|MEETING PLACE:||Recapture Lodge, Hwy 191, Bluff, Utah|
|MEETING TIME:||7:00 PM, the evening before your trip|
|RETURN TIME:||2:00-3:00 PM (3 Day) 4:00-5:30 PM (6 Day)|
|TRIP LENGTH:||3 days/2 nights or 6 days/5 nights|
|RIVER RATING:||Class II|
|RIVER MILES:||27 miles (3 Day) or 83 miles (6 Day)|
|RIVER SECTION:||Sand Island – Mexican Hat/Clay Hills Crossing|
|AGE LIMIT:||Minimum age is 4 (7 at high water levels); Minimum age is 12 for hiker program|
|BOAT OPTIONS:||Oar raft, inflatable kayak|
The San Juan River twists and turns through the most convoluted canyon in the Colorado Plateau. Its home in southeastern Utah is a place of surreal beauty and vibrancy, hundreds of millions of years in the making. Eons of wind and water erosion have left an intricate wilderness of sunbaked red rock cliffs, canyons and monuments interwoven with cool, shady alcoves, lush grottoes, and side canyons where diverse vegetation grows near trickling streams. A bottomless archeological treasure chest, this area encases numerous remnants of ancient civilizations—most prominently, the Prehistoric Puebloan culture. For unknown reasons this intriguing Native American group abandoned the area around 1300 A.D., leaving behind their granaries, cliff dwellings, kivas, watchtowers, and panels of unique rock art.
We pride ourselves in running a relaxed and flexible schedule. Every trip is different depending upon the group, other trips on the water and sometimes the weather. The following is a sample of what your trip might be like:
The Day Before Your Trip
We’ll meet at 7:00 PM at the Recapture Lodge in Bluff, Utah for a pre-trip meeting. This is an opportunity to meet your fellow travelers and guides, and ask any last-minute questions. Your guides will give you a thorough trip orientation and pass out your waterproof river bags so you can pack your belongings that evening.
We begin our day with a 4-mile drive from Bluff to our put-in at Sand Island, where your boats and your OARS crew await. After a thorough safety talk, our journey begins. We’ll peacefully float for a few hours, getting to know our fellow travelers and soaking in the majesty of our surroundings. Our first stop is Butler Wash, where we’ll be amazed by petroglyphs engraved across a sheer rock wall. The figures depicted here are believed to be “Kachinas,” or gods. This is an excellent introduction to rock art we’ll see as we head downstream. We’ll also see “moki steps” that were carved into the cliffs at least 800 years ago.
Not much farther down river we stop for a short walk to River House, a well-preserved prehistoric cliff dwelling. We have time to explore this multi-room structure and admire the rock art including human hands, sheep and snake figures that adorn the overhanging walls and ceiling. We might also explore the Hole in the Rock on the famous Mormon Trail.
Our first day generally sets the pace for our river trip. Typically, we spend a few hours on the water in the morning, sometimes stopping for a great hike, a visit to a waterfall or a prehistoric ruin, or a refreshing swim.
At lunchtime, we pull over to a sandy beach and enjoy a delicious picnic. After feasting and relaxing on the beach (or perhaps swimming, a game of Frisbee or a nature walk), we get back in our boats and watch the desert panoramas slowly develop and change as we peacefully float down the river.
Mid- to late-afternoon, we stop and make camp; you grab your bags and set up your tent while we take care of the kitchen and “living room”—camp chairs and the site for tonight’s campfire (if permitted). This is the perfect time for you to lounge on the beach with that book you’ve wanted to finish. Before long, you’ll be savoring pleasing hors d’oeuvres and the beverage of your choice—delicious as these refreshments are, they always taste better after a day on the river! Read, nap, or just sit back and laugh with friends and family as your guides prepare dinner.
After a satisfying feast, the evening is yours to spend however you wish. Maybe music, stories, or jokes will bring us together tonight; maybe the popping of the fire, the whisper of the river and the clarity of the big, star-filled sky will encourage silent reflection on the amazing wilderness that is, for now, our home.
Your day begins as the cliff walls reflect the colors of sunrise. Fresh coffee and tea are waiting when you get up; grab a cup, sit back and take in the glory of the awakening river. Soon breakfast is served—omelets made to order, blueberry pancakes, sizzling bacon, fresh fruit, toast and juice are among the treats you will indulge in each morning. Once you’ve eaten your fill, you pack up your things as the guides break down camp, then our new day’s adventure begins.
As the San Juan carries us further into this majestic geological corridor, we begin to see evidence of the earth’s activity—slow and steady, or sudden and violent—over the course of the river’s 300-plus-million-year existence. Within the first 10 miles, the river crosses the Comb Ridge monocline, a gigantic upwarp that extends unbroken for over 50 miles. A hike to the Mule Ear diatreme reveals an eruptive ground vent and a rubble mass of rocks from the earth’s mantle. Then it’s back to our boats to begin our descent into the upper San Juan canyon, where we meet our first whitewater, Four-Foot Rapid. Eight-Foot and Ledge Rapids also spice up our tranquil float as we enter the upper “Narrows,” a particularly tight gorge carved out of the brilliant rocky layers by the very river upon which we drift.
On Day 3 we reach Mexican Hat. This is the ending point of the 3-day trip. Those leaving will return to Bluff ― while the rest of us stay on for the remainder of our 6-day trip. Having enjoyed the camaraderie of past days and the magnificence of the river corridor, we say our goodbyes and head downstream.
Back on the river, we’ll float past the town of Mexican Hat and enter the Mendenhall Loop, the beginning of the famous Goosenecks of the San Juan River. This snake-like stretch of river twists and turns so tightly, we cover seven river miles through a section measuring just two miles as the crow flies! Winding back and forth, we’ll pass exquisite works of water and rock like the Tabernacle and the Second Narrows.
