Why River Rafting Trips are the Best Way to Travel

4 Min. Read
and his childhood best friend on the Main Salmon River in Idaho
Mikah Meyer and his childhood best friend on an OARS Main Salmon River trip in Idaho

(From Someone Who’s Been to All 400+ U.S. National Parks)

How often have you looked to a loved one ready to tell them something, only to see they’re staring at their phone not ready to listen? How often have you been that person staring at their phone?

Admittedly, I am very often the latter.

So, what’s the cure for this modern (in)convenience that allows us access to the world’s knowledge and entertainment at our fingertips? How is human connection supposed to compete with this new force?

As someone who makes a living as a travel writer, regularly using my phone for both work and pleasure, I’ve found the solution: nature. Take yourself to a wild place where cell service does not reach, with 360-degree beauty no screen can match.

Mikah Meyer’s road trip route to every National Park Service site

While there are plenty of beautiful places to sever yourself from cell service, after spending three years visiting all of America’s 400-plus National Park Service sites, I’ve learned there’s one place to disconnect and be in the moment that tops the rest—a multi-day river rafting trip.

Whether for three, four, five nights, or more, the most amazing part of multi-day river trips is how easily they can wash away the barriers to connecting with others. Both with your friends or family joining you and with strangers who will soon become your “river family.”

What is this mystical power that river trips hold, and how does it play out?

From perusing trip options online all the way up to the pre-trip meeting and river-eve packing in the hotel of some small, far-flung town, there are copious moments of anticipation and excitement leading up to when the raft finally pushes off of shore—a sight that makes my heart skip a beat more than any other.

Phones switch to airplane mode and they become only brief distractions for taking pictures of canyon walls so grand they look like The Lord of the Rings movie, late-afternoon sun glistening off flowing water, and epic sunsets shared over drinks.

Suddenly, without a phone filling quiet moments, you find yourself naturally sharing a conversation with a loved one around the campfire, and easily connecting with your fellow tripmates, who are also looking up at the splendor of the canyon walls, rather than down at a screen.

Two rafts and a dory make their way downstream on the Yampa River as massive canyon walls tower above them.
Rafting down the Yampa River | Photo by Jeff Grate

These former strangers become fast friends as you work together to safely paddle down a rapid or cheer each other for taking a leap off a large rock. You sit together on a sandy beach dangling your feet in the water, asking each other questions that start with “I wonder…”—queries left to be debated over a spectacular meal cooked by your guides rather than Googled. Like my quandary on a recent Yampa River rafting trip: “Is Celine Dion 50 or 60?” (I lost.)

These wonderings lead you to be OK with not having all the answers, and you start to forget about the tasks left on your work desk. The weekly airing of Survivor you never miss doesn’t feel as important. The to-do list waiting for you back home seems insignificant.

River life runs at its own pace.

All those normal happenings will feel like they exist in another world as you look up from a game of euchre or Kubb battle on the beach and marvel at the sunset on the canyon wall, a bighorn sheep appearing across the river, or the stars revealing a majestic tapestry one by one.

Twilight on the river with camp set up down the beach and a group of people standing around a campfire.
Dusk on the Main Salmon River | Photo by Jillian Lukiwski

Day by day, your mind will begin to shift. With the dings and vibrations gone, your brain rewires. The constant stimulation of notifications is replaced by a grounding calm that allows you to tap into both a sense of self and a sense of community that feel increasingly hard to find in an ever-connected world.

Because of my role as a national parks expert, I’m often asked to share my “favorite park” or “best outdoors event.” Whether speaking to the Public Lands Alliance or a local elementary school, my answer is always the same: multi-day river trips. It’s the number one recommendation I give to those looking to best immerse themselves in nature’s wonders. It’s something I believe in so whole-heartedly, that I make it a priority to take one each year.

Because, whether chowing down on salmon on the Main Salmon, admiring the greenery on the Green River, or marveling at the grandiosity of millions of years of geology in Grand Canyon National Park, nothing provides a calming of mind, a clarity of purpose, or an awareness of my own needs and those of the community around me like a river rafting trip does.

Mikah Meyer

Mikah Meyer

Mikah Meyer holds the World Record for being the first person to visit all 400+ National Park Service sites in a single journey. Founder of Outside Safe Space, he is an avid adventurer, inspirational speaker, LGBTQ+ rights advocate and champion for diversity and inclusion in the outdoors.

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