Instructional Paddling Programs

Learn to paddle like a pro on these O.A.R.S. instructional courses:

California Idaho Oregon Utah

Robin McSpadden had this to say about her experience on our Beginning Whitewater Kayak Instruction Course on the Lower Salmon River...

"Being the type of person who loves the outdoors and everything that it entails I’ve always wanted to do an O.A.R.S. trip, especially one that involved whitewater kayaking and/or rafting. Year after year I would find myself saying, “Someday I’m going to do this.” Well, someday is upon me and I’m not getting any younger. Last summer I found myself frustrated with the lack of enthusiasm from my family to take our annual summer trip. So I said to heck with them! I’m taking myself on vacation and I’m doing what I want to do! I started researching trips online and stumbled across the OARS beginner whitewater kayaking school. It was perfect right down to the dates. The cost was steep for me on a (Arizona) teaching salary but I finally decided to “bite the bullet” and just do it!! Really, when you think about it, the price of the trip with everything it includes isn’t bad. At least I was only paying for myself!

Fast forward to trip time and I find myself at the initial meeting. I’m excited and nervous and then I become anxious when I realize I’m the only female. My fears are soon receding as I discover there will be 3 female guides on the trip. Whew! I’m so relieved!

Besides taking an adventure vacation, this is also a learning experience. I’ve always considered myself adventurous, independent, and courageous. A trip like this will challenge you and really shake up your world…for the better. I discovered that while I like to “be perfect” I most certainly am not and that perfection must be ignored. Flipping in your kayak or coming out is not failure; it’s inevitable and all part of the experience. Learning to put faith in others that are complete strangers and trusting them for the support you will need to get you down the river is essential. You walk into this trip as strangers and quickly become family. It’s an excellent team-building experience. You MUST be able to depend on the people you’re with as they also depend on you.

There will be moments that shake you up and “knock you off your horse” but you’ll learn that you can get “back in the saddle” and conquer your fears. When you do, and after you finish the trip, you’ll realize that no matter what life throws you (for me it was a breast cancer scare) you’ll be able to bravely face it, conquer it, and move past it. It is most definitely an internal strength building experience. This trip will excite you, exhaust you, give you more thrills than any theme park roller coaster ride ever could, it will intimidate you, but ultimately it will renew you. You will walk away knowing you are a much stronger person than you thought just because you survived the river. After all, it didn’t eat you up or spit you out! You were able to “keep up with the boys.” That’s girl power!

Now…what other perks are there? How about meeting people and making new friends. No other experience will bond you with others than a trip like this. You’ll eat together, drink together, sleep in the same camp. You will spend every aspect of your day, 24/7, with your group. You will enjoy your morning coffee, tea, or hot cocoa at breakfast as the sun comes up over the mountain range. You may partake in happy hour late in the afternoon as you sit at the river’s edge. You might learn how to juggle rocks or do the rock walk. Perhaps you’ll have the opportunity for a night swim by moonlight. You can learn to roll…or at least attempt it! You could learn to surf a wave or kayak backwards through a Class IV rapid. Anything is possible! You will eat, drink, and be treated like royalty. If you go hungry, it’s your own fault!

I think as a female the most important aspect I took away from this trip was how empowering it was. I feel like after having completed the trip I can do almost anything. I would really like to do it again and learn how to roll. A trip like this is addictive to adrenaline/adventure junkies!"


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Kayak Instruction, Stand-Up Paddleboard, and Whitewater Rafting Guide Programs

  • Would you like to become a professional whitewater rafting guide?
  • Do you want to learn to safely manage your own private river trips from a company who has 4 decades of experience on rivers of every level of difficulty throughout the world?
  • Do you want to improve your whitewater kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding skills?
  • Perhaps you would like to acquire new outdoor leadership skills and self-confidence?
  • How would you like to master the art of Dutch oven cooking?

O.A.R.S. offers 7 different whitewater instructional programs on various rivers in the U.S. West. These kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and raft guide schools are open to people of any skill level and background who are interested in learning about river safety, whitewater rafting, kayaking, or paddleboarding, and finding and establishing a safe, low-impact riverside camp. Our high instructor-to-paddler ratio of 1:4 ensures personalized outdoor skills training with ample time to ask questions, discuss concerns and review approaches.


As the largest and most geographically diverse whitewater rafting and adventure travel outfitter in North America, O.A.R.S. knows a thing or two about rivers and river safety. National Geographic Adventure magazine agrees: they twice named O.A.R.S. in 2008 and 2009 as “The Best River & Sea Outfitter on Earth.” Outside magazine, National Geographic Traveler magazine, MSNBC, Good Morning America, Condé Nast Traveler and Men’s Journal have all recognized O.A.R.S. as offering the some of the “Best Trips” on the planet.


O.A.R.S. has been guiding people on rivers rated Class I-X since 1969. Our whitewater rafting guide school in California, our rowing clinic on the Rogue River in Oregon and our kayak instruction course and stand-up paddleboard experience on the Salmon River in Idaho offer a student-to-instructor ratio of 4:1 and a "total immersion" philosophy of day and night, hands-on whitewater skills learning. California whitewater guide training schools take place on multiple rivers throughout the Sierra Nevada and include some of the best whitewater in the West. Your gear and food is transported down river in O.A.R.S. rafts, leaving you with nothing but a kayak or board in which to learn and play. These clinics are often run in conjunction with a multi-day river-rafting trip, meaning your family and friends may tag along and offer support and companionship.


