Tips for Summer Whitewater Rafting

Written by Ben Sack, 02.02.2023

Tips to Beat the Heat While Whitewater Rafting

If you have ever spent time outside in Colorado, you know that preparing for diverse weather conditions is a necessity. In fact, one of the most famous sayings about our state is: “if you don’t like the weather in Colorado, just wait five minutes.” Jokes aside, weather conditions like excessive heat can be quite uncomfortable when you are exposed to the sun for an extended amount of time. 

A group of paddlers navigate Sunshine Rapid in the Royal GorgeWhile a summer rafting trip on the Arkansas River is the experience of a lifetime, you need to bring the right gear to ensure your whole family enjoys the experience. Especially during the middle part of the day during the peak summer months, the Colorado sun is quite intense. In fact, when you are on the river all day with little to no shade, the sun can make you want to hop right into the cool river! Which is certainly one way to beat the heat. 

By understanding our summer weather patterns in Colorado and dressing appropriately, you can easily beat the heat on your next summer rafting trip in the Rocky Mountain state.

Summer Weather in the Colorado Rockies

While the mountains are known for their rapid weather changes, daily summertime weather patterns are quite predictable in Colorado. By understanding the weather, you can better plan your trip to avoid excessive heat if it is a big issue. 

You can almost always count on mornings in the mountains being cool and clear. Especially along the river, cold air settles into valleys during the night, where temperatures often drop down into the 40s or 50s – even during peak summer. Similarly, the skies are almost always clear in the mountains in the morning, so rain is never really an issue this time of year. 

Afternoons in Colorado are when the weather really starts to get interesting. As cold night air interacts with warm afternoon conditions, it often causes thunderstorms. According to the popular weather website Open Snow, “This occurs when winds blowing perpendicular to a mountain range force warm, moist air to rise vertically in conjunction with the rise in terrain. This is also known as upslope flow. In the Rocky Mountains, in particular, upslope winds in combination with solar heating often result in thunderstorms developing earlier in the afternoon.” 

While afternoon thunderstorms are frequently a factor during the summer in Colorado, they never last long. In fact, Colorado is known for sunny weather and strong sunlight at high altitude elevations. This notion is only intensified in towns like Cañon City, Colorado, which sits at an elevation of a little over 5,300 feet above sea level.

Book a Morning Trip with Echo Canyon

Echo Canyon raft guides prepare for family raft tripIf you are concerned about summertime heat for your rafting trip, a great way to avoid the problem is by simply booking the earliest morning half-day trip available. By getting outside earlier in the day, you can take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures – while also avoiding thunderstorms. But realize that even by 11 AM it’s getting quite warm in the heart of summer.

Echo Canyon River Expeditions offers a number of notable half-day tips. A couple of our more popular half-day options include:

Bighorn Sheep Canyon Half-Day

If you have a family with young kids, Bighorn Sheep Canyon is the perfect half-day whitewater rafting trip choice. The minimum age recommendation is around 6 years of age. Featuring calm water and small rapids, a morning trip down Bighorn Sheep Canyon is a great way to beat the heat for the whole family. 

Here’s the safest place to sit in a raft to ensure a secure and enjoyable water adventure.

Royal Gorge Half-Day

A summer whitewater rafting trip through the world-famous Royal Gorge is an excellent half-day option if you are looking for a bit more adventure. By getting to the Royal Gorge in the morning, you can avoid the strong afternoon heat, while also splashing through Class III-V rapids. The minimum age recommendation for the Royal Gorge is around 14 to 16 years of age depending on river flows.

The Importance of Synthetic Fabrics & Layering

Bighorn Sheep Canyon rafting tripOne of the best ways to beat the heat on your next summer whitewater rafting adventure is to dress appropriately with layers and the right materials. Not only do synthetic materials dry out far quicker than cotton, but they are also lighter and more durable. 

If you have ever purchased activewear for hiking and working out, you have probably noticed that this type of clothing is made of synthetic materials like nylon. Importantly, high-performance synthetic fibers are designed specifically to wick moisture from your body, while also drying out quickly. As such, synthetics are extremely important for regulating your body temperature in rapidly changing mountain weather. 

Besides shopping for the right materials, you also need to understand basic layering. Rather than grabbing one heavy rain jacket for a day on the river, you should pack a succession of layers to add and remove as the conditions change. That way, you can always maintain a comfortable temperature, while also protecting yourself from the elements. For your upper body, Echo Canyon recommends a t-shirt, light hoodie, and rain jacket for the summertime.

Sun Protection & Hydration

When you spend an entire day on the Arkansas River, you need to take sun protection and hydration very seriously. 

In the end, the best way to avoid getting sunburned is simply to cover up. This means not only wearing a hat with a brim that covers your nose and neck, but also packing a long-sleeve synthetic shirt to protect your arms. Since the sun reflects off the water all day long, reinforcing your layering with sunscreen is also a necessity. 

While you might not think that dehydration could be a problem on a rafting trip, it can really sneak up on you. Heat exhaustion and dehydration are common ailments on extended rafting trips, so pack a water bottle and stay hydrated. If you are struggling, let your guide know and they will take the appropriate steps to ensure you are able to rehydrate.

Questions? Contact Echo Canyon River Expeditions

As lovers of the outdoors in Colorado ourselves, the team at Echo Canyon knows exactly what it takes to be safe and comfortable in the summer heat. Please Contact Us to book a trip or ask additional questions.

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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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