7 day epic Colorado white water rafting & camping adventure
This is how we spent 7 days on the Colorado river in the middle of nowhere!
Fancy a Colorado white water rafting and camping adventure?
We do love a good last minute trip or holiday.
However some trips you just need to book in advance.
Like way in advance.
When we first started to gather information about how to do a white water rafting trip, we quickly realised that we needed to book it at least 12 to 14 months before.
Just a limited amount of agencies have permission to do those trips during a certain period. Which means that there are very little seats up for grabs each year.
What is Colorado white water rafting?
White water rafting is a recreational activity that involves navigating a raft through white water rapids, either on a river or an artificial course.
It is a thrilling and exciting way to experience the outdoors and is suitable for almost all ages and skill levels.
Rafters can choose from a variety of difficulty levels, from scenic floats to class IV rapids.
We managed to secure a spot in January for the 7 day Colorado white water rafting motor trip in May of the next year. We booked through a Belgian travel agency with Grand Canyon Whitewater. Fingers crossed.
A couple of months before the start of our trip we received plenty of information about what to bring, what not to bring, what clothes to wear best. Each person was allowed to bring a small duffel bag of specific measurements.
Your belongings had to fit into that one bag, no exceptions.
And as we get to the meeting point we get why.
Each one of us gets a small waterproof dry bag with a number to put that bag in.
Very early in the morning, we drop our rental car off at Marble Canyon airfield where a van is waiting to take us to Lees Ferry.
You really have to book a hotel in the nearby city of Page the night before, so you are sure to be in time:
There are 2 large blue rafts waiting which can carry a total of 20 guests, and 4 staff.
The rafts are already packed with tents, food and other supplies. Every extra gram here counts, that is why you can’t bring a packed suitcase. Not that you will need it.
We chat with the other American guests that start to show up little by little. The guy in charge of our Colorado white water rafting trip welcomes us all and gives the group an extensive introduction about the rafting trip that we are about to embark on.
We hop onto one of the rafts.
And there we go.
Floating on the beautiful Colorado river.
For the next 6 days.
Amazed by the golden yellow canyon walls and landscape all around us.
What about the best months and weather for Colorado white water rafting?
We booked our Colorado white water rafting trip for the month May.
We did since it is still doable in terms of temperature. The climate in June might get too hot for Luc. However we still had our fair share of rain. We were told to bring rain gear so we were dressed for the occasion.
Goes without saying that weather is something you just can’t book in advance, so we just crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
The sunny dry moments were plentiful though.
We never had to go eat in our own tents for shelter.
What about the rapids, is it dangerous?
When we were there, the water was quite OK.
June here is not a waterpark fan (and that is putting it lightly), she really loathes slides and everything that looks even remotely like it. But the rapids and currents were never a problem.
On the contrary.
Besides, you are on a large raft, not a kayak. You move like one piece. Don’t think that there are waterfalls like you see in movies. A handful of rapids perhaps of a decent 2 to 3 metre descend, at most.
And guess what, June loved it.
Are kids allowed?
On our trip passenger above the age of 8 were allowed.
Check your Colorado white water rafting company for their conditions and age restrictions.
What about the food?
Well, that was something that we were really interested in.
How to cook for 24 people for 7 days without refrigerator?
Hang on, there is a refrigerator. The lowest part of the raft that is constantly in the cold water. That is where the food is kept.
For breakfast there was plenty of coffee, eggs, bacon, baked beans, bread and such. Lunch consisted of sandwiches with cold cuts, hot dogs, fresh tomatoes, dill pickle, lettuce, mayo, salads, crisps and plenty of fresh fruits.
For dinner we got plenty of fresh vegetables, meat, potatoes. We never wanted for anything.
During the day drinks and snack available, even when you were on the raft. The person sitting the closest to the snack and drink chest would be on duty to pass on something if someone wanted a drink or a snack. Snacks consisted of trail mix, energy bars, fruits, crisps, biscuits and cookies.
What about drinks and alcohol?
Water, soft drinks, tomato juice and such was taken care of by our Colorado white water rafting company.
Do you want to bring your own alcoholic beverages? You can. The people who brought alcohol brought these supermarket wine bags minus the cardboard box, which the crew took care of during the trip and returned before dinner time.
What if you are pregnant or have diet/medical restrictions?