All whitewater rafting guide instructional courses are taught by our professional river guides, all of whom have formal swiftwater rescue training and extensive backgrounds in leading whitewater rafting trips. Our kayak and stand-up paddleboard clinic instructors are all skilled, professional ACA (American Canoe Association) certified instructors. Each one of our instructors is passionate about the outdoors, whitewater boating, river safety, and sharing their knowledge with you. Many have experience on rivers worldwide. Our goal is to help you to gain confidence on the river and to help you become a more conscientious steward of the natural environment.
One of our main objectives is to teach you the techniques and proper foresight to safely guide a raft, kayak or stand-up paddleboard down river and through rapids. There is so much more, however, to whitewater rafting, kayaking, and paddleboarding than running rapids. We will instruct you in river etiquette, how to rig a boat and how to safely secure it at camp, water hydraulics, rope techniques, river safety, a river’s history, as well as how to prepare the best meals on the river.

Instructional Paddling Programs:

California Advanced Rowing Clinic
South Fork American River | Tuolumne River

5 days | Class III-IV
Minimum age is 18*

Designed for those who have previously attended our Rogue River Rowing Clinic or have at least 10 days commercial or private boating experience, this advanced California rowing course will benefit individuals who are hoping to become a professional river guide or would like to safely guide their own private trips in oar rafts.

California Guide School
Based out of River Park Adventure Camground on the South Fork of the American River

7 days | Class III-IV
Minimum age is 16*

Though this 7-day course is based out of our O.A.R.S. River Park Adventure Campground on the banks of the South Fork of the American River, we may raft additional California rivers (such as the Merced River near Yosemite National Park) depending on water flows and group dynamics.

California Guide School Intensive & Swiftwater Rescue
Multiple California Rivers

13 days | Class III-IV
Minimum age is 16*

This 13-day whitewater rafting guide school includes similar course instruction as laid out in our 7-day Guide School, plus Swiftwater Rescue taught by Sierra Rescue, as well as detailed river safety instruction. At the end of this two-week intensive program, participants should have a solid grasp of the basic skills required to confidently navigate intermediate California rivers. Most of those who complete the course need only a few additional trips before they are skilled enough to begin work as a professional river guide. We teach American Canoe Association Swiftwater rescue courses, and participants will receive an ACA Swift Water Rescue participation card at the end of the program.

Rogue River Rowing Clinic
7 days | Class III
Minimum age is 16

Prior rafting experience is not required! We’ll teach you to maneuver oar rafts in the intermediate whitewater of the Rogue River, as well as how to set camp, cook delicious meals, rig/de-rig boats and many other ‘soft skills’ you’ll need to become a multi-day private or commercial river guide. The Wild and Scenic Rogue River winds through a thickly forested canyon, complete with bald eagles and black bear.

Beginning Whitewater Kayak School on the Lower Salmon River

5 days | Class III
Minimum age is 16*

This introductory course for beginning kayakers provides two days of flat-water instruction to familiarize you with equipment and technique, followed by a 16-mile journey down the Lower Salmon River. We’ll transport your food and gear down river in rafts. You need only concentrate on enjoying yourself on the river.

Stand-Up Paddleboard Experience on the Lower Salmon River

4 days | Class III
Minimum age is 16*

This trip will offer an introductory experience for stand-up paddleboarders, providing 4 days of both flat water and whitewater paddling on the Lower Salmon River. During this 4-day trip we will introduce you to the beginning skills, knowledge, and gear necessary to enjoy safe, pleasurable whitewater stand-up paddleboarding. .

* Younger participants will be considered on an individual basis.

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Company Info

O.A.R.S. is an author ized concessioner of Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon and Grand Te ton National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument.
Outside Travel Awards 'Best Outfitter' Runner Up National Geographic Adventure Magazine - Best River & Sea Outfitter on Earth As Featured On 50 Tours of a Lifetime - National Geographic Traveler Mindy Gleason, O.A.R.S. Reservations Manager Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist 2007-2013 (River Rafting) Best of the Bay Area Winner

For consecutive years, O.A.R.S. has been named the "Best River & Sea Outfitter on Earth" by National Geographic Adventure and one of the top two outfitters in the world by Outside Magazine in its annual Active Travel Awards recognition program. In multiple years, O.A.R.S.trips have been honored as "50 Tours of a Lifetime" by National Geographic Traveler and since 2007, Condé Nast Traveler has recognized Mindy Gleason, O.A.R.S. Reservation Manager and International Adventure Travel Consultant, as Condé Nast Traveler's standalone Top Travel Specialist in the River Rafting category.

Questions about trips or making reservations? Contact or call 800-346-6277 in the USA or Canada or 1-209-736-4677 if outside the USA or Canada.
O.A.R.S. Companies Inc.,
PO Box 67, Angels Camp, CA 95222