Why I Love My Raft Guide Job – My Home Away From Home

Written by Trinity Alcazar, 01.31.2023

Echo Canyon at First Glance

If someone were to ask me how I feel about working at Echo Canyon River Expeditions, the word “obsessed” would be an understatement. It’s nearly impossible to explain with words the complete and utter love I feel for this place. I am convinced there is a magical element in the Arkansas River that makes every person fall in love with rafting. Prior to working at Echo I longed for a fun summer job that I could work between college semesters. I started doing my research and most of the listings that popped up were raft guide jobs. I had never been down a river before, so I thought there was no possible way I would be able to handle being a rafting guide. As I dove deeper into my research, I found that most river guide jobs required no previous experience! I decided right then and there that I was going to take a leap of faith. Fast-forward to today and I can confidently say I can’t imagine my life without Echo Canyon.

four raft guides pose in the boatyard between raft tripsWhen I first arrived at Echo the summer of 2021, the older guides approached us rookies and said “Get ready for the most fun you’ll never want to have again”, which pretty much sums up the raft guide training course. Being a 5′ 4″ female, I was a little nervous the guide training would be too intense for me, luckily I proved myself wrong. 75% of training is having the right mindset. My favorite memory of training was being on a raft with my fellow trainees getting scorched by the sun, eating copious amounts of beef jerky, smacking into massive rocks, all while cheering each other on! Everyone in the training class has a chance to succeed, your only obstacle is yourself. Overnight camping trips, swiftwater rescue training, flipping rafts, and inside jokes are only a few exciting things you will experience during raft guide training!

Guides pose while a scouting a rapid in Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River
Echo Guides pose for a quick photo while scouting a rapid on a training trip. Guide training trips hone skills and end up being as much fun as they are on-the-job training.

You enter Echo Canyon as a lone wolf and soon realize you have found your pack. These are the people that are going to have your back on the river, so you have to trust them with your life, and that is a special kind of bond. I also never thought I would enjoy living with 60 other people, but I have come to love hearing the bellowing voices calling “Come to the fire!” as pebbles are hurled onto the tin roof of the bunkhouse. Tradition reigns strong here at Echo Canyon, so be prepared to learn every quirky catchphrase and custom that is thrown your way. On Monday nights you can expect to sing your heart out at karaoke night and on most nights you can expect a gaggle of raft guides hanging out at the fire. Enjoy training while it lasts, because before you know it, you will be checking out as an official river guide on the Arkansas River! It takes 4 to 5 weeks to go from raft guide training to your full fledged raft guide job.

A Day in the Life of a River Guide

Rafters brace for a large wave to hit their raftBeing a rafting guide here at Echo Canyon definitely has its perks. Everything we do, we do it as a family. I tend to wake up with the sun and enjoy a hot cup of joe before going down to tag my boat. A lot of people have a favorite boat, so it is best to tag yours early before loading begins. If you are not early, you are late! Throwing a 5-stack of boats while 80s music is playing on the backhorn is my favorite morning workout. Once boats are blown we migrate down to the wetsuit counter and this is where the real fun begins. Be prepared to help grown adults turn their helmet around so it’s facing forward and adjust their life jackets – this is a first time experience for a lot of our guests so we have to teach them the ropes. Meanwhile there is a full circus show happening behind the counter, I’m not sure whose idea it was to have a bag of balls and toys for the guides, but we sure do utilize it! Not to mention, the wetsuit racks are a perfect place to “get your 10 in”. 10 pull ups a day will surely keep the doctor away.

group of guides resting on overlook point on Green River
Taking a break on a hike overlooking the Green River – Guides always look forward to the end-of-season company trip.

Once everyone is loaded onto the bus it is time to hear the iconic safety speech for the millionth time, but I promise it never gets old. I love feeling the anticipation prior to meeting my family for the day, while some people paddle better than others, I promise everyone is coachable and we host a lot of awesome guests. Patience goes a long way when training a crew how to paddle. I find it incredible that we as rafting guides are able to multi-task so elegantly. Each one of my crew gets a standup comedy show, incredible views, and a safe trip down the rio when they ride with me.

