The Ultimate River Trip Bucket List

11 Things You Have to Try At Least Once on a River Trip

Sometimes it’s not about how many rivers you’ve been on, but how fully you’ve enjoyed the rivers while you’ve been on them. Here’s a quick guide to the river trip experiences that everyone should have at least once—hopefully as many times as possible.

Cataract Canyon starry night | Photo: James Kaiser

Sleep under the stars. Spend at least one night with nothing but the stars above you. There’s something magical about waking up in the middle of the night and catching sight of the Milky Way as you roll back over. You may never go back to a tent again.

Eat dessert baked in a Dutch oven. Who knew that baked goods could be an essential part of camping? These clever charcoal-powered, cast-iron ovens make the next level of river fare possible: goodies like coffee cake, molten chocolate brownies and pineapple upside-down cake.

Go swimming. Voluntary or involuntary, it doesn’t matter. Just lay back, put your toes downstream and let the river do the rest.

Dory on Idaho's Main Salmon

Ride in a dory. Experience some of the West’s iconic rivers, like the Colorado or Salmon, in one of these classic wooden boots. Dories are made for rock and roll. Hardwood-hulled but ultra-bouyant, they slice walls of wave, buck through rapids and offer up a thrilling rollercoaster ride.

Take the plunge from a jump rock. Scramble awkwardly up the back of a rock so you can look down at the river and wonder “It sure looks a lot higher from here. Is this really the best way back down?” Then hold your nose and go for it.

Dare to wear flair. Take a cue from your guides and get bold with your fashion choices. “Dress to impress” night is typically the last night of a river trip and it’s a chance to wear your brightest colors and weirdest patterns.

Butt Dam Falls | Photo: Stacey Fulkerson

Build a butt dam. To build a butt dam, simply sit down in the narrow sluices of channelized side creeks to block the flow of water. Once the water has pooled behind you, jump up and enjoy the whoosh as it all rushes away downstream. The true key to a really great butt dam is location. The patio at Matkatamiba on the Grand Canyon, Tate Creek on the Rogue River, and Ely Creek Waterfall at Jones Hole on the Green River are all prime butt dam real estate.

Soak in a hot spring. Give tired muscles a rest and take in the starry view in a natural, river-side sauna. If you get a little too warm, you can always take a quick, invigorating dip into the river.

Try paddling. Take control of your own fate in a paddle boat or inflatable kayak. Compared to oar-powered rafts, paddling offers a sportier ride and you’ll get a true sense of how powerful moving water really is.

Yampa River Trip Groover View_Jim.Block

Relish the view from the groover. It can be tempting to approach your river bathroom with a “get-in-get-out” mentality. But, at least once, take a moment to pause and appreciate the best bathroom view you will ever have in your life.

Drink coffee from a mug with last night’s cocoa dregs still in the bottom. Take a sip, watch the river go by and enjoy. Whatever your age, this is a pleasure that really cannot be overstated.

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