What to Wear Whitewater Rafting in Early Season

Written by Ben Sack, 03.26.2024

We’re getting close to the start of the rafting season here on the Arkansas River, which delivers some of the best whitewater rafting in Colorado. Here at Echo Canyon River Expeditions, we are, as always, absolutely psyched for what the river-running year will bring! The busiest rafting window is still a ways out, coming as it does with peak runoff in June and extending into August. But the off-peak season of spring river adventures is right around the corner and has a whole lot of its own appeal. Ah, but what to wear whitewater rafting in the early season?

Well, we’ve got you covered! Read on to learn the best way to suit up for springtime Arkansas River rafting.

Early Season Rafting Conditions

To choose the right whitewater rafting attire for the early season, it certainly helps to know the weather and water conditions you can expect here on the Arkansas.

We can sum up early-season Arkansas River rafting as compared to peak summer river running this way: a little cooler, a little lower, and a whole lot quieter! With the bulk of people not on vacation yet, it’s much more tranquil on the water this time of year—a real treat, and one reason why some of our Echo Canyon River Expeditions guests especially enjoy spring trips.

Temperatures, as you might imagine, are crisper than during summertime, and the water temperature is quite cold, given the river’s coming off winter and starting to receive the first influx of snowmelt, which crescendos into early summer, usually the period of peak flow.

So this period toward the beginning of the high-country melt-off sees lower flows on the Arkansas compared to the roaring, muscular whitewater that’ll come by late May or early June. Although lower water levels translate to a slower current, don’t make the mistake of concluding that the river’s necessarily easier to run: More boulders, logjams, and other obstacles are exposed during lower flow, making many reaches more technical to run.

What to Wear Whitewater Rafting During the Early Season: Whitewater Rafting Clothes

Warmer layers of quick-drying, moisture-wicking clothing are recommended for early-season whitewater rafting trips, given the colder temperatures. What kind of shirt should you wear for whitewater rafting? Almost anything other than cotton, which tends to get wet, stay wet—and stay cold.

Here at Echo, we’re also happy to provide you with other cool-season whitewater rafting attire—wetsuits, splash jackets, and river shoes—to make sure you’re nice and warm for your springtime adventure down the Ark.

Speaking of footwear, do you need closed-toed shoes for whitewater rafting? No, you don’t need them, but we highly recommend them. Closed-toed shoes better protect your feet when you’re negotiating sharp rocks or skirting cactus.

What you do need is footwear that can be firmly secured to your feet: tied, laced, or strapped on all around the foot and the heel. Sandals that can be secured this way can therefore work—but, again, we suggest wearing closed-toed shoes instead.

Don’t forget sun protection, either: sunscreen, sunglasses, and/or sun gear.

And, of course, you also need high-quality river safety gear! We provide U.S. Coast Guard-approved Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) and helmets to our Echo Canyon River Expeditions guests.

Booking Your Whitewater Rafting Trip

Here at Echo Canyon, we’ve been offering premier whitewater rafting for beginners and experts alike on the legendary Arkansas River since 1978. Come experience the special allure of the early season on this fantastic stream, rolling through such gorgeous realms as Browns Canyon and the world-famous Royal Gorge.

Ensure a fun, safe, and thrilling whitewater rafting trip with Echo Canyon! Book with us today and learn more about our various rafting options.

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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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