We may have time to stop at Mendenhall Loop for a short hike. In 1893 prospector Walter Mendenhall staked a claim at the first gooseneck in search of gold. The remains of his stone cabin rest on the plateau overlooking the river.
After leaving the fascinating Goosenecks, we’re treated to glimpses of rocky wonders like Cedar Mesa, Cowboy Hat, and Eagle Rock. Beneath this stretch of river lie extensive oil fields, and at lower water levels, we may be able to see the very oil seeps where the Ancestral Pueblos may have gathered this precious resource for fuel and medicine. All along, we keep watch for bighorn sheep near the water and Native American ruins hidden atop cliffs.
Our trip is certainly not devoid of whitewater, and this stretch of river delivers plenty of excitement with rapids such as Ross, Government and Slickhorn.
A favorite activity on the San Juan is a visit to Slickhorn Gulch for a much-needed swim in its natural plunge pools. This beautiful canyon holds many hidden surprises, including fossils, maidenhair ferns, and waterfalls.
Our trip draws to a close on Day 6 as we reach the Clay Hills boat ramp. Feeling as if we’ve temporarily left our modern age for the past five days, and having grown so close to our guides and fellow travelers, the shuttle ride back to Bluff and “civilization” is bittersweet. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that although we’ve left the river, the river will never leave us.
Included in Your Trip Cost
- Skilled professional guide service
- All meals from lunch on day 1 through lunch on the last day
- 2 or 5 nights catered camping
- 2 waterproof bags to hold your gear for the trip (13” diameter x 25” tall—approximate sealed size). Your sleeping bag and pad must fit into one bag and your remaining gear will fit into the other bag. Please note: If you rent our gear it will come already packed in one of the two waterproof bags issued to each passenger. Your remaining gear, therefore, must fit in one bag.
- 1 small waterproof bag for camera and other small items you’ll want during the day (17” tall x 9” diameter—approximate sealed size)
- 2-person tents on a shared basis (there is a $30 charge for a private tent)
- Personal flotation device (PFD) which must be worn at all times on the river in compliance with insurance requirements
- 12-ounce insulated Klean Kanteen with Café Lid to use for drinks in camp
- Camp chairs
- Eating utensils, cups and plates
- Highest quality inflatable rafts and related equipment
- Transfers from Recapture Lodge to the river and back
- Wetsuit–weather dependent (does not include footwear of any kind, including wetsuit booties). For clients with a high interest in using the inflatable kayaks, we will bring a limited supply of wetsuits. If you have your own, please feel free to bring it with you.
Not Included in Your Trip Cost
- Transportation to and from Bluff
- Pre and post-trip accommodations and meals
- Sleeping bag & a deluxe 3-inch thick foam and air-filled sleeping pad (these items may be rented from OARS)
- Insurance of any kind, including travel insurance
- Items of a personal nature (a packing list will be provided)
Available For Rent
- Sleep Kit: Can be rented for $40 per person. Sleep kits include a sleeping bag, deluxe 3-inch thick foam and air-filled sleeping pad, ground tarp, sheet, pillow and pillowcase. Please indicate on your Guest Registration Form whether you want to rent a sleep kit or if you prefer to bring your own.
- Sleeping Pad Only: The deluxe 3-inch thick foam and air-filled pad alone may be rented for $15
- Single Tent: We provide 2 person tents. It is assumed you will share this tent with another person. You can (if you prefer) have a tent to yourself for an additional charge of $30 per tent.
Trip Preparation Checklist
☐ Consider Purchasing Travel Protection: Help to protect yourself, your belongings, and your vacation with the purchase of a short-term Travel Protection Plan. A Travel Protection Plan can help cover your non-refundable payments should you have to cancel your trip due to a covered illness or injury. Because we begin working to prepare for your trip upon receipt of your deposit, and may be turning other prospective guests away while holding space for you, there are cancellation fees that will apply regardless of why or when you might need to cancel. The cost for the optional Travel Protection is listed on your trip invoice. All Plan Benefits are administered by Trip Mate, Inc. (in CA & UT, dba Trip Mate Insurance Agency). For a complete description of Trip Mate’s Plan online go to: www.tripmate.com/wpF431Z or call Trip Mate at 800-888-7292 (reference Plan #F431Z).
Please Note: Purchase this Plan within 14 days of the date we receive your initial deposit and the exclusion for Pre-Existing Medical Conditions will be waived, provided you are not disabled from travel at the time the plan is purchased.
☐ Trip Forms (online): Each participant will need to complete the required trip forms within two weeks of making a booking. Refer to your confirmation e-mail for the link to the online forms. If you prefer to fill out paper forms, please let us know right away. If you are reserving within 60 days of departure, your forms must be completed immediately to ensure we can properly plan for your trip.
☐ Reserve flights, shuttles and lodging: Verify with your Adventure Consultant that your trip has met minimum numbers prior to booking flights and/or reserving overnight lodging for the night before and after your trip, if applicable.
☐ Whitewater Orientation: To increase your safety, we expect everyone to watch our 23-minute Whitewater Orientation video before joining us. Watch at https://www.oars.com/experience/safety/ or call 800-346-6277 to request a free DVD. Please don’t leave home without watching.
☐ Physical Requirements: Your outdoor adventure will be an active participatory trip. Please inform us of any physical limitation you may have as soon as possible. Make sure you are exercising frequently in the months leading up to your trip.
☐ Payments: Final payment is due in our office 60 days prior to your trip (refer to your invoice for final payment date). Please let us know if you would like us to automatically charge your credit card on file when final payment is due.
Meeting Place & Time
The day before your trip we will meet at 7:00 PM in the lobby of the Recapture Lodge for a pre-trip meeting. Your trip leader will provide a thorough trip orientation and pass out your waterproof bags so you can pack your belongings that evening. The trip leader will also confirm the meeting time for the following morning and give you an opportunity to ask any last-minute questions.
