Remote wilderness camping without another soul in sight? Check.
Cliff jumping? Check.
Extreme Bocce Tournament? Check.
Gourmet cooking and a new campsite every night? Check, check.
If this sounds too good to be true, you have never been on a multi-day river trip in the high deserts of the American West.
Whether you are rafting, canoeing, kayaking, or stand-up-paddleboarding, spending time on the river is unlike any other adventure you can find.
Colorado, Utah and Arizona are famous for their whitewater opportunities, and remote, multi-day float trips that wind through desert spires or red rock canyons. The Colorado River is known for Westwater, Cataract, and Ruby-Horsethief Canyons, and the Green boasts of Lodore/Whirlpool, Desolation/Gray, and Labyrinth Canyon. Wherever you choose, the experience will leave you dreading that first sight of 'civilization' after days of clear, sunny skies, and nights of endless stars, campfires and stories.
Many of these stretches of rivers are by permit access only which limit the number of visitors in wilderness areas and reduce the impact on the fragile ecosystem of essential riparian zones. If you are a first-time river adventurer, it is best to either go with a guided company or to join a permit with an experience boating friend.
However you choose to get out there, the experience will be totally unique and probably challenge you in a few ways you weren't expecting. Check out Bold Betty gear for the best packing lists, but here are a few more tips to keep in mind.
1. You will not tan in the desert, you will go straight to crispy!
Be smart and bring a wide brim sunhat, long-sleeve sun shirt (the more garish, the better, trust me), and a vat of sunscreen. Not only will you block harmful UV rays, but you will find yourself with far more energy at the end of the day to participate in the excellent camp scene that is the long summer evenings of desert rafting.
2. Another basic- water and electrolytes
Again, desert life is not easy on your body. It can be a blast, but you can't treat it like a Spring Break trip where your hotel and its AC are just a hop away from the pool. So this means drinking at least two or three liters of water every day. In the arid air, you lose moisture every time you respire and dehydration can ruin the best day. Of course, you also need to be replacing salts and electrolytes so keep handfuls of healthy trail mix, chips, or fruit to keep your body in balance within easy reach on the boat all day.
3. Mysterious Lady Parts!
If you are going a trip longer than a few nights, you can expect your period, whether or not you were expecting it. Something about the dramatic change in environment, diet and exertion seems to bring on the majesty of ovulation at the most inconvenient times. It takes a little extra prep to stay sanitary and discreet, but is easily doable.
Most river trips use a 'groover,' a sealable river toilet, which is set up every evening a distance away from camp. The view is usually excellent! This toilet cannot process anything besides waste, however, and so you must dispose of sanitary products in a ziploc bag. Bring a paper bag along, and place the sealed ziploc inside it, and this provides for more discretion when disposing of your pads or tampons in the trash.
4. Expedition Mentality
This is the single most important mindset you can give yourself to have a safe and awesome trip. Understood by backcountry enthusiasts of all types, it simply means that you realize how far away you are from the world. Choices you make at home in the 'front country' carry consequences, sure, but you are only three digits away from an ambulance visit, antibiotics and IV fluids. Most river trips take participants far away from the nearest road and cell phone reception is, thankfully, rare and spotty.
Listen to the experts on the trip who have spent time on the rivers and gained the wisdom taught only by hard experience with natural consequences.
When it comes to protecting yourself from the elements, imbibing wisely and not putting yourself in unnecessary physical risk, the stakes are much higher in these remote areas not only for you, but for everyone on the trip who would need to put themselves at risk to help you if something went wrong.
River rafting in the desert is the kind of adventure which will bring you into a universe of new experiences. You will never be the same.
But be warned, one is never enough, and the moment you come around the last bend and see your shuttle vehicle waiting at the take-out, we guarantee you will already be planning your next trip!
P.S. Spontaneous costume parties are a real thing on the river. Be prepared.
Checkout Bold Betties Women's Vision Quest in Utah! It will be an unforgettable experience!