Planning Next Years River Trip

Thanksgiving leftovers are still in the fridge. My wife is hanging christmas lights and adorning our home with other assorted holiday decorations. But with a full freezer and winter settling in my thoughts are turning to next year’s river trips. Sure it’s a bit early, but then again maybe not. Depending on what you have in mind, putting together a multi day river trip takes planning. Here’s a few things to consider before next season.

Season – Nearly every river has an ideal time of year to float, or at least vastly different characteristics depending on when you float. Your options will vary considerably for trips over spring break vs. summer. Are you open to going any time or do you need to find a river that is floatable when you have vacation time or meshes with other scheduling constraints? Rivers in the desert southwest have become a welcome respite from Wyoming winters for our family, and we also often seek out a trip around the Fourth of July in the Rockies after runoff.

Location – How far are you willing to travel and how badly do you want to go there? These two questions arise consistently as the next river trip is being debated. I have a list of rivers I’d love to float, but many are far enough away that they have yet to rise to the top of the list. Alaska, the Yukon, and the Arctic are full of options, and on our list, but due to logistics, expense and a desire for our children to be older they will have to wait for now. With a recent move to Montana, other rivers, such as those in Oregon and Idaho, just got a bit closer and are rapidly climbing the list. Don’t overlook rivers close to home, but it’s also worth thinking big, especially when brainstorming.

Duration – A two night trip that is a couple hours away sounds like a great idea. But if I’m going to drive a day or more, I want to be on the river for a longer chunk of time. Looking at commonly floated stretches of river and combining multiple sections to create a longer trip is one option. Similarly, taking your time leaving an extra day for wade fishing or going for a day hike, is another way to extend your trip.


Fishing – Does fishing matter? If not don’t sweat it, but if it does choosing the specific river and when you want to float it makes a big difference. Some rivers have a small window of good fishing that falls just after runoff and before flows drop and make the river un-floatable. From year to year, hitting it right is a distinct challenge. Being open to various species can also pay off. I once floated a river, well down stream of one of the West’s most productive trout fisheries, and I was able to catch a half dozen new warm water species. Lately, I’ve been looking at a couple of rivers that hold productive steelhead runs in the winter months, but yield great smallmouth fishing in the summer time. Both are worthwhile quarry, but for a multi-day trip with the family, catching a pile of bass sounds fantastic.

Kids – Planning a multi day trip with kids warrants a few extra considerations. Weather is a big one. There are several rivers I would happily float without children, when the weather is likely to be inclement, but I try to choose times with odds of good weather for trips with kids. Springtime in the Rockies is a great example. April and May can be great times of year to float, with chances of stunning weather, but Spring is fickle and winter conditions are just as likely. For the family, I’ll stick with generally more favorable conditions in the summer months. Whitewater is also worth thinking about, this is a personal choice, but until our kids are better swimmers we have decided to stick to with water that is relative gentle, mostly class II with some class III.

Permits – If a permit is required for the river of your choice, this is the time of year to start thinking about applying and getting some friends to put in as well, increasing your odds of drawing. Don’t worry about logistics now, just apply. If you are lucky enough to draw there will be plenty of time to determine who to invite to join you and if you can actually put it all together. When drawing think about the categories mentioned above and how you might increase your odds. If you don’t care about weather or fishing you might apply for a time that is considered less desirable by most, giving you a better chance of drawing a permit. In case you don’t draw, having a couple of un-permited rivers in mind will ensure you are still able to get on the water this year.


For more information, images, and thoughts, on river trips check out the following:

Making River Trips Work For The Whole Family

DIY Raft Rod Tube

River Life

Plan Ahead: Meals For Multi-Day River Trips

Cooler Packing: For Multi Day Trips

Wisdom From The Throne

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