OARS Response to COVID-19: What to Expect

Originally posted March 11, 2020 – updated June 17, 2020

Back to work

After much consideration, we’re now planning to operate many of our trips throughout the western U.S. beginning in July. Rivers and national parks are generally open to visitors at this point and we believe our mitigation plan—which includes a Health & Hygiene Pledge, pre-screening protocols, enhanced sanitation procedures, and measures to maintain as much physical distance as possible—charts a reasonable path forward to operating group outdoor adventures during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re already booked on or considering an OARS adventure this year, 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 will include 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’ll also be 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 will not be required while in a boat. However, we will be expecting 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.

Sanitation & Hygiene

OARS has always adhered to a high standard of sanitation and hygiene, but we’re doubling 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 will be required. Once on board we’ll be taking other precautions like requiring physical distancing, opening windows whenever possible, and eliminating the use of recirculation mode for the air conditioner/heater. All vehicles will be 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 will be assigned for the whole trip, clearly marked and distinguishable from others. Other communal items will be sanitized frequently, or eliminated. For example, group games that involve close contact and touching of a common object will be restricted.

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

Hand washing — In camp, there will be 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’ll also bring a supply of hand sanitizer and each boat will be 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 will wear face masks and gloves and there will be enhanced sanitation efforts across all areas. There will be no communal snacks or appetizers, and instead of our traditional breakfast and dinner buffets and make-your-own-sandwich lunches, all meals will be served by your guides.

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.

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.

If OARS has to cancel your trip — To date, we’ve made the difficult decision to cancel all OARS trips through early July of this year. And, unfortunately, due to a shortened season, reduced staffing, and general operational constraints, our capacity for running trips this year has been significantly reduced. This means additional cancellations of some trips are unavoidable. We are working to contact all impacted travelers with the offer of a full refund or a 10% discount (up to $300 per person) on a future OARS domestic trip when you transfer your payment to a future trip or a credit account.

Trip pages on our website will be updated regularly to reflect available dates for the balance of 2020 and for 2021.

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.

Pushing off from shore…

It was never our goal to be the first to run this new rapid, but we’ve been watching, reading, consulting with colleagues, listening, and plotting our course for months now. Even in ordinary times, we can’t completely insulate ourselves from danger when engaging in group travel through remote wild places. And, while the health and safety of our guests and staff remains our top priority, risk acceptance is part of who we are and why we, and our guests, love what we do. We have a plan in place, guided by industry standards and approvals from State and local health departments. PPE is being stocked, guide training is underway, and our 2020 season is set to begin. We will conduct ourselves with a focus on being reasonable and responsible, and experience suggests we will make it through right-side up—hearts racing, and smiling from ear to ear.

Thanks for sticking with us,

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

Latest Cancellation/Transfer Policies

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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