Getting to Bluff, UT
Bluff, Utah is located in southeastern Utah. From Moab, take Highway 191 south. You will go through Monticello and Blanding. When you get into Blanding you will come to a four-way stoplight. You will need to make a left turn and continue on Highway 191 south. You will eventually descend into Cow Canyon when you near Bluff. You will continue on Highway 191, which is also called Main Street in Bluff. The lodge will be on the left side of the road near the center of town.
From Salt Lake City, take I-15 south to the Price/US 6 exit. Then take US 6 to I-70 east, to US 191 South. You will eventually descend into Cow Canyon when you near Bluff. You will continue on Highway 191, which is also called Main Street in Bluff. The lodge will be on the left side of the road near the center of town.
If you’re coming from Grand Junction, Colorado take I-70 West to US 191 or take scenic route 128, which follows the Colorado River and offers spectacular views, to Moab and US 191 (adds a half hour). Follow 191 South to Bluff.
By Rental Car
Unless you have a large group, a rental car from Salt Lake City is usually the best option even if it sits for a week while you are on the river. Often it is still more economical than a van shuttle and gives you the flexibility and convenience to visit the surrounding National Parks before and after your rafting trip. Cars may be left at the Recapture Lodge at no cost for the duration of your trip.
Parking a Car
If you’re arriving by car, parking is available at the Recapture Lodge.
OARS cannot accept responsibility for any loss or damage to vehicles or their contents.
|Mileage and Driving Times to Bluff, UT|
|From Moab, UT||100 miles (1.75 hours)|
|From Salt Lake City, UT||336 miles (6 hours)|
|From Grand Junction, CO||214 miles (5 hours)|
|From Cortez, CO||75 miles (1.25 hours)|
|From Durango, CO||121 miles (2.25 hours)|
You may fly into Salt Lake City, Utah, Moab, Utah, Grand Junction or Cortez, Colorado, which are serviced by several commercial airlines. Charter flights to Bluff from Salt Lake City, Grand Junction or Cortez are available through Red Tail Aviation (800-842-9251).
- There are several options for chartered shuttle service. Check discovermoab.com/shuttle.htm for a list of current operators.
- From Grand Junction, a charter van can be arranged with American Spirit (970-523-7662)
After Your Trip
On the final day of your river adventure, you will be returned to the Recapture Lodge. You should arrive between 2:00-3:00 PM on our 3-day trips, and 4:00-5:30 PM on our 4 or 6-day departures.
Pre- and Post-Trip Accommodations
We recommend that you make reservations well in advance in order to guarantee lodging as Bluff has limited lodging options. We recommend the facilities listed below. (Pre- and post-trip lodging is not included in the trip cost).
- Recapture Lodge* 435-672-2281
- Desert Rose Inn & Cabins 888-475-7673
- Cadillac Ranch RV Park 435-672-2262
- Other area Information: utahscanyoncountry.com/index.html
*Please mention you are an OARS guest when making your reservation.
A major tributary of the Colorado River, the San Juan forges a watery path through some of the world’s most splendid wilderness. A calm, congenial river, the San Juan offers a relaxing float trip livened up by fun Class II rapids.
The number and variety of boats on an OARS trip may vary based on water levels, the number of participants and other factors we take into account when planning your adventure. Please be aware that in doing so we will ask you to share boat time with your fellow travelers. We don’t assign boats, nor can we guarantee exactly which crafts we bring, but trust us to provide you with the best possible mix for you and others on your trip. The following boats may be a part of your experience:
- Oar Raft—The OARS flagship, oar rafts carry the bulk of the gear on most of our multi-day adventures. Your guide pilots with long oars from a center-mounted aluminum frame. Ample deck space allows for lounging in calm stretches, sturdy weight and width give your guide confidence to hit the big waves head-on. (Three to five passengers)
- Inflatable Kayak—Also known as Duckies, inflatable kayaks float low in the water, putting you in touch with the pull of the current and splash of every wave. On most trips, double and single inflatable kayaks are available, depending on group size. 12 years is the minimum age in Class III rapids, 7 years for Class II rapids. Helmets required. Ask an adventure consultant about this option, as it is not available on every trip. (One or two paddlers)
Please note: During the high-water season use of inflatable kayaks will be at the guides’ discretion.
- Hiker: With its impressive collection of archaeological treasures and prolific displays of rock art, the 27 river miles from Sand Island to Mexican Hat provide multiple options for extended hiking away from the river. These 27 miles are covered over 3 days on our standard departures, but our 6-day Hiker program plans for layover days at the camps best situated to access the amazing all-day hiking opportunities. Cliff dwellings and gorgeous Ancestral Puebloan rock art are on prominent display in the San Juan River canyon. Many centuries later, gold miners, explorers and river-running pioneers added an Old West flavor to the San Juan’s history. Guided by a knowledgeable OARS guide, we’ll explore the fascinating ruins of early civilizations that all but disappeared from the planet centuries ago.
- Archaeoastronomy (Stars with Lars): With its impressive collection of archaeological treasures and prolific displays of rock art, the 27 river miles from Sand Island to Mexican Hat provide multiple options for extended hiking away from the river. These 27 miles are covered over 3 days on our standard departures, but our 6-day Archaeoastronomy program plans for layover days at the camps best situated to access the amazing all-day opportunities to explore the archaeological wonders tucked into the side canyons. And with access to clear, dark skies undiminished by urban light pollution, you’ll witness a star display as you’ve never seen before. OARS astronomy trips are scheduled around the new moon to allow for optimal stargazing opportunities. Our resident astronomy expert, Lars Haarr, puts his laser pointer to good use and provides informal educational discussions each evening on such topics as the history of constellations and Native American interpretations of star movements and groupings. During the day, enjoy hikes to prehistoric cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, granaries, and more.
