OARS Response to COVID-19: What to Expect

Originally posted March 11, 2020 – updated September 2, 2020

Going with the Flow

While the season isn’t over yet and it’s not too late to join us on a river trip in 2020, we are incredibly grateful to everyone who has put their trust in us this year and helped our family-owned outfitting business “stay afloat” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The path forward wasn’t always clear, but thanks to our loyal guests, a stellar team who has an innate ability to “go with the flow” and new protocols tested and firmly in place—like a Health & Hygiene Pledge, pre-screening protocols, enhanced sanitation procedures, and measures to maintain as much physical distance as possible—we’re more confident than ever in our ability to create life-changing experiences for our guests.

Rafting with OARS in the COVID Era - What to Expect

And well, we think the feedback we’ve been receiving speaks for itself…

A “Special Memory” on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River

We had a small group, we’re all a bit on the ‘mature’ side & all appreciated the complexities of keeping everyone safe. Overall you nailed it. It was flexible yet strict. Thank you for a special memory. ~Julie & Anthony

“Fantastic Family Trip” Rafting through Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

The trip was amazing. It exceeded our expectations and was one of the best family trips we’ve ever taken. The guides did a great job with COVID precautions and so did the other guests. We’re already planning our next OARS trip, probably Main Salmon River in ID next summer. ~Chris Kresser

“Rad River Experience” Rafting the Tuolumne Near Yosemite in California

OARS Tuolumne trip was fantastic! Their attention to COVID-19 precautions were the very best, even on a river trip…and we couldn’t have asked for a better guide group. Also the food was awesome. Do this trip and get outdoors. Don’t let the pandemic hold you back because they made it very safe amid the restrictions and new norm. ~Sightseer655303

“A Truly Great Adventure” on Oregon’s Rogue River

The OARS staff were extremely knowledgeable which made my first time on whitewater a truly great adventure. I always felt safe in their hands. The food was so much more than expected—I actually gained a couple of pounds, LOL! And, everyone respected each other’s space due to COVID. The whole trip was terrific. ~Judy Karr

If you’re already booked on or considering an OARS adventure in the future, read on to find out more about what you can expect.

Read Full Mitigation Plan

A River Trip Like Never Before: Please Watch

High-risk Individuals

While we know many people are longing for an outdoor adventure right now, it might not be the right timing for everyone. If you’re over 65 years of age, immunocompromised, or at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 as outlined by the CDC, we’re recommending that you do not go on a backcountry trip this summer.

Enhanced Screening

Leading up to your trip, this includes signing our updated Risk/Release form, exercising extra caution to reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19, and closely monitoring yourself and family for symptoms prior to departure. Five days before your trip, you’re also required to sign and complete our new Health & Hygiene Pledge, stating that you are healthy and you will abide by OARS protocols and participate in all screening measures. These screening measures include a COVID symptom questionnaire and temperature check prior to travel, at the pre-trip meeting, and daily for the duration of your trip to ensure there hasn’t been any changes in health among the group.

Face Coverings

Generally, face coverings are not required while in a boat. However, we expect all guests and staff to use them in the following situations:

  • At the pre-trip meeting
  • When entering any building
  • While traveling in a vehicle or aircraft
  • When meeting someone for the first time, or when approaching another group on the river/trail
  • In the food line for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

To adhere to these guidelines, we’re asking all guests to arrive with a minimum of two reusable/washable face coverings such as a bandana, cloth mask, or neck gaiter and be prepared to use a clean face covering each day.

Morning temperature checks on OARS trips during COVID

Sanitation & Hygiene

OARS has always adhered to a high standard of sanitation and hygiene, but we’ve doubled down on certain protocols when it comes to transportation, equipment, hand washing, and food service.

Transportation — In addition to reducing the number of people in all vehicles, face coverings and hand washing/sanitizing is required before boarding. Once on board additional precautions include: requiring physical distancing, opening windows whenever possible, and eliminating the use of recirculation mode for the air conditioner/heater. All vehicles are cleaned and sanitized after each use.

Equipment — With an emphasis on reducing or eliminating shared items, all personal gear including helmets, PFDs, tents, sleep kits, and dry bags are assigned for the whole trip, clearly marked and distinguishable from others. Other communal items are sanitized frequently, or have been eliminated. For example, group games that involve close contact and touching of a common object are restricted.

Following every trip, all equipment is properly sanitized or laundered. Tents and sleeping pads are sanitized and/or cycled out of use for 72 hours.

Hand washing — In camp, there is an added emphasis on hand washing. In addition to convenient locations for two to three foot pump-operated hand wash stations at every camp, we also bring a supply of hand sanitizer and each boat is equipped with soap and/or hand sanitizer. However, we’re also asking guests to bring their own supply of hand sanitizer for more convenient personal use when other options are not available.

