A Guide to Planning Whitewater Rafting Vacations

Written by Ben Sack, 02.02.2024

New to the idea of whitewater rafting? No question, the activity—while (c’mon!) obviously thrilling—can seem a wee bit intimidating to a stone-cold newbie. At Echo Canyon River Expeditions, we get that—and we’re here to help you understand just what goes into planning white water rafting vacations.

And we’re excited about it, too, because we genuinely love introducing folks to the many, multi-dimensional joys of running a river. How do you prepare for whitewater rafting? Read on and find out!

Here’s what you should wear when whitewater rafting in the spring.

Guide to Planning a Whitewater Rafting Vacation

There’s a Colorado rafting trip for just about anybody when you choose Echo Canyon River Expeditions and the mighty (and mighty stunning) Arkansas River for the occasion. Below, learn about some of the fundamentals of planning whitewater trips!

safety orientation before a raft trip

Level of Experience/Physical Ability

As with just about any pursuit, your level of experience helps determine what kind of whitewater rafting you ought to try. You may be surprised to learn that you don’t need prior experience with paddling rivers or even boating to give rafting a go.

In fact, you don’t necessarily need to know how to swim, though that ability certainly increases your safety, comfort level and range of options. A rafter who can’t swim would want to choose an easier route such as a class II or easy class III, and naturally be outfitted with a high-quality personal flotation device (PFD).

No question that your ability to swim as well as your overall level of physical fitness are fundamental factors when it comes to choosing the right whitewater section of river. At Echo Canyon, we can usually “train up” any guests for any section of the river, so long as certain physical/health, age, and weight requirements are met. We strongly recommend only those who can swim and are in decent physical condition join our more advanced routes.


Where is the best place to go whitewater rafting? That depends on all sorts of variables. Many rivers are only raftable during certain times of the year, when, for example, annual pulses of snowmelt or precipitation—or artificial releases from reservoirs—create an optimal flow. (Our typical season on the Arkansas at Echo Canyon River Expeditions runs from mid-April through mid-September.)

And, of course, a river’s gradient or drop, the complexity of its channel, the surrounding scenery, and its accessibility—close to blacktop? back-of-beyond remote?—are also fundamental elements that must be considered alongside your skill level and interests. The Arkansas River doesn’t just offer world-class whitewater and stunning panoramas: It’s also easily reached from nearby hubs such as Colorado Springs.

Gear You May Need

From boats (paddle rafts, oar rafts) to PFDs and helmets, whitewater rafting certainly requires a specialized set of equipment—but, as at Echo Canyon, much of this is supplied for you when you sign on with an outfitter. (We also provide wetsuits at no additional cost!)

But there is indeed gear you ought to arrive with. Among whitewater rapid essentials, we recommend bringing secure footwear with straps around the heel or that laces up (water shoes are a great option), sunscreen, a ballcap, sunglasses, and either bathing suits or quick-dry layers.

Additional Activities You May Want to Participate In

White water rafting vacations don’t have to just be about river running, of course. Another big-time reason to choose Echo Canyon River Expeditions for your rafting adventure is the plethora of other attractions and activities ready at hand. The Royal Gorge—aka the “Grand Canyon of the Arkansas”—is more than just a rafting destination: It’s an iconic Rocky Mountain landmark and bucket-list sight, as is the Royal Gorge Bridge that spans it.

There are endless opportunities to recreate and relax in and around this stunning chasm, including more than 25 miles of single-track trails for hiking, mountain biking, and trail running (with oodles more opportunities in the surrounding region). Absolutely world-class rock climbing, too, can be enjoyed with a Royal Gorge home base.

And speaking of home bases, you do want to consider what your rafting location offers in terms of amenable accommodations and food. Here at Echo Canyon, we’ve got you covered: We offer fabulous lodgings via our Royal Gorge Cabins, which include everything from Luxury Cabins to decked-out Glamping Tents.

Meanwhile, our 8 Mile Bar & Grill not only serves up delicious food and refreshing beverages (including 16 beers on tap!) for post-rafting R&R but also knockout views of the Sangre de Cristo Range and the Royal Gorge Bridge. Not bad!

Stay & Food

Get an Unforgettable Taste of Colorado Rafting With Echo Canyon

White water rafting vacations with Echo Canyon take place amid jaw-dropping scenery and appeal to a broad spectrum of guests: from kiddos to thrill-seekers. And when you add the lodging, dining, and off-the-water activities we supply, well, let’s just say you’ve got the whole package with our long-standing, highly regarded company!

Book your rafting adventure with Echo Canyon River Expeditions today.

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About the Author

Ben Sack is the General Manager of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, Colorado's largest white water rafting outfitter. He's also a raft guide, a photographer, and he loves exploring Colorado and beyond with his wife and two boys.
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