After each active day on the river, we pull ashore to camp for the night. Upon arrival, our first task is to unload the boats using a bag line of crew and passengers to expedite the process. Individuals then collect their waterproof bags and locate an area on the beach to camp for the night. On the first night in camp, a crew member will give a demonstration on setting up a tent, which you’ll see is quick and easy. The guides will set up the kitchen and central dining/seating area with camp chairs. They will also locate a secluded area away from camp to set up the portable toilet, where privacy is assured.
As dinner is being prepared by the guides, hors d’oeuvres will be served and you will have an opportunity to relax, enjoy a drink if you wish, and reflect on the day with your fellow traveling companions.
In the morning, the first wake-up call will let you know that coffee, hot water for tea or cocoa, juice, fresh fruit and cold cereal are ready on the hors d’oeuvres table. You can fill your mug and grab a bite, then begin to pack up your personal belongings and sleep gear as the guides prepare breakfast. After breakfast is served, the entire camp will be broken down and packing will be completed. The gear will then be loaded onto the boats and we’ll head downstream to see what new adventures await us.
The meals we serve are hearty and delicious, complete with fresh ingredients and a variety of foods. A typical morning on a multi-day trip might start with French toast, bacon, fruit, orange juice, and coffee or tea. Lunch might be a delicious spread of cold cuts and cheeses with several types of bread, or pitas stuffed with veggies and hummus. There are always cookies and a cooling drink to top it off. At dinner, our guides’ cooking skills truly shine—sizzling steaks or salmon, chicken enchiladas, and delicious pasta dishes are all part of their repertoire. Dinner generally includes a salad, and desserts are frequent. Hors d’oeuvres are a pleasant surprise before many meals.
We need to know as soon as possible about any dietary restrictions we should consider in planning your trip. If you have food allergies or restrictions, we will do our best to accommodate your needs. However, there may be a supplemental menu fee, ranging from $5-$25 per person per day, to cover any increase in our increased costs.
Beyond our standard menu, we can provide options for vegetarian, vegan and many allergy-restricted diets without applying a fee. However, we cannot always provide the same diversity or sophistication for restricted diets as we do for our regular menu. Similarly, certain allergen-free snack foods are difficult or impossible to source in our locations, so feel free to bring your own favorite snacks to supplement our provisions. Please let your Adventure Consultant know if you intend to do so.
We cannot guarantee that cross-contamination from allergens will not occur during meal prep, and reserve the right to refuse service to anyone as it relates to safety, including the potential for a medical emergency caused by a severe food allergy. Also, due to the constraints of cooking for a large group in a wilderness setting, availability of ingredients or specialty items in remote locations, and limited packing space, we are unable to cater to dietary preferences (likes or dislikes).
Beverages / Alcohol
We provide fresh water and an assortment of soft drinks, including sodas, sparkling water, fruit juices and lemonade. Commercial outfitters may not provide any type of alcohol for their guests. You may bring your own supply of beer, wine or liquor in non-glass containers. If you choose to bring your own drinks (other than what we provide) or alcoholic beverages, please let us know in advance, ideally at the pre-trip meeting. For your safety and the safety of others, alcoholic beverages are limited to camp.
Some beers (3.2% alcohol by weight) are available in grocery stores. For other beer, wine and liquor you will need to go to the Utah State Liquor Store. For further information, including hours, locations, and selection please visit their website: abc.utah.gov/stores/.
We are obligated to adhere to the regulations established by the managing agency with jurisdiction over the area in which our trip operates. Use of marijuana on federal lands, whether it be medicinal or recreational, is illegal and therefore we ask that you refrain from bringing it with you on your OARS trip.
We carry sufficient drinking water along with us to provide for your needs throughout the trip. Water jugs are accessible in camp, at lunch time and before hikes for filling personal water bottles. In some cases, we will re-supply water jugs with water filtered through a purification system we provide. (No iodine is used in the purification process.)
Hiking / Side Creek Exploration
The San Juan has many great hiking trails. While we generally plan at least two guided hikes on each trip, there is ample opportunity for the curious to explore the area at length. Please let your trip leader know if you are an avid hiker and remember to bring extra water bottles and good shoes. Remember, however, that all hikes are optional and you can choose to lie on the beach and take in a few tanning rays or read a book instead.
Most of the catch in the San Juan tends to be found outside of Utah (directly below Navajo Dam in New Mexico there was once estimated to be some 80,000 trout over 17 inches long). However, if you are interested in receiving further information regarding prime fishing locations and how to obtain a permit, you can do so by visiting the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ website: http://wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/fishing/
The Portable Toilet
While the idea of a river trip is appealing to most people, many are inhibited or reluctant because of modesty or uncertainty. To minimize our impacts, we carry out all solid human waste and use a portable toilet system that is set up each day at camp in a secluded location a discrete distance from tent sites. It is essentially a toilet without plumbing and is available from the time you pull into camp each afternoon until you leave camp the next day. Toilet paper and a convenient hand-washing station are provided.
We also carry a small container called the “day tripper” that can be easily accessed during the day should the need arise. It is a personal disposable toilet, which includes an odor-proof transport bag, chemical solidifier and odor eliminator, toilet paper and an oversized hand wipe.
On popular stretches of wilderness rivers, the common refrain is “dilution is the solution to pollution.” We practice this approach by urinating in the river during the day. For use in camp at night we provide pee buckets so that urination can occur in a secluded location and then be dumped into the current where it will be carried downstream.
Bathing is allowed in the San Juan River, but must be done with biodegradable soap. It is not, however, allowed in any of the side streams that feed into the river. If you plan to bring soap, we recommend Campsuds or Dr. Bronner’s, which can be purchased in most stores that have a camping section. Disposable anti-bacterial towelettes (Coleman Swash Cloths, baby wipes, etc.) are good alternatives to submersion in the river and are especially convenient for spring and fall trips.