Food service — When packing, preparing, or otherwise handling food or beverages, staff are required to wear face masks and gloves and we’ve enhanced sanitation efforts across all areas. We’ve removed communal snacks and appetizers from our menus, and instead of our traditional breakfast and dinner buffets and make-your-own-sandwich lunches, all meals are served by your guides.

Rafting with OARS during the COVID era - What to expect

Physical Distancing

Despite the communal nature of our trips, we’re asking guests to practice physical distancing and maintain at least six feet from OARS staff and other people who are not part of your household or with whom you did not travel to the meeting place for your trip (your travel unit). Travel units will travel together in vehicles, aircraft, and boats with no more than one or two travel units per boat (one travel unit per inflatable kayak) with limited mobility between rafts, dories, inflatable kayaks, and SUPs during the day.

COVID Protocols

If a guest or guide exhibits COVID symptoms while on a trip, we will consult with local agencies on availability and justification for evacuation as soon as possible. These individuals will also be isolated from others and we will follow EMS/WFR protocols to provide appropriate medical treatment. Testing for COVID-19 will be performed at the earliest opportunity and OARS will notify the appropriate agencies along with all trip participants of the results.

Traveling Responsibly

Please be aware of your potential impacts on the small communities you may travel through on your trip. Physical distancing, using a face covering when you’re close to others outside of your travel unit, avoiding crowded places like restaurants and bars, and not traveling at all if you have symptoms are important considerations. We also recommend driving instead of flying if at all possible. An outbreak in a small community could end your river trip and work for our employees—but more importantly it could be devastating for that community.

Absolutely exceeded my expectations! Your attention to detail from booking, COVID planning and implementation, guide selection, menu, gear, and execution were flawless. I paid close attention to other guided groups we met along the way. Hands down, no comparison, glad I was on an OARS boat. The difference is noticeable even from a distance! ~Cataract Canyon guest, Chad Catledge

Read Full Mitigation Plan


If you need to cancel your trip — After reviewing our mitigation plan, if you decide you need to cancel your trip, please give us a call ASAP to discuss your options. To provide for some additional flexibility during these uncertain times, we’ve temporarily deferred our final payment due dates and modified our cancel/transfer policies (see links below) for many of our trips, which will allow you, under certain criteria, to transfer your trip payments to a future departure at significantly reduced fees.

OARS International Trips

As a result of worldwide travel restrictions, we are working with our guests and affiliate operators to cancel or reschedule trips on a case by case basis. However, it’s important to note that OARS International trips are run in collaboration with OARS by affiliate operators and include local guides, transportation services, hotels, camps, yachts, etc. These are small local businesses that support resident communities, and we’re proud to consider them part of our team. When you reserve an international trip with OARS, we make non-refundable payments for entrance fees and contract services on your behalf months in advance. Under normal circumstances, deposits and final payments (typically due 90 – 130 days prior to departure) are non-refundable. In some cases, it can be difficult, or impossible for us to get those payments back. Bottom line, we’ll do the absolute best we can under the circumstances to minimize any fees incurred, but transferring to a future trip may offer the greatest value, often at no cost to you.

Rafting with OARS during the COVID era - What to expect

Around the Next Bend…

Making the choice to operate trips during a global pandemic was certainly not an easy decision. However, after two months of running guided trips in this brave new world, we’re cautiously optimistic about the future. We’ve long believed that wilderness experiences offer a much-needed refuge from the hectic nature of our day-to-day lives, but never more so than now. We’ve heard again and again from our travelers this year that being on the river and away from it all has given many of them the chance to re-connect with others in person (with adequate physical distance when necessary) and feel at ease for the first time since the world went into lockdown back in March.

Looking ahead to 2021, we’ll continue to watch, read, listen, and consult with colleagues to plot the best path forward so we can keep doing what we do best.

All forward,

Steve Markle
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
The OARS Family of Companies

Latest Cancellation/Transfer Policies

The following temporary COVID-19 cancel/transfer policies apply to all 2020 reservations as of March 27, 2020:

COVID-19 Cancel/Transfer Policy for Multi-Day Domestic Trips (Not including Grand Canyon River Trips, JW Powell Retrace, Middle Fork Salmon River, Salmon River Combo Trips, and Yosemite Hiker)

COVID-19 Cancel/Transfer Policy for Grand Canyon River Trips

COVID-19 Cancel/Transfer Policy for Middle Fork Salmon, Salmon River Combo Trips, and Yosemite Hiker

COVID-19 Cancel/Transfer Policy for JW Powell Retrace Trips

COVID-19 Cancel/Transfer Policy for One-Day Trips on the South Fork American

COVID-19 Cancel/Transfer Policy for One-Day Trips on the Tuolumne

COVID-19 Cancel/Transfer Policy for One-Day Trips (excluding 1-Day South Fork American and Tuolumne) and Two-Day Trips on the American

COVID-19 Cancel/Transfer Policy for Alaska and International Trips (Varies by trip, please call 800-346-6277 to speak with an adventure consultant)


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