  Even though their volume has been pumped up by the heat wave, neither the Wenatchee River or the Methow River are considered technically challenging by professional river guides.  On the other hand, rivers like the Sauk River, Green River and Skykomish River become even more challenging as their water levels rise.

Private river rafters should not boat alone, and the general public that does not have river running skills should hire a commercial outfitter.  As always, alcohol should be reserved for the celebratory completion of the trip and life jackets should be donned by all and worn properly.  Don’t let the luminous weather lull you into thinking there is no danger.

So, even though it is grammatically incorrect, “Boat safe out there!”

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Seattle, Washington

A weekend ago, in the midst of a series of river rafting guide training weekends, a slew of us in an armada of rafts launched onto a notably burlier-looking Green River at Kanaskat-Palmer State Park.  Few amongst this hardy, well-dressed party of river runners had ever paddled the Green River Gorge and, the few who had, had never paddled it or guided it over 3,000 cubic feet per second.  (The Army Corps had it pegged at a constant 3,350 cfs.)

As I commanded my paddlers to disengage with the shore at the put-in, I would be lying if I did not admit to a great deal of trepidation.  Even though we were all well-equipped using the best white water inflatables and equipment on the market.  Even though I am a veteran of more than 35 river seasons and had boated the Green River Gorge numerous times in the past.  Even though everyone on the trip was a river guide or a guide-in-training, meaning they were armed with a very good idea of what to do with a paddle.

Rafting Class V

White water rafting Washington near Seattle.

I, admittedly, have a low adrenaline threshold.  Frankly, I view this as a superb survival mechanism.  I don’t need to launch off waterfalls.  I don’t need a steady dose of Class V white water.  I don’t seek to dance along the edge of a precipice.  Having a low adrenaline threshold means I fulfill my epinephrin needs on mountainous haystacks with commercial paddlers.  But, I know there are those who do seek large doses of adrenaline and that type of adventure challenge.

But, I am here to tell you, it is rarely, if ever, skill alone that prevails over nature when man pits himself against nature.  It is a combination of many factors – skill, preparation, training, caution, judgement, luck and whim.

I cannot speak to other adventure sports, but I know successful encounters with white water rapids depends on all of these factors.  Fortunately, for white water boaters, moving water is forgiving – but what I like to tell my guides, it is forgiving, until it isn’t.  In other words, you cannot count on luck, whim and forgiving water.

Or, as Bill McGinnis of Whitewater Voyages has written, “Rafting is a relatively safe thing to do, provided you don’t make any number of terrible mistakes.”

As I started down the swollen Green River, knowing we were likely to encounter or have to maneuver around boat-crunching hydraulics, all of this was coursing through my mind.  I knew I had the skill.  I knew we were well-prepared.  I knew my paddlers were strong.  I knew my gear was the best.  I knew that even if we emerged unscathed, I would emerge humbled.

I dug my guide paddle into the emerald water knowing the odds were in our favor.

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Seattle, Washington

One of the most frequently asked questions we field in the office of  Orion Rafting River these days is whether or not we have a wetsuit large enough to fit a prospective paddler.  Or, whether or not we have a weight restriction on our rafts.  These are delicate, politically-charged questions.  When we are queried about size issues, we have to trot out a few caveats.

Octogenarian paddling white water

Senior citizen on the river.

For, as in many circumstances, it depends.

First and foremost, we are concerned for our customers’ safety.  Even though we have not come across a paddler we could not fit into a wetsuit or a life jacket, nor have we had to request that someone not get onto a raft due to their girth, this does not mean the size of a person does not matter.  Inflatable rafts are capable of carrying an enormous amount of weight; however, there are optimal weight conditions for a boat to operate safely in white water.  Rafts are also rated for the number of passengers they are capable of carrying, but each outfitter makes their own determination about the optimal number of passengers in a raft depending on the difficulty of the rapids.

In addition, if a group consists of several larger guests, or all larger guests, and they want to all travel in the same raft, that can be a safety issue.  Crowded, heavy rafts are not a good idea for technical, rocky runs, and are not even a good idea on less technical rivers that are swollen from the spring runoff.

