Multi-Day River Trip FAQs

girl sitting on stack of sleeping mats outside.

The Multi-Day Rafting Experience

Your river vacation is finally here. Now you just have to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride downstream while we take care of the rest.

three rowers on a raft smiling and looking left.

Meet the Crew

Our guides, who are the single-most complimented component of our organization and recognized as some of the best in the industry, will greet you and explain in detail what you may expect throughout your trip. Trained in CPR and First Aid, swiftwater rescue, Wilderness First Responder, and Leave No Trace principles, our guides are professional, playful and ever mindful of your wants and needs. After all, we want you to have a fun and memorable experience.

Watch our 3-minute Multi-day Rafting 101 video to get a feel for what to expect:

Camping Made Easy With OARS

Whether you’re a seasoned camper or more likely to opt for the room with a view, we want sleeping under the stars to be as comfortable as it is memorable. On all of OARS multi-day river trips we provide:

  • Roomy 3-person, free-standing dome tents on a shared basis for two people. Near the water’s edge or tucked up in a secluded spot away from your trip mates? We let you set up your tent where you want it.
  • Sleep kits are supplied on some trips, or in most cases available to rent for less than the cost of checking a bag on your flight. Sleep tight in a clean and cozy sleeping bag, freshly-laundered sheet, pillow with pillowcase (no rolled up sweatshirts here!) and a 3-inch-thick sleeping pad.
  • A ground tarp to keep your home-away-from-home tidy.
  • Waterproof dry bags to keep your gear (a.k.a. checked luggage) dry and protected from the elements.
  • A personal day-use dry bag keeps important items (a.k.a. carry-on luggage) dry and accessible during the day.
  • Plates, bowls, utensils and a souvenir Klean Kanteen mug so you can enjoy all the yummy goodness coming out of the OARS riverside kitchen (yup, we bring that too).
  • Comfortable camp chairs for everybody.
  • A loo with a view! A portable potty affectionately referred to as the “groover” that’s placed in a discrete location at each camp, plus toilet paper and convenient hand-washing stations.

More than anything, it’s our goal to make sure your trip with OARS is super comfortable and completely stress-free. After all, this is your vacation and you deserve the best.


Which multi-day adventure is best for me?

When choosing your trip, consider the location, length of trip, time of year, activity level and age range of your group. OARS offers trips everywhere from the alpine rivers of Idaho to the canyons of the desert Southwest; and activity levels ranging from leisurely Class II floats, to off-the-chart adrenaline-pumping rafting trips. The choice is yours.

Are multi-day river trips all whitewater?

No. Most rivers are “pool and drop,” meaning there are exciting rapids interspersed with stretches of calm, relaxing floating, allowing you time to soak up the natural serenity. From a casual Class II float to maximum intensity Class IV & V whitewater, the ride itself is a lot of fun. However, we only spend a short amount of the long, lingering days in the boats. The stops along the way are selected to provide excellent opportunities for walking, hiking, birding, wildlife viewing and simply immersing yourself in the magic and the majesty of the region.

Do I need to be young and fit to go rafting?

OARS adventurers range in age from 4 to 84 and older. There are some physical requirements for joining our trips, weight restrictions may apply, and being healthy and reasonably fit certainly makes the experience more rewarding. People with medical conditions, including pregnancy, should have a physician’s approval before taking an adventure travel trip. Persons with various disabilities are welcome on OARS trips, pending a discussion of any special requirements. If you’re in doubt about your fitness for rafting, we recommend checking with your doctor before you go.

Can I bring young children on a rafting trip?

OARS invites children as young as four on some of our family rafting trips, although seven is the more common minimum age for Class III rivers. We want your kids to have the time of their lives, and we want you to be relaxed and able to appreciate their enthusiasm and delight. We shoulder the work and sweat all the details as you watch your child gain confidence and thrive in the natural world. OARS offers more than 20 itineraries designed especially for families.

Do I have to know how to swim?

You should have the ability to swim 100 yards in flat water while wearing a Personal Flotation Device. All OARS guests must wear our U.S. Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Devices (aka PFDs or life jackets). Should you fall out of your boat, the PFD is designed to float you face up in the water. Before you get into your boat, however, our guides will give a detailed safety talk and show you how to properly “swim” a rapid. Please be advised our Coast Guard approved PFDs are rated to accommodate persons no heavier than 260 pounds and with a chest size no larger than 56 inches. We are experienced at accommodating people of all ages and abilities.

Will I get a chance to stand-up paddle or inflatable kayak?

On many (but not all) multi-day trips OARS offers the use of inflatable kayaks and standup paddle boards. Refer to the “Boat Options”in the Trip Details section of each trip page to see what craft are typically offered on each multi-day trip. The use of these craft by guests is at the discretion of the guides on the trip. All guests who’d like to use these should watch our safety orientation video.