For Women Only
Even if you aren’t anticipating your menstrual period, come prepared for it. You can use sandwich-sized Ziploc baggies during the day to store feminine products while you are on the river or hiking, and you can then discretely dispose of the baggies when you reach camp. When possible, we recommend o.b.® tampons, which are 1/3 the size of regular tampons, tuck discreetly into pockets and have less paper wrapping. If you use pads, be sure to bring extras. Many women suggest bringing a small supply of baby wipes. We provide some feminine products on most trips for emergencies.
We provide a small waterproof bag (17” tall x 9” diameter—approximate sealed size) to hold your camera and other items you might need during the day. While these bags are designed to be waterproof, you may wish to place your camera in a zip-lock plastic bag or waterproof casing for additional protection. We also strongly recommend you take out a rider on your homeowner’s policy to cover your camera—especially if it’s fine equipment. Make sure to bring additional memory cards, batteries and any other extras you will need. Disposable waterproof and panorama cameras are also a fun option.
Electronics & Technology
The use of electronic devices, especially music players and flying drones, on your trip may represent an intrusion into the wilderness experience of your fellow guests. We ask that you be mindful of the impacts to others and respect the wilderness nature of the trip. Please bring headphones if you intend to listen to music during the trip and leave your drone at home*.
Many of our guests travel with their smartphone even though there is no cell service. On a trip like this, there is always the risk of water damage to smartphones and other electronic devices, even when they are stowed in a dry bag. If you intend to take your phone with you on the river, consider investing in a small, waterproof container just for your phone.
*The use of drones is prohibited by the Bureau of Land Management on the San Juan River
We are not able to provide a power source for recharging devices. To keep cameras, phones, GPS and other devices working you may need spare batteries or portable power. Options include compact portable solar panels that can recharge devices directly, portable power banks that store power, or a combo unit that can be charged before the trip and recharged with a built-in solar panel.
Once you are on the river there is limited communication with the “outside world.” Cell phone service is not available. Our guides carry satellite phones which are strictly used to call out in case of an emergency situation on the river. They can call out, but we cannot call them. Periodically the trip leader will check in with our office. If you have someone that needs to contact you about an emergency at home, they should call our office (800-346-6277). If possible, we will relay the message to you. Keep in mind, however, it could be several days or longer before the message actually reaches you. For your family at home you should define for them what you consider to be an emergency and provide them with instructions to call our office in the event one occurs during your vacation.
Fire activity frequently impacts the air quality on our trips, and occasionally wildfires may be present in the immediate vicinity of where we’re traveling. Smoke impacts are more likely in the latter-half of the summer season, so those with asthma or other respiratory conditions may wish to steer clear of this time frame. In general, we will not cancel a trip on account of smoky conditions, except in cases of clear danger to life or property. Necessary changes to logistics and/or destination may occur with very short notice as fire conditions are constantly changing. We will do our best to keep you apprised of excessively smoky conditions that can be foreseen for your upcoming trip, but we also encourage you to stay informed about local fire activity: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/.
Our guides do not carry firearms on our trips, and in most cases, are prohibited from doing so by the managing agency. As a matter of preference, we ask all our guests to kindly leave your own firearms at home or in your vehicle.
You may want to check one week prior to your trip for an up-to-date weather forecast. We recommend the following website: www.wunderground.com for weather in Bluff, Utah.
Average Air and Water Temperatures
|Air (Day) °F||Air (Night) °F||Water °F|
Water Levels & Temperature
The flow of the San Juan River varies according to snowmelt and reservoir releases from the Navajo Dam. Because the whitewater is generally moderate, higher or lower flows do not considerably change the experience. Peak flows usually occur between mid-May and mid-June, but can vary widely from early May and into July. Water temperatures are coldest during the high water period and rain gear and warm synthetic clothing will be required.
Essential Eligibility Criteria for River Trips
The following are the physical and mental eligibility criteria for all participants on any OARS river trip.
- Ability to remain seated and balanced while in a whitewater craft while holding on with at least one hand.
- Wear a Type V Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device (maximum chest size of 56 inches). Wearing leg straps may be required to ensure proper fit. Where required, properly wear a helmet.
- Ability to independently board and disembark a boat four to ten times each day. This may require stepping into the boat, and then maneuvering your body over and across tubes and fixed objects into a seated position.
- Ability to independently navigate shoreline terrain, including safely maneuvering around and across boulders, rocks, and slippery and uneven surfaces, under low branches, and around vegetation. This includes the ability to maintain your balance near precipitous ledges or cliffs.
- Ability to independently swim in whitewater or swift currents while wearing a PFD. This includes being an active participant in your own rescue, including having the ability to (a) keep your airway passages sealed while underwater, and regain control of your breathing when being submitted to repeated submersion under waves or currents; (b) orient yourself to new “in-river” surroundings; (c) reposition yourself in the water to different swimming positions; (d) swim aggressively to a boat or to shore in whitewater; (e) receive a rescue rope, paddle, or human assistance, and possibly let go of the same; (f) get out from under an overturned boat.
- Ability to swim 100 yards in flat water while wearing a PFD.
- Ability to assist another passenger who has fallen out of the boat by pulling them back in.
- Ability to follow both verbal and non-verbal instructions given by guides in all situations, including during stressful or dangerous situations, and to effectively communicate with guides and other guests.
- Ability to carry personal dry bags and other personal gear (as heavy as 20-30 pounds) uphill from the boats to your camping location and back the next morning, independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member. (This only applies on multi-day trips).
- Ability to manage all personal care independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member.
- If taking prescription medications, have the ability to maintain proper dosage by medicating independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member.
- Ability to remain adequately fed, hydrated, and properly dressed so as to avoid environmental injuries such as hypothermia, heat related illness, sunburn and frostbite.
The above criteria, if not met, will disqualify a person from participating in a river trip with OARS. The criteria exist for your own safety and that of all trip participants. None of the criteria are meant to discriminate on the basis of any physical or mental disability, and are applied uniformly to all potential trip participants, irrespective of the presence or absence of any disability. OARS is committed to making reasonable modifications to any trip for any persons with a disability, so long as they do not fundamentally alter the nature of the trip.