When folks ask about whether their size will matter, or whether we have a weight limit, what we explain to them is what matters is whether the guide will be able to drag them back into a raft if necessary, and whether they will be able to assist in that rescue scenario.  If the answer is no or uncertain, our suggestion is for that customer to select one of the non-technical Class III rivers during a time period when it will not be running high.  If the guest indicates they would be able to self-rescue, or are comfortable in the water, then a more difficult stretch of white water might be suitable for them.

In other words, your size does matter and you should choose carefully which river you decide to paddle.  And we appreciate it when you call and talk to us about it.

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Leavenworth, Washington

Clearly, not all white water rafting rivers are created equal.  Thus, the classification system from Class I to Class V (Class VI being – technically – unnavigable.)  But even when a river rafting trip is deemed Class III, theoretically an ideal class for beginners and suitable for young kids, it can be starkly different depending on the river bed, or which side of the mountains, or what time of the year, or the temperature of the water.

Family friendly rafting on the Skagit River.

Families with kids love the low stress of a Skagit River trip.

Some parents cannot wait to introduce their children to the beauty and wonders of the outdoors and the thrill of adventure travel.  White water rafting is an excellent option due to its low threshold of entry – in other words, it does not take a great deal of skill or physical exertion to participate.  However, parents need to understand that – from an outfitter’s perspective – children may present an unusual challenge if they show up on a river trip unexpectedly.  It is the corollary to the “customer is always right” adage.  That corollary being, “the customer may not always be right, but the customer is always the customer.”  Meaning there are times when it can be difficult for an outfitter’s staff to say “No” when the circumstances are borderline.

For instance, a child shows up with a parent on a river that is designated Class III, but the level is slightly elevated from spring melt, the water is frigid and the weather is cool.  The child meets the weight requirement (100 pounds), but is only 10 years old (12 years of age is recommended).  The river is only a little above normal and the child is only one member of a larger party of adults.  The office was not notified in advance that a child would be a part of this one-day Class III river trip.  Notification would have been nice because it would have given us the chance to clarify our concerns and make sure the customer/parent understands those concerns and is aware of the dangers present.

Once everyone arrives at our meeting site, it can be problematic and uncomfortable for everyone involved to have to make a decision about whether or not it is good idea for the child to participate.  In other words, parents should never presume that because a river trip is considered to be a ‘beginning white water river trip’ that it will be suitable for their younger children.

As an outfitter, we have hard-and-fast protocol in regards to ages and weights for particular rivers.  But depending on the environmental conditions - lower, slower water and hotter conditions, for example – or depending on the physical stature or maturity of the child these protocols can be subjective.  The Wenatchee River in May and the Wenatchee River in July are two entirely different ‘animals’, and yet, at both times of the year, the river is classified as Class III.

The best starter stretch of river in Washington for families with kids is the Skagit River in the North Cascades National Park.  You can’t go wrong on the Skagit.  As for the Wenatchee River, I would suggest older teens for the spring run off, and save July for your pre-teens.

As far as overnight river rafting trips, the Deschutes River in north central Oregon is well-suited for kids as young as 8 years of age, mainly because the water and the weather are substantially warmer than the rivers in Washington.

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Leavenworth, Washington

After deciding that a white water rafting trip is an adventurous trip your family can embark on, you have to stop and consider all those that will be participating in this strenuous trip down a river. It’s normal for parents to worry about the safety of their child during any kind of outdoor activity. White water rafting creates an experience unlike many of the other outdoor activities. Rushing water surrounding a person can frighten them and cause more stress than fun, ruining the trip and experience not only for them but for the rest of the group. How can you be sure that your child is ready to take on a white water rafting trip?

Rafting companies will have different age restrictions for those participating in white water rafting. Some will recommend eight years of age and up, depending on the river trip and rapid classifications. Others might suggest a different age limit, so know before you go what to expect for age limitations.