Will I get seasick?

The chances of getting seasick are very low. River running is not like being at sea and does not seem to induce seasickness.

What should I pack and what should I wear on the river?

In collaboration with our guides and operations managers, our expert adventure consultants have compiled detailed packing lists for each trip we offer. These documents include advice on everything from footwear to what to wear on the boat and in camp, as well as what personal items are a must (e.g. water bottle & sun protection). What to bring on your rafting trip, and what to wear on the river, is as varied as the itineraries themselves. Your gear will depend on the time of year, water temperature and the weather for your trip.

Watch our What to Wear & How to Pack video for more details.

Can I bring my phone, GoPro or video camera?

Of course! On all of our multi-day rafting trips, we provide each party with a small waterproof bag (17″ tall x 9″ diameter-approximate sealed size) to hold your camera and other items you might want during the day. It is secured in a readily accessible spot on the boat. While our bags are waterproof, to further protect your electronics you may wish to place it in a Ziploc plastic bag, or special waterproof camera case. We also recommend padding it with a small towel or clothing. Sand can be a problem, so clean your camera every night with tissue, a brush and lens paper. We also strongly recommend you take out a rider on your homeowner’s policy to cover your camera—especially if it’s fine equipment. Make sure to carry additional memory cards, batteries, and any other extras you will need. Disposable waterproof cameras are also a fun option.

Will I have cell phone service?

Once you are on the river there is limited communication with the “outside world.” Cell phone service is generally not available. Our guides carry a satellite communication device for emergency use. They can call out, but we cannot call them. Periodically the trip leader will check in with our office. If you have someone that needs to contact you about an emergency at home, they should call our office (800-346-6277). If possible, we will relay the message to you. Keep in mind, however, it could be several days or longer before the message actually reaches you. For your family at home you should define for them what you consider an emergency and provide them with instructions to call our office in the event one occurs during your vacation.

Should I get my own charger or does OARS have a spot where we can power our phones to keep taking pictures?

We are not able to provide a power source for powering or recharging devices. To keep cameras, phones, GPS, a CPAP and other devices working you may need spare batteries or portable power. Options include compact portable solar panels that can recharge devices directly, portable power banks that store power, or a combo unit that can be charged before the trip and recharged with a built-in solar panel. Solar panels must be designed to withstand outdoor elements and fit in your dry bag (roll-up or no larger than 12” x 12”). Keep in mind direct sunlight in a river canyon may be limited and even non-existent at camp (mornings and evenings).

What about the bathroom?

One of the more mysterious parts of a whitewater rafting vacation is the toilet. The “groover,” always set up and removed by the guides, is placed at a discrete location away from camp and frequently has the most scenic vistas. Privacy is assured at every site, and sanitation is highly regulated. The toilet is a narrow metal box with its key feature being a rectangular lid that creates a watertight seal to prevent spillage while locking in the odors (well, most of them). An aluminum flange is placed on top of the box and a toilet seat is mounted on the riser. (During an early river trip back in the 1970s, shortly after this system was developed, the toilet seat was accidentally left behind, the rims of the riser left telltale indentations on everyone’s bums, and the box got a nickname: the groover.) There is always plenty of toilet paper, as well as a marker notifying other passengers when the groover is in use.

We also carry a small container called the “day tripper” that can be easily accessed during the day should the need arise. It is a personal disposable toilet, which includes an odor-proof transport bag, chemical solidifier and odor eliminator, toilet paper and oversized hand wipe.

Is alcohol permitted?

Where it is not prohibited by local or national park regulations, our overnight trips include enough beer and wine to allow for about two drinks per person per night. Feel free to bring more beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages as long as they are in unbreakable containers. We provide some ice for drinks and a cooler for beer (or where space is limited, beer is “river cooled”). Drinking water is available at all times and meals include juice, coffee and tea. Drinking alcohol is limited to camping and lodging areas only, and is strictly prohibited while on the water.

Can I bring my own tent/sleeping bag?

Yes, generally guests can bring their own sleep kit and/or tent on multi-day trips, but in some cases it may be discouraged due to limited space/weight and the timing of internal flights. If you bring your own tent, we strongly recommend a high-quality backpacking tent (2- to 4-person) that will fit in our tent bags. Sleeping bags, pads and pillows must fit in the provided waterproof sleep kit bags.

Do we need water bottles?

Yes! Water bottles are essential on a river trip of any length. We recommend bringing at least one1-liter water bottle and insulated bottles are recommended for trips in hot climates to prevent water from becoming too hot from the sun.

Where can we store our water bottle, sunscreen, camera, etc. on the boat during the day?