Further Information About Our Expectations of Trip Participants
The following paragraphs are meant to further inform all potential participants of the expectations for all participants in order to promote a safe, enjoyable experience for everyone on a trip. There may be requirements, whether physical or mental, that are not specifically applied “essential eligibility criteria”, but that help our guests understand the reality of being on a wilderness river trip.
Our primary goal is to minimize the risks associated with adventure trips in a wilderness environment. The trip involves physical exertion and exposure to the elements, including cold water and the potential for heat, sun, wind, rain and snow. We have experience accommodating people with a wide range of physical disabilities and/or health conditions. However, individuals who are overweight, lack conditioning, or have other physical limitations or ailments that interfere with the realistic encounters on a wilderness river can endanger themselves, other guests, and the guides. Please consult your doctor if you have medical or health conditions that could impact your ability to participate in this outdoor adventure.
It is very important that each trip participant take an active role in their own safety. You will likely encounter wilderness conditions that you are unfamiliar with, and those conditions may change rapidly. It is critical to pay attention at all times, to be aware of your surroundings, and to avoid taking unnecessary risks. Even a non-life threatening injury in a wilderness setting can become a major emergency for you, and can endanger the entire group. Swimming alone or hiking alone is discouraged. Excessive alcohol consumption or illicit drug use is not tolerated. Using common sense, and following both the explicit instruction and the lead of your guides can go a long way towards keeping yourself and the group safe. Some obvious things to avoid in camp and on shore (by way of example) are: walking around without shoes in camp, approaching wild animals, not paying attention to what is above or around your tent site that could harm you, not paying attention to hazards such as poison ivy and rattlesnakes, and walking near precipitous ledges.
River trips, particularly those involving whitewater, are inherently risky. While the risk of a trip is part of what makes it an exciting adventure, you must be entirely respectful of the risk that such a trip poses. It is important that you are confident in your swimming ability, and your ability to stay calm in the event you become a non-voluntary swimmer. Your odds of becoming a non-voluntary swimmer change with the classification of a rapid, boat selection and environmental factors. On class IV and greater whitewater, the probability that you will become a non-voluntary swimmer is significant. A swim in whitewater is much more difficult and physically draining than swimming in flat water. Swimming in cold water can cause a gasping effect on your respiratory system. This can be overcome by focusing on your breathing and calming yourself down. Swimming in cold water will also much more quickly sap your energy and decrease muscle function than swimming in warmer water. While our guides are highly trained and will do their absolute best to rescue you, a successful rescue is greatly hampered by a swimmer who is unprepared for a swim in whitewater, who fails to actively participate in their own rescue, and who is not able to follow directions while under stress. You will receive a detailed orientation talk at the start of your river trip, but you can get a better idea of what to expect by watching a version of an orientation talk here: http://www.oars.com/videos/oars-whitewater-orientation.
Due to the physical nature of this trip, we highly recommend that you engage in regular exercise for at least three months prior to departure to ensure preparedness. No gym membership required! Simple exercises like push-ups, sit-ups and squats go a long way to improving core fitness. Start with these exercises and do three sets of ten repetitions each, three to four times per week. Aerobic training is also easy to accomplish without expensive equipment. Take 30 – 40 minutes two to three times a week and go for a brisk walk, easy jog or bike ride around town. If you have access to a pool, lake or the ocean, swimming is obviously an ideal choice for aerobic exercise. It provides a full-body workout and is training that is useful in the event of an involuntary swim in a whitewater rapid. It is important to push yourself in the months leading up to your trip by increasing your strength training repetitions and the pace of your aerobic training. Check with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise program to be sure you are medically safe to participate. Starting an exercise program that is more strenuous than you are ready for may result in injury or risk exacerbating existing health conditions. Getting in shape will certainly add to your enjoyment of the trip.
Packing for Your Trip
Click on this link for helpful information about packing for your trip: https://www.oars.com/video/pack-river-rafting-trip/
During the day—Start with a swimsuit and/or swim trunks and synthetic or merino wool shirt as a base layer. Additional layers for sun protection or insulation can be added and subtracted depending on the weather, temperature and how wet you’re getting in the rapids.
In camp—When the weather is warm, lightweight cotton pants/skirt or shorts and shirt make great camp wear. Anytime the forecast calls for cool evenings and cold nights, a dry set of long underwear is the perfect base layer under long pants and a fleece sweater.
During the day—The best choice is an amphibious shoe that drains water, protects your toes and won’t come off in swirling current. A retired pair of athletic shoes can work well, too. Sport sandals with a heel strap are a good option, especially on rivers with sandy beaches. Find professional-grade options made by Chaco® at www.chacos.com, the official footwear sponsor of OARS guides.
In camp—We recommend wearing shoes in camp due to risk of kicking a rock buried in the sand or stepping on a sharp stick. The athletic shoes or light hikers you bring for hiking can double as your camp shoes. It’s nice to put on dry socks and shoes after a day on the water. Flip flops or slip-on sandals are OK for wearing in camp only.
Please note: If you buy new shoes or sandals for the trip, make sure you break them in first!
During the day—Wide-brimmed hats are a good choice for sun protection. Ball caps are also useful since they fit under helmets, which are required attire when paddling our whitewater rivers.
In camp—When the weather is cool or cold, you’ll want a beanie-style hat to wear in camp. They are the perfect remedy for bed-head as you rise from your sleeping bag to secure your morning cup of coffee or tea, or for retaining warmth in the evening hours after the sun sets.
Hot Weather Trips
During summer months, conditions on the river may be hot and sunny. These trips require less gear than spring or fall trips, but thoughtful packing is still required. Protection from the sun and heat will be critical to your enjoyment and health while on the river and during side hikes. To protect yourself from the sun’s rays, consider bringing long-sleeved shirts and pants.
