Planning a River Trip?

Go prepared.

Planning a river trip can be daunting, for both experienced “river- goers” and novices alike. However, it really doesn’t need to be! Whether you are new to planning river trips or you have planned them a dozen times, there is a simple step-by-step process that can be applied to most rivers.

Through my decades of river running, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks. The most important is to make sure you plan your trip properly. That way, you can avoid most surprises. So here’s my guide to planning a river trip to help you experience a fun, safe and memorable trip whether you’re leading a trip or joining one.

Paddling can be a hazardous sport. You need to be aware of the potential risks and your own skill level and paddle at an appropriate level. The information provided here is designed for educational use and is not a substitute for specific training or experience.


Day Trip and Overnight Multi-day Trips.

Are you new to rafting or kayaking? Start with a day trip! The best way to ensure you have a fun, safe and memorable first time experience paddling is to plan a trip with an experienced outfitter like Salmon River Adventure Company. Rafting and kayaking trips are one of the most magical experiences in the West.

DIYing? If you’re new to overnight multi-day river tripping, plan for a journey well within your capabilities. It’s not the place to be pushing your capabilities when you’re paddling a fully loaded boat and rescue is several hours away. SRAC offers family friendly multi-day trips that make it easy for you to just show up, have fun and relax.

family-camp- parents-relaxing-on-river

Pick your body of water.

The body of water you chose will dictate everything. From the style of kayak or size of your craft, to the equipment you will carry, the crew you take, and the skill you need on the water.

Know the body of water you plan to float. 

It’s best to consult existing information from guide books, maps, outdoor forums, articles, locals and locals, if they dare part with info, before you commit to your trip. This information can help decide if you and your fellow river runners have what it takes to execute a successful trip or if you should consider other options.

onWater, an app mainly created for fly anglers, uses technology to help you explore rivers, creeks and lakes with curated GPS maps. It offers directions to boat ramps, access sites, points of interest (such as camps or rapids) and downloadable maps that include private and public land information for offline viewing. Before the creation of this app, I have used onX Hunt to create such information for my off-grid float trips.

But, don’t rely solely on your device! I highly suggest taking a printed map or book as back up.

Another good resource is Mountain Buzz, a whitewater forum where paddlers will often post updates on new obstacles, safety hazards, or changes to a particular river section. Even if you’re familiar with a body of water, rivers change year to year so keep a heads up about new hazards and such.


Check the conditions.

As soon as there is a long-range weather forecast available, start checking it routinely. Keep an eye on the conditions as they change on a daily basis. Also, check river flows, especially in Spring! My go to app for real time river conditions is RiverApp. RiverApp can help anyone with river-related activities. You’re able to favorite the rivers you check regularly which puts them in one convenient list making it easy for you to check them regularly.

Other resources I use are:

USGS WaterWatch – It is a great resource for those looking for something a little more in-depth and technical.

American Whitewater – Along with the flows they provide you with a little extra info such as put-in and take-out coordinates, directions, and permit restrictions or requirements.

american whitewater website image


Did you know having a good river crew is key to a successful river trip? With that said, choosing your river crew is one of the hardest parts of any river trip, especially if you are the group leader. As a group leader, the most important decision you will make is this one. When picking people to invite, you should know their commitment level, experience, and involvement. You want to make sure you pick people that will not back out on you at the last minute while also picking people who are willing to be involved in the planning.

Know one’s boating ability. 

Limit the size of the group to a number that can be comfortably controlled. Designated group leaders should be experienced paddlers. Decisions on the participation of inexperienced boaters should be based on total group strength. Both lead and sweep positions should be held by experienced paddlers with knowledge of the water being traveled. Do not enter a rapid unless one is reasonably sure that it can be navigated safely or that one can swim the entire length of the rapid in the event of a capsizing.

Remember the welfare of the group is a major responsibility, and a balance of experienced paddlers with the less experienced will make for a more enjoyable trip.


Float Plan. 

Regardless if it’s only a day trip or an extended trip into the wilderness, it’s best to have a float plan of sorts. You set these things up in the hope you’ll never need them, but they’re there just in case.

The 4 W’s of a Float Plan are:

  • WHO – Who will you be paddling with?
  • WHERE – Where will you put in and take out? Where is your route?
  • WHEN – When is your estimated launch and return?
  • WHAT TO DO – A plan for what to do if you don’t return or check in as scheduled.

You can create and share a float plan online at Plans should be filed with appropriate authorities or left with someone who will contact them after a certain time. The establishment of a late return time and phone number can save time and worry for everyone involved.


Again, planning a river trip can be daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. In part two of Planning a River Trip series, I will get into gear, clothing and food.

If you want to escape planning a river trip, explore Salmon River Adventure Co. guided rafting and kayaking adventures on the Wild and Scenic Salmon River, Idaho.