Guests will have mesh bags and dry bags that are dedicated for day use. In dories, guests will be allowed to store day-use items in an accessible hatch.

Can I bring my own life jacket/helmet?

Often agencies that oversee commercial permits or govern certain wilderness areas dictate that guests on rafting trips must wear U.S. Coast Guard approved personal floatation devices that are owned by the outfitter. Additionally, for insurance purposes, we are required to maintain quality control over our PFDs. In rare cases where our PFD doesn’t securely fit a person’s body type or they are hard shell kayaking on the trip, then we can make an exception. This can require written approval from the National Park Service for trips within national parks. The PFD still needs to be U.S. Coast Guard approved for the activity, in good working order, and approved by us.

What kind of shoes should we wear?

Aqua socks and flip flops are not a good choice.

During the day—The best choice is an amphibious shoe that drains water, protects your toes and won’t come off in swirling current. A retired pair of athletic shoes can work well, too. Sport sandals with a heel strap are a good option, especially on rivers with sandy beaches. Find professional-grade options made by Chaco®, the official footwear sponsor of OARS guides.

In camp—We recommend wearing shoes in camp due to the risk of kicking a rock buried in the sand, or stepping on a sharp stick. The athletic shoes or light hikers you bring for hiking can double as your camp shoes. It’s nice to put on dry socks and shoes after a day on the water. Flip flops or slip-on sandals are OK for wearing in camp only.

If you buy new shoes or sandals for the trip, make sure you break them in first!

What are the meals like and can you accommodate my restrictive diet?

One of the most surprising aspects of a multi-day rafting trip with OARS is often the food. Expect to eat as well—or better—than you do at home, without having to do any of the work. That means hearty and sumptuous meals, complete with fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the entire journey (even on 18-day Grand Canyon rafting trips!).

If you have food allergies, restrictions or other special dietary requests, we will do our best to accommodate your needs. However, some specific needs can only be met if we charge you a supplemental menu fee to cover our increased costs. If you are a vegetarian or vegan and you let us know well in advance, we can provide meals for you without additional cost. We cannot always provide for the same diversity or sophistication as our regular menu for special dietary requests.

Can I book a private trip for just me and my friends/family/co-workers?

Yes! However, since we have a limited number of permitted launches for most of our trips, we may require payment for a minimum of 12 to 23 spots on a trip. If you’re interested in a private trip, or even just a private raft for the day, please call 1-800-346-6277 to speak with an Adventure Consultant.

Should I tip my guide?

Tipping is appreciated by our staff. If you are wondering how much to tip, you may consider that we operate in a service industry with a host of behind-the-scenes contributors in addition to the guides on your trip. In general, we suggest a gratuity based on 10 – 15% of the trip cost. It is customary on OARS trips for gratuities to be given to the Trip Leader, in the form of cash or a personal check, who will then distribute appropriately amongst all the guides and support staff.

Is OARS licensed to conduct river trips?

Yes. The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and the state’s park services are charged with protecting our wilderness. Members of the OARS Family of Companies are proud to hold permits with these agencies, allowing us to conduct trips on protected land and water that might otherwise be inaccessible to most members of the public.

Do I need travel protection?

Although every effort is made to provide a safe trip for all, we strongly recommend that you protect yourself, your belongings, and your vacation through the purchase of a travel protection policy. A trip cancellation policy covers your non-refundable payments in most cases, should you have to cancel your trip due to illness or injury even at the last minute. Trip participants should realize that in the event of illness or injury on a river trip, evacuation can be prolonged, difficult and expensive. Personal belongings and cameras are carried entirely at the owner’s risk, and OARS accepts no responsibility for lost, damaged, delayed or stolen property. Please call 1-800-346-6277 or 1-209-736-4677 or email [email protected] for more information.

If I can't come, or I make another plan, will you refund me?

Our full cancellation policy varies depending on the trip and is available to review on the trip page and the “Before You Go” page for your trip. Please understand that our trip dates and capacities are limited by the managing agencies, and when we accept your reservation, we may be turning others away from booking that trip. If you find it necessary to cancel your trip, please notify us as soon as possible. You can telephone, but we also need a written notice. Cancellation penalties can range up to 100% of the trip cost, depending on the date and particular trip on which you’ve been holding spaces. We regret we cannot make exceptions for personal emergencies.

What if it’s hot, cold, rainy, snowy, smoky, etc.?

Generally, OARS trips run rain, shine or snow. In the past, wildfires have forced cancellation of OARS trips due to direct interference with routes to the put-in or takeout or proximity to the river. We rarely cancel trips due to smoky conditions.

Learn more about Multi-day trips

Call toll-free 1(800)346-6277

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