A good way to keep cool is with long-sleeved cotton shirts. Old collared dress shirts work well. They can be soaked in the water and worn in the raft or carried on a hike for later use. This method of evaporative cooling is very effective. Bandanas are another useful item that can be used in this manner. Camp-wear should be made of cotton and be loose-fitting. A combination of shorts/skirt and a lightweight top is ideal for staying cool on hot afternoons.
To Avoid Being Cold
Synthetic or merino wool long underwear is a must-have on river trips. It can be worn under shorts, rain gear, T-shirts, etc., then stripped off when the chill of the morning has worn off. It keeps you warm even if it’s wet (which can happen easily), dries quickly, and it’s compact enough to be stuffed into your small waterproof bag or daypack after you take it off. It can be layered under your waterproof rain jacket and pants. In cooler weather a rain jacket and pants work better than a wetsuit, because the jacket and pants can be put on when it’s cold, or when you’re going through whitewater, then easily taken off when the sun comes out and it’s hot. Be aware that cotton items, once wet, do not insulate; only synthetic and wool materials will keep you warm during cool, wet weather.
Something warm for your top & bottom: You need to be prepared for inclement weather. Bring a good fleece or wool top and bottom, along with a warm hat and gloves. You’ll want to double up on your base layers so that you’ll have a set to wear in the boat and a set of warm, dry clothes for camp.
March, April & early May Trips: These are surely some of the most beautiful months to be on the San Juan River, but they can also produce some surprisingly chilly temperatures. During the spring, the sun is not far enough north in the sky for its warming rays to reach down into the river canyon for as many hours a day as it does in the summer. This means more shady areas, fewer sunny ones. Therefore, when you are splashed (drenched) going through the rapids and you’re in a shady area, you will get very cold unless you are prepared.
Rain gear protects you from rain, wind and the splash of the rapids. It is one of the essential items that all passengers should have no matter what time of year you are traveling. Look for jacket and pants that are 100% waterproof, not just water resistant. A hooded jacket is recommended as well as good secure closures around your head, neck, wrists and ankles. Do not bring a rain poncho as it cannot be worn under your PFD.
Protecting yourself from the sun should be taken very seriously. A hat, sunscreen, lip balm and sunglasses are a must. In many cases, a long-sleeve shirt is the best method for preventing sunburn on your upper body. Light-weight long pants may also be appropriate to protect your legs.
Bugs & Mosquitoes
Bugs and mosquitos vary depending on location and time of year. It’s a good idea to come prepared with insect repellent. Long sleeved shirts and pants may be desirable at times.
You can either bring your own sleeping bag, pad and ground tarp, or you can rent our sleep kit. If you are purchasing your own bag for the trip, keep in mind that a synthetic-fill bag rated to 20°F (the normal range for an all-around, “three-season” bag) is recommended for early and late season trips.
SUGGESTED PACKING LIST
Equipment and Personal Items:
☐ Sleeping bag, pad, sheet liner, small pillow, 5×7-foot tarp. Sleep kits including these items may be rented for $40 (for trips in March, April, May and early-June we suggest a synthetic-fill bag rated to 20°F)
☐ Two 1-liter water bottles: durable and reusable
☐ Locking carabiner (for clipping a water bottle or personal dry bag into a raft or inflatable kayak
☐ Headlamp or flashlight (consider bringing extra batteries)
☐ Sunglasses (preferably polarized) with securing strap (consider bringing a spare)
☐ Small, quick-drying towel
☐ Toiletries, including biodegradable soap (such as Campsuds or Dr. Bronner’s)
☐ Sunscreen and lip protection: waterproof & SPF 30 or higher (aerosol sprays not recommended)
☐ Moisturizing lotion or cream
☐ Insect repellent
☐ Personal first aid kit (Band-aids, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, moleskin, eye drops, etc.)
☐ Spare pair of glasses and/or contacts
☐ Cash for gratuities
☐ River shoes or sandals with a heel strap (such as those made by Chaco® chacos.com)
“Aqua socks” strongly discouraged
☐ Athletic shoes or light hikers: for hikes or in camp
☐ Hiking socks
☐ Long-sleeved shirts: lightweight and light color for sun protection (old dress shirts work well)
☐ Long pants: lightweight and light color for sun protection
☐ Shade hat or visor with securing strap – flexible enough to fit under your helmet
☐ Rain jacket & pants: waterproof (not water resistant) A hooded jacket with secure closures is recommended
☐ Swimsuit / Trunks: 2-piece suits recommended for women. Tankinis are a great option
☐ Shorts: 1-2 pair
☐ T-shirts/tops: 1-2
☐ Synthetic or merino wool long underwear: 1 set top & bottom (light-, mid- or expedition-weight depending on the time of year, weather, location)
☐ Jacket: fleece or down/synthetic fill puffy (depending on the time of year, weather, location)
☐ Camp clothes: comfortable and appropriate for season. Cotton recommended for hot weather trips
Additional Essentials for early/late season trips (March / April / May / early-June ):
☐ Wetsuit booties and/or neoprene, wool or synthetic socks (for wearing inside your river shoes)
☐ Fleece top & bottom
☐ Warm hat and gloves: synthetic or wool
☐ Extra set of synthetic or merino wool long underwear top and bottom
☐ Neoprene paddling gloves
☐ Camera and accessories
☐ Sarong: useful for sun protection/changing clothes
☐ Small day pack, waist pack or hydration pack for side hikes
☐ Bathing wipes: pre-moistened disposable towels
☐ Plastic bags: for separating dirty clothes from clean
☐ Ear plugs
☐ Splash jacket and pants
☐ Lightweight cord and clothespins for drying clothes
☐ Sketchbook, notebook and pen, paperback book
☐ Feminine Urinary Device (for women only)
Find all the gear you need for your trip online in the OARStore and receive FREE SHIPPING in the U.S. + 15% of your purchase helps provide disadvantaged youth with outdoor adventure experiences.
