If you are looking for a satisfying outdoor adventure and considering taking your first overnight raft trip, it’s natural to feel both excited, and a little bit nervous.
As it turns out, managing your fears is one of the biggest hurdles you’ll need to get over. When it comes to multi-day outdoor adventures, a Hells Canyon Raft trip is actually an ideal experience for first timers, even if you’ve never been camping before. Why? We do SO MUCH of the work for you, that you can focus on enjoying your surroundings instead of sweating the small stuff.
Hells Canyon Raft guides take care of all the camp details for you: Putting up tents (taking down tents), cooking delicious riverside meals (and cleaning up after them), setting up toilet facilities, and most of all, packing up all the gear each day before you hit the river!
That said, there are some decisions you’ll need to make that will set your first-time adventure on the right course.
#1 – Choose the Right River For Your Group
The number one factor in choosing which trip to book is to consider your personal comfort level. Do you want to tip-toe into your rafting experience? Or do you want to go for the gusto right out of the gate?
Here are some things to consider when you choose between a Snake River trip and a Lower Salmon trip:
(Rapids are rated from Class-1 to Class-5, with Class-1 being the most gentle and Class-5 considered ‘expert’).
The 3 and 5-Day trip on the Snake includes a few Class III rapids on the very first day, which can get a first-timer’s adrenaline pumping right from the start. The deep canyon walls give you that wonderful sense of smallness that is a hallmark of a wilderness experience. And the remoteness of the area gives you a true sense of escape.
The 4 and 5-Day trip on the Salmon is a slightly mellower experience. Most of the rapids are Class 2 and Class 3, but the fact that they come in a fun succession can make it seem like a non-stop water roller coaster. While there are a few Class 4 rapids, there’s also a lot of time to swim leisurely in the river. Trying out a paddle board or inflatable kayak is a great way to boost the thrill-level if your group has a mix of conservative folks and adventure seekers.
CAN I DO BIG RAPIDS IF I’M A FIRST-TIMER?
Yes. Hells Canyon Raft uses 18-foot self-bailing boats, piloted by skilled guides that navigate the safest routes through the larger rapids. Our guides are experienced in running each and every rapid on your trip, so if you can hold on and follow the guide’s instruction, you are good to go.
#2 – Pack Wisely, But Don’t Overthink It
Packing lightly always makes your trip more enjoyable, but there is a fine balance between packing too lightly and going without things you need. Fortunately, Hells Canyon Raft sends out a thorough packing list in plenty of time for you to prepare. More specifics on the fine art of packing are available here, but when in doubt, call and ask! Helping you get ready for your river trip is what we do. (And to be honest, we LOVE sharing our personal tips!)
#3 – Don’t Worry About the Creature Comforts
Anytime we set off on a new adventure, our minds can get carried away imagining all the possibilities. So, let’s knock a few of those concerns off the list right now.
SLEEP – By the time your raft arrives at camp for the evening, your tent will already be set up. A comfy sleeping pad is provided, and while most people bring their own sleeping bag, we do have them for rent if needed. During July and August, you may want to bring a sheet (in case it’s too warm to zip up your bag at bedtime). Another option – that we highly recommend – is to sleep under the stars one night. If you’ve never done this before, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. And one bonus to doing it on your Hells Canyon Raft trip? There are NO MOSQUITOES. Really.
HYGIENE – We don’t mean to brag, but we have the Cadillac of porta potties. Your guides will set up the river toilet (and its privacy tent) at each camp, and it comes with a handwashing facility. For more tips on how to make sure your personal hygiene needs are taken care of, check out our What to Pack post.
#4 – Don’t Let Your Fears Keep You Home
If you’re here on this page it means there’s already a lot that appeals to you about a rafting adventure. At the same time, it’s natural to have concerns about safety and ‘what ifs’. Managing the emotional aspects of a multi-day wilderness adventure can be some of the trickiest – but most rewarding – parts of an adventure vacation. The good news is that your guides will be with you every step of the way, and most importantly – you have CHOICES.
Helmets are available on Class III and Class IV rapids and in the paddle boat. We provide Type V life jackets designed specifically for whitewater use, and the guides will always get you mentally prepared for what’s ahead. There are a lot of pool and drop sections on the river, which means the guides have plenty of time to talk about how the group will approach the next set of rapids. The process is: Educate/Prepare/High Five.
You can also choose your level of activity. We have different types of boats (you can paddle your own kayak in places, or stick to the main raft with a guide) and there are a variety of activities that you can try or just watch (cliff jumping, hiking, fishing, whatever fits your vibe).
If the idea of camping overnight in the wilderness is intimidating, this is an ideal location to start. Because of the remote nature of the area, you don’t need to worry about outside human threats or annoyances. Wildlife tends to avoid the camps because of the human activity. All tents are within earshot of one another. And our guides have satellite phone capabilities in case the need ever arises. They are also all trained and certified in CPR and most in Swiftwater wilderness rescue. Many of the guides have full EMT certifications, and all are experienced in helping manage special needs.
So, with those worries out of the way, what actually DOES happen to first timers on a raft trip?
The process of disconnecting with your daily life and connecting with nature brings about amazing results. Whether you jump off that cliff or just ease into the natural flow of the river, you’ll tap into parts of yourself you don’t always get to see. You might see a shooting star for the first time or create a new bond over a shared experience. We can practically guarantee that you will:
#1. Take pride in pushing beyond your comfort zone
#2. Discover (or rediscover) something about your inner self
#3. Re-connect with friends and family
#4. Earn claim to the titles of:
Rafter – Explorer — Wilderness Adventurer – Fish Catcher – Dutch Oven Food Connoisseur – Campfire Storyteller
In short, your time on the river will fill your cup.
So go ahead and take the leap … we’ll catch you!
Here are some additional observations from our recent TripAdvisor reviews:
From JCB, August 2021:
“Yes, your comfortable tents and sleeping pads are already put up for you when you arrive at camp; the guides prepare amazing meals throughout the trip; and all are amazingly capable on tricky rapids that require knowledge of the currents. I’ve been impressed before with guides for other companies, but HCR’s guides are by far the BEST. From the beginning of the process on their website to the end of the trip at the take out, we were 100% satisfied.”
From Sharee6of6 – May 2021
“BEST Trip EVER!!! The guides (ALL) were amazing. Energetic and really helpful. Our trip started with the BEST communication from Heidi. She made SURE we packed everything we needed and knew exactly where to go and what to do. From DAY ONE the trip was so FUN. Kurt is a phenomenal leader and treats his guides like family! The entire crew treated US like FAMILY. The FOOD….ohhhhh the FOOD!!! I wanted to order the dutch ovens they used and copy ALL of their recipes. As we floated down the river one raft went ahead and by the time we stopped our TENTS were all set up with VERY comfortable air mattresses! The attention to detail made this trip one we are ready to sign up for again!!!!”
View more TripAdvisor Reviews here. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g35526-d3251392-Reviews-Hells_Canyon_Raft-McCall_Idaho.html