Off the Clock

Echo Canyon guides pose for a photo on a company trip in the Royal Gorge
Guides and Guide Trainees on an after-hours company raft trip down the Royal Gorge at high water.

Life off the clock is nothing short of a good time. Everyone gets one day off per week, and you can even schedule that day to be with your friends. Some days I’ll go into town and get all of my chores done for the week. I like to take the day to organize my living space, fold my laundry, do all my dishes, and reconnect with myself. I love going to the local park and doing yoga with a friend or two. If by your off-day you are not exhausted, then go climb a 14er or raft a different section of river! There are plenty of things to do on your day off and most people are down for more adventure. Play trips are when we raft off-the-clock and they are always a good time. Some popular sections of the Arkansas that we play on are The Numbers and Brown’s Canyon. I love practicing my read and run skills on new sections of river, as it keeps my reflexes sharp. The saying “work hard, play hard” truly applies to this job. If you are able to stick around for the entire season, you are in the running for a spot on the end of season trip! In recent years, the trip has been down a section of the Green River called Gates of Lodore. Pictures do not do this trip justice. The views are stunning, the rapids are fun, and it’s a party the entire way down the river. Ever heard of a groover? Look it up! Lets just say, each visit to the bathroom has a beautiful view.

Camping in Gates of Lodore on the Green River - an end-of-season company trip
Guides on an end-of-season company trip on Gates of Lodore of the Green River.

Back 40 Living

Raft guides celebrate the 4th of July
A crew of Guides celebrating the Fourth of July in the Back40

The Back40 is like no place you have ever lived before. We have pretty much built our own society in a dirt lot just behind the base of the rafting operations. The bunkhouse is the first structure you’ll notice, this is where the rookies and sometimes second year guides squat for the summer. The laughter and community built beneath the bunkhouse outweighs the leaky roof. The most important rules for the bunkhouse are respect each other’s personal space and try to clean up after yourself. The bunkhouse gives off “summer camp” vibes and I highly suggest staying here rookie year. If you walk a little farther into the Back40 you will find yourself on East Side property. This is where 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and sometimes 5th year guides set up camp. While there are old campers that get passed around, feel free to bring your own van or dwelling to set up. Many people live out of their cars, and if you’re really feeling adventurous, a tent! 

Last but not least, the prime real estate, the West Side. This is for senior guides, so steer clear, as they love their peace and serenity. The common areas include the erection and the fire pit, which anyone is allowed to utilize! A pool table has been the most recent edition to the erection, along with the classic corn hole and basketball setup. This is where most of our shindigs take place, as the Back40 is our safe haven where we can let loose and be ourselves. Not that our personalities don’t shine through while on the river, they surely do!

Raft Guide jobs are about a lot more than just guiding guests down a river. It's a lifestyle where strong friendships are created. Here a group of Guides pose for a group shot at one of their many themed get-togethers in the Back40.

More than a Job - You're Joining a Whitewater Family

The community here at Echo Canyon is unlike any other and it truly becomes home. For me, it has changed my life in the best way possible. I never knew a community like this existed prior to working here, and I can’t imagine my life without it. While there are many other raft guides jobs on the Arkansas, I feel that Echo Canyon does it differently. We are treated as true outdoor professionals, the friendships formed are like no other, and we truly are a whitewater family.

If you want to explore raft guide jobs or guide training here at Echo Canyon, head over to our guide job info page. You won’t regret it!

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About the Author

Trinity Alcazar is a senior at California State University Fullerton. She is majoring in entertainment tourism with a minor in cinema and television. She trained to be a guide at Echo in 2021 and has completely fallen in love with rafting and the outdoor industry. During the rafting off-season she enjoys backpacking and rock climbing, but is always dreaming of summertime on the river. Fun fact: Trinity painted her entire car herself and named it Woodstock the hippie mobile! She loves expressing herself through art and anything creative.
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