Packing Your Gear
At the pre-trip meeting each person will be given two large waterproof bags (approximate sealed size: 13” diameter x 25” tall; 3318 cu in; 54.4 L). One bag will be for your clothing and personal items; the other bag will be for your sleeping gear (sleeping bag, sleeping pad, ground tarp, sheet and pillow). These two bags will be your “checked luggage” and will only be accessible in camp. Tents are stowed separately. Please note: if you rent our sleep kit, it will come already packed in one of the 2 waterproof bags issued to each passenger. We also provide a small waterproof bag for day use where you can keep items such as raingear, camera, sunscreen, lip balm, etc. (approximate sealed size: 17” tall x 9” diameter; 1081 cu in; 17.7 L). The bags are cylindrical in shape and pack from the top. Please pack light, and keep in mind that river attire is casual: comfort, convenience and boat space take precedence over style. At the end of the trip, you will return to Bluff with your waterproof bags, where you will be able to unpack your gear before your trip home.
If you have extra luggage it should be locked in your car or stored at your hotel.
We recommend that you leave your valuables at home. For personal items like wallets, purses and cell phones, we recommend leaving them in your car if possible, or in a zip-lock bag at the bottom of your waterproof bag with your clothing.
Tipping is optional, but appreciated by our staff. If you are wondering how much to tip, you may consider that we operate in a service industry with a host of behind-the-scenes contributors in addition to the guides on your trip. In general, we suggest a gratuity based on 10 – 15% of the trip cost. It is customary on OARS trips for gratuities to be given to the Trip Leader in the form of cash or personal check, who will then distribute appropriately amongst all the guides and support staff.
In reviewing your statement, you’ll note a $1/person/day donation to Utah Rivers Council, a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to Utah’s rivers and clean water sources. One-hundred percent of these funds go directly to Utah’s rivers and your contribution is tax-deductible. This donation is voluntary and may be removed from your invoice if you choose not to participate. Please notify our office if you would prefer to delete the donation from your balance.
If you enjoyed your trip, consider donating to the OARS Foundation. This organization is a not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization with the express goal of providing opportunities for young people to experience the magic of the outdoors. Visit https://www.oars.com/oars-foundation/ to learn more about how a tax-deductible donation can change young lives for the better.
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Terms & Conditions
Reservations and Deposits
A $250/person deposit is required at the time of reservation. The balance is due 60 days prior to departure.
Cancellations and Refunds
If you find it necessary to cancel your trip, please notify us as soon as possible. The cancellation fee after you’ve made your deposit can range up to the entire trip cost, based upon the number of days prior to your trip that we receive your cancellation notice. We regret we cannot make exceptions for personal emergencies. For this reason, we strongly urge you to consider purchasing a travel protection plan (see Travel Protection).
Cancellations 60 days or more prior to your trip earn a full refund less a $100/person fee. Cancellations 59 days or less prior to your trip are not refundable.
If you transfer from one trip to another within the same season, there is a $50/person charge up until 60 days before the trip. Transfers made after this time will be treated as cancellations.
If you are traveling as part of a charter group please note that deposit/cancellation policies differ from those listed above.
Under most circumstances, if you are of an adventurous spirit and in reasonably good health, you should have no problem enjoying an OARS trip. People with medical conditions, including pregnancy, should have a physician’s approval before taking an adventure travel trip.
For those unforeseen circumstances that may arise before or during your trip, we offer an optional Travel Protection Plan from Trip Mate, Inc. (in CA & UT, dba Trip Mate Insurance Agency) that can help protect you, your travel investment and your belongings. Should you have to cancel your trip due to illness or injury—your own or that of an immediate family member—non-refundable payments may be covered by a travel protection plan (see Cancellations and Refunds). For a complete description of Trip Mate’s Plan online go to: www.tripmate.com/wpF431Z or call Trip Mate at 800-888-7292 (reference Plan #F431Z). Please Note: Purchase this Plan within 14 days of the date we receive your initial deposit and the exclusion for Pre-Existing Medical Conditions will be waived, provided you are not disabled from travel at the time the plan is purchased.
Everyone is required to sign a standard liability release form before the trip, acknowledging awareness that there are some inherent risks associated with the trip. However, due to the nature of the activities, a condition of your participation is that you will sign this form and return it to our office before the trip begins. Anyone who refuses to sign the form will not be allowed to participate, and consistent with OARS cancellation policy, there will be no refund of the trip fees at that time.
Responsibility – An Important Notice
O.A.R.S. Canyonlands, Inc. and cooperating agencies act only in the capacity of agent for the participants in all matters relating to transportation and/or all other related travel services, and assume no responsibility however caused for injury, loss or damage to person or property in connection with any service, including but not limited to that resulting directly or indirectly from acts of God, detention, annoyance, delays and expenses arising from quarantine, strikes, theft, pilferage, force majeure, failure of any means of conveyance to arrive or depart as scheduled, civil disturbances, government restrictions or regulations, and discrepancies or change in transit over which it has no control. Reasonable changes in itinerary may be made where deemed advisable for the comfort and well being of the participants, including cancellation due to water fluctuation, insufficient bookings (this trip requires a minimum of 4 guests), and other factors. There is risk in whitewater rafting, particularly during high-water conditions. Rafts, dories and kayaks do capsize. You could be swept overboard. Your guide will make every attempt to assist, but you must be strong and agile enough to “self-help” and “float-it-out” without further endangering yourself or others. We reserve the right not to accept passengers weighing more than 260 pounds or with a waist/chest size exceeding 56 inches. We may decide, at any time, to exclude any person or group for any reason we feel is related to the safety of our trips. We are experienced at accommodating people with various disabilities. Please give us an opportunity to make you feel welcome. We need to discuss any special requirements ahead of time. On advancement of deposit the depositor agrees to be bound by the above recited terms and conditions. Prices subject to change without notice.