Yes, Fall Really is the Best Season for Rafting Trips
Come late summer, the days cool down, the leaves begin to change and the first nips of winter can be discerned in the air. The riotous energy of high summer has passed, and it’s time to start thinking about throwing on a sweater, carving some gourds and ordering pumpkin spiced lattes. Oh, and taking a river trip.
Because here’s the thing: fall is prime time for rafting.
Yes, summer (and to a lesser extent, spring) hog the spotlight when it comes to river trip time. And it’s easy to see why: hot temperatures, high flows and ample daylight create perfect conditions for adventurous days filled with big rapids, water fights and plenty of beach time.
But fall trips come with a river magic all of their own, a result of their particular mix of idyllic weather, solitude, gorgeous colors and slower pace of time. Still need convincing? Here are five reasons why fall is the best time of year for rafting trips.
Here’s Why Fall Rafting Trips Are Unforgettable…
1) The weather
Late summer and fall — particularly in the canyons of the desert Southwest — bring a dreamy pattern of warm days and crisp nights. This creates ideal conditions for soaking in the last delicious bits of the summer sun, and makes those side-hikes to waterfalls, petroglyphs or other destinations — the hikes that can be too arduous in the heat of mid-summer — heavenly. Cool nights mean the campfire is that much more appealing to gather around, and crisp mornings are great for cozying up with a cup of coffee in your sleeping bag.
2) The solitude
School gets back in session come late summer and the focus of many turns to indoor activities, which means fewer people are venturing out to camp, recreate and raft. In the serenity of uncrowded river corridors that fall affords, it’s easier to secure prime campsites and enjoy the wonders of the river without clamor. And if you are a parent, a fall trip could be a great excuse for a pristine getaway while the kids are in school.
3) The colors.
There’s something about the long golden light of late summer and fall that imbues the landscape with an extra layer of beauty. Spilling over a canyon wall onto a placid stretch of river, it becomes pure enchantment. And that’s just the beginning of the allure of fall colors. Free of sediment-heavy runoff, rivers turn crystal-clear. Cottonwoods become beacons of gold alongside the river, scrub oak carpets hills in quilts of orange and grasses turn tawny. What results is a visual feast.
4) The water
As runoff diminishes at the end of the summer, rivers get slower and lower. Lower flows make for exciting but not-quite-so-scary rapids, and the water becomes mellow enough to try crafts like stand up paddleboards or inflatable kayaks. Another upshot is this: when water levels drop, it uncovers large, sandy beaches along the river’s banks, which are ideal for campsites, lunch spots or beach games like horseshoes, volleyball or bocce. And because the water has more time to heat up in the sun, it becomes warmer, creating awesome conditions for swimming and floating.
5) The pace
With lower flows, shorter days and the beauty of nature in transition to take in, fall river trips come with an inherently slower pace. This makes them perfect outlets for meditative activities. Think fly-fishing, journaling, long afternoon hikes, sketching in a notebook, storytelling around the campfire, gazing at the stars and posting up on a secluded riverbank with a good book and a hot drink. Perhaps even a pumpkin-spice flavored one.
Where to find some of the best fall rafting trips in the West
- Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, Utah – Fall Cataract Canyon rafting trips offer up ideal weather for hiking in the heart of Canyonlands National Park and prime stargazing after monsoon season.
- Middle Fork of the Salmon River, ID – The Middle Fork of the Salmon is renowned for its world-class trout fishing, which is best in the late summer, early fall months.
- American River, CA – Both the South Fork and Middle Forks of the American River are dam-controlled, which is good news for rafters who don’t want summer to end, but want to avoid summer crowds. Most commercial trips run through September, but hardcore private boaters with the right gear can run this river almost year-round.
- Rogue River, OR – For rafters looking for solitude and prime wildlife viewing, it doesn’t get more idyllic than Oregon’s Rogue River.
- Colorado River through Grand Canyon, AZ – Ask many guides, and they’ll tell you it doesn’t get much better than fall in Grand Canyon when the scorching summer heat has passed, and hiking — the highlight of most Grand Canyon rafting trips — is at its best.
Photos: Middle Fork of the Salmon River rafting trip – Justin Bailie; Hiking in Canyonlands National Park – James Kaiser; Fishing on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River; Downtime on a Salmon River rafting trip – Sam Starr, Cataract Canyon camp in Canyonlands – James Kaiser