The Happy Life of a River Guide

The Happy Life of a River Guide

In his 9 years with OARS Eli Helvey has rafted in the Grand Canyon, Oregon, Chile (and even India and Morocco), but he calls the Tuolumne River in California home. He says it’s a happy life. Read our interview with this veteran river guide…

Why do you love guiding?

My favorite thing about guiding is sharing the experience with a bunch of people who haven’t ever experienced it before. And getting to know people. With multi-day trips you get a little more time and it just ends up being nice to get to know new people from all aspects and walks of life.

What makes multi-day trips so special?

One thing I really enjoy about the multi-day trips is seeing people kind of breakdown a little bit. They’re cell phones aren’t working. You don’t have any TV or computers or any electronics at all. So people sit down in a chair and look around like they don’t know what to do. And then eventually they come over and start playing bocce ball or Frisbee or hanging out with the guides, just chatting, getting to know people. It’s unlike most other situations where there’s just nothing else to do but hang out and have fun. Especially kids. You see kids who have a big attitude from being in the city, and all that stuff that goes on when you’re a kid. You take all that away and they just get to be out in the wilderness having fun. It’s definitely cool to see that. Their attitudes go away a lot of the time.


On a multi-day trip you spend a lot more time with your guests. And once you’re down in the canyon, you’re all kind of relying on each other. You fire line the bags off the boat. You’re all helping out with dishes. So you really get a chance to know people a lot more and people have the chance to get to know each other a lot more. Even family members have the chance to get to know each other a lot more.

What’s your favorite OARS trip?

The Tuolumne River. Hands down. All the other trips are great, but that’s my personal favorite. They’re a little shorter, 2 and 3-day trips. You can even do it in one day if you really charge. But the whitewater is amazing. The scenery beautiful. And it’s definitely my home.

Which rivers are on your bucket list?

I’m definitely going back to Chile. Love the Futaluefu and doing that river. And as long as it’s not damned I’m going to be down there. The next thing might be the Zambezi. It’s something I’ve always wanted to see and if the opportunity is there, why not? That’s next for me, for sure…a little Africa.


Related Articles:

Confessions of a Female River Guide

Culinary Adventure Trips: Meet the Man Behind the Meals

California: A State of Whitewater



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