The size of the rapids will help tell you if your child can handle the trip. Paddling and staying in the raft with a child under 12 is best suited for rapid trips of up to Class III. 12 year olds and up can handle a Class IV depending on the amount of paddling help the guide requires, but Class V should only be challenged by strong paddlers, typically older teens unless the child is very experienced in white water rafting.

Knowing how your child reacts in tense situations will be a valuable way of determining the level of rafting they’re capable of. If they tend to panic in stressful situations, they are more likely going to get into the way of the other rafters and the guide. However, if your child stays calm and can be an asset in a touch situation, the more likely they are going to be able to handle the different levels of classes in a more mature way. Keep in mind that younger children tend to have a shorter attention span, so a shorter rafting trip might be better than the longer trips where the child might require more entertainment.

Starting off simple and easing your child into white water rafting will be beneficial for you and your group. By easing your kid into the trip, they won’t be overwhelmed by the rushing water and giant rapids. Make your family summer trip the most memorable by understanding the different levels of rapids and how your child handles tense situations.

About the Author:

Colorado rafting company, American Adventure Expeditions is pleased to bring you this article informative article. American Adventure has a number of trips available for Arkansas River rafting. If you are interested in learning more, check out their website today.

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Seattle, Washington

The headline just about says it all.  It’s a Washington white water rafting DEAL!  Especially since the 15% Discount applies to one of the most pristine stretches of white water in the Pacific Northwest and only a hop, skip and a jump from the wonders of the Emerald City, also known as Seattle.

The Sauk River is the quintessential Washington white water rafting trip.

The Wild & Scenic Sauk River flows north toward the placid Skagit River and nearby the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area.  You could hike through moss laden forests on one day of your weekend and pound through foamy stretches of white water on the other.

You can take advantage of this offer by signing up online through April 30th, 2013.  The offer applies ONLY to Sauk River trips from July 1st through July 31st.  Use Web promo code: WEB0319

*Not valid with any other offer.


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Seattle, Washington

If Google has directed you to this page, it is no accident.  If you came in search of information regarding white water rafting trips in or near by Washington, D.C., you will be severely disappointed.  But if you will be visiting the state of Washington in the next several months, or you are a resident of the Pacific Northwest, and you are in search of the best Washington white water rafting- especially those within an easy drive of Seattle – you have reached your own personal nirvana.

Rafting in Washington

Paddle white water rafting in Washington.

Orion River Rafting, out of Leavenworth, Washington, rafts all of the major waterways within three hours of Seattle’s city limits.  Orion River Rafting, as you can see on our front page, has been recognized as one of the better (and sometimes the best) white water outfits in Washington.  Our recognition is due to word of mouth and enthusiastic patrons who are willing to venture online and sing our praises.  But it also due to our putting customers’ safety first and treating every river rafting trip as something special.

Our guides put forth a supreme effort to make certain your special day on the river with your family, friends or loved ones, is, above all, as safe as is possible, as well as being storybook perfect.  Our guides bend over backwards to make sure your day flows smoothly from the rendezvous at the beginning, the donning of the wetsuits, the shuttle to the start of the raft trip, the white water raft trip itself and the safe arrival at the end.

Orion River Rafting has been outfitting Washington white water rafting trips longer than any other outfitter in the Northwest.  Since 1978, we have rafted the Wild and Scenic Sauk, less than an hour from Pike Place Market; the Magic Skagit, along the North Cascades Highway; the Wenatchee, running through the Bavarian-themed burg of Leavenworth; the Skykomish, north central Washington’s most challenging white water; and the Tieton, the only white water rafting available in September.

In addition, we outfit overnight raft trips on  one of Oregon’s Scenic Waterways for three to five days, the Deschutes.  Even the Deschutes is only an mere half day’s drive from the Seattle metropolitan area, making it the ideal mini-vacation for those seeking a bit of respite from the hassles of the daily grind.

In 2013, we are recommending that those of you in search of the best white water in Washington, consider making your reservations as early in the season as possible.  Washington white water rafting will be in full swing at the beginning of May when the spring runoff should be peaking.

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