Is Whitewater Rafting the Safest Outdoor Activity During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

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Wildwater Expeditions whitewater rafting Gauley river WV

According to the LA Times, whitewater rafting could just be the safest outdoor activity for a family to get outside this summer. It might also be the safest way to enjoy a little bit of nature along with a thrill — ideally suited for the whole family.

The Los Angeles Times dug in to this important trend last month. According to the paper, “David Baker, a Seattle doctor who’s been on the front lines of battling the coronavirus, said he’s planning a white-water trip with his wife and two children to recharge his batteries and share some quiet time in the wilderness.”

Whitewater Outfitters Are Preparing to Provide Covid-free Outdoor Adventures

From West Virginia to Colorado to California, people are flocking outdoors in record numbers. And they are looking to social distance while still enjoying the activities we’ve always loved — rafting, like bicycling, foremost among them. In fact, while you might not be able to take that big bucket list trip to the Bahamas this summer, a paddling trip could be the best thing you could do with your family this summer as pandemic restrictions slowly ease.  Whether it’s for a day trip, overnighter or multi-day outing, just show up and let an outfitter do all the rest while you and your family — and all your worries — float away downstream.

“Everyone’s itching more than ever to get outdoors,” maintains Carl Borski of Eagle, Colorado’s Lakota Guides, one of countless outfitters adjusting their plans and ramping up precautions to accommodate ongoing restrictions while still offering a great experience. “People probably won’t be flying as much this year, but we’ll likely see a lot more people driving within a 12-hour radius.”

“Our outfitters truly believe that recreation is essential,” adds Bob Hamel, executive director of Arkansas River Outfitters Association. “There are some undeniable mental health benefits to getting outside and participating in nature. As Coloradans, we’re so lucky to have the best whitewater rafting destination in our backyard.”

whitewater rafting

Even outfitters as far away as Alaska are still seeing the inherent value in getting outside. While he’s expecting lower numbers, Mike Wallisch, VP of operations for Alaska Travel Adventures, whose rafting and sea kayaking operations rely largely on cruise ship traffic, says the experience they offer is now more important than ever. “People are looking to get active outside,” he says. “And taking a raft or sea kayak trip with the family or close friends is a great way to do that.” There’s less transmission risk when you’re outside, he says, and it’s relatively easy to maintain social distance on a river or other waterway.

Singing paddling’s praises, outfitters around the country are prepping to help families enjoy the outdoors.“All of our outfitter members are able to naturally offer safe spacing by grouping families and small groups to single boats, providing a well-ventilated, outdoor experience for healthy recreation enthusiasts of all skill-levels,” says AROA president Mike Kissack. “As rafting experts, this is exactly what we do: identify potential risks and create solutions to mitigate them. We’re looking forward to helping families get out on the river to reconnect with the outdoors, all while following recommended guidelines.”

“We already have great sanitary measures in place, and we’re improving them,” says Utah outfitter Sheri Griffith Expeditions, which is taking into account everything from pre-trip guest screenings and transportation to meal preparation and service. “We want our guests to stay healthy and have a wonderful time on the river, without extra worry. It’s a great sure cure for everyone’s pent-up cabin fever.” Favorite trips this year, they add, include their Cataract Canyonand Desolation Canyonrafting trips.

Things are similar in the Northwest, where outfitters like Northwest Rafting Co. (www.nwrafting.com), which runs trips on Oregon’sRogue, Illinois, Chetcho and Owyhee rivers and Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon, also praise paddling’s benefits during this time of increased safety protocols.

“A wilderness river trip is a great way to get away while social distancing in fresh air,” says owner Zachary Collier. “And it’s easy since we’re in small groups on regulated rivers that limit group size. And we’ll be adding more boats to each trip so it’s easy to maintain separation. We’re seeing a lot of people signing up.”

While it foresees fewer bookings, paddling powerhouse OARS, which offers trips all over the country and the world, also feels its trips are perfect for families looking for an escape.

“There’s already significant pent-up demand for the type of outdoor adventure experiences we offer, particularly in the U.S.,” says OARS marketing director Steve Markle. “Domestic travel will be the first to bounce back and we’re banking on the idea people will be taking road trips and staying closer to home as things open up.”

“We’re working closely with various outfitter associations and river managing agencies to develop a mitigation plan that follows CDC as well as state and local guidelines,” he adds. “All of these steps play a part in getting us back on the river.”

He adds the product they offer is especially appealing during today’s pandemic. “While it will likely be a dramatically different landscape, I think domestic travel, road trips, national park visits and guided adventures will all bounce back more quickly,” he says. “Historically, in times of economic contraction, we’ve done fairly well due to the fact that 80% of our trips are domestic and relatively affordable. And we’re starting to see a bit of a surge in interest for trips later this summer.”

As for the Baker family’s trip down the Rogue, it was just the tonic they needed in these trying times. “The Rogue was the perfect introduction, and we’ve been on that river a couple more times since then,” Baker told the Times. “The river was thrilling, the scenery sublime and the guides were great with the kids. Since then, we’ve graduated up and done longer and harder rivers, so much so that it’s become a pretty big part of our lives.”