Let your Colorado white water rafting and camping company know if you have food allergies, are vegetarian or vegan, or pregnant.
One member of our group was 4 months pregnant and needed a few dietary requirements which the crew took good care of, she told us.
It is best to check with your Colorado white water rafting company up to which point pregnant women are allowed to make this trip.
What about bathroom and sanitary conditions?
Everything happens in the river.
There are no toilets or bathrooms. The main philosophy behind the white water rafting trip is to keep every place we left in the same condition we found it. No littering of leaving waste behind. And yes, that also includes human waste.
One useful tip we got: bathing is upstream, bathroom is downstream.
What about showers?
You have to bathe in the river.
The water was very cold in May (and never gets really warm anyway) when we were there but that didn’t stop us from taking a quick dip every day. Before the trip we received information about which type of soap to bring, soaps that are harmless for the environment.
Some people in the group decided to not bother for 6 days, which might sound awful for the other guests. However that was never a problem in terms of smells. Probably because the trip is only a couple of days, and you are always outside.
Others preferred to wait for when there would be a small waterfall on our hikes. The Colorado white water rafting crew would tell us in advance if that was the case so you could take a towel and toiletries with you and put swimming shorts or a bikini under your clothes.
What about sleeping?
Our Colorado white water rafting company provided tents and camping gear.
That included a ground tarp, field beds, small pillows and sleeping bags. Again, the weather wasn’t perfect when we were there in May and so at night the temperatures often dropped quite a bit. The second evening the Colorado white water rafting crew handed out thick fleece blankets that made a huge difference.
The tents are for 2 people.
Once you dock for the night, the tents and beds are unloaded. There is a specific number on each one that you have to memorise so that you can set up the same tent and bed each night.
Setting up and breaking it down: you have to do that yourself. Of course you can ask for help from the crew. Assembling was quite easy though, the Colorado white water rafting crew gave us a demonstration the very first day.
How to find a camping ground?
The crew has done this trip many times before so they know the right spots along the way.
As there are just a few rafting tours allowed, the chances of running into another group are small. We never had to share a camping ground with another group for the night.
What about mosquitos?
Yes, there were quite a lot of mosquitos as the evening falls.
Even if we were very careful, they would still find a way into our tent.
Bring repellent and mosquito bite cream.
What about the daily routine?
Our day started when the sun would start to rise, around 6am.
The Colorado white water rafting crew would set up breakfast. Thirty minutes before breakfast one of them would yell out “coffee!”. You had to decide whether you wanted to sleep some more, go bathe when there was very little people around, get up and start to dissemble your tent and bed.
Or just get coffee and do the rest later.
We were usually on our way around 7:30am when the sun was up.
We would be on the raft for a couple of hours, perhaps stop along the way for a hike to a beautiful place, a special rock formation or a waterfall. Stop for lunch around 11:30am for an hour or so. Be on our way again on the river to enjoy the beautiful panorama as we float by.
Around 5pm the Colorado white water rafting crew would look for a good spot to set up camp.
Time for the guests to reassemble tents and beds. Take a bath, lay down for a moment, read, talk, take pictures, do what you like. Dinner would be ready around 6-6:30pm.
And by the time the sun was gone at 8pm, pretty much everyone was in bed resting or sleeping.
What about cooking?
The Colorado white water rafting crew was in charge of all the cooking.
We never had to prepare our own food. The kitchen consisted of a barbecue grill and a couple of dutch ovens. We were amazed by the amount of meals that they were able to cook with very little equipment.
We especially remember the fresh lasagna they cooked for us one evening, perfect comfort food in these conditions.
For a guest’s birthday they ‘baked’ a cake in on of the dutch ovens.
Who does the dishes?
Well that is something that you could volunteer for.
Washing up our own plates and cutlery while chatting and joking. We never thought that doing the dishes would be so much fun!
The Colorado white water rafting crew cleaned the pots, pans and kitchen utensils.
What about internet?
No internet or phone service during our adventure.
Which was quite an interesting experience for us because we love our phones and tablets. We were amazed how quickly we got used to it.
Probably because we were in a totally different environment. We had downloaded a couple of ebooks. Which we didn’t read simply because there was no time for it.
And in the evening we were happy to go to bed at 8pm and catch a well needed sleep.
What about the other group members?
We were in a fantastic group.
Everyone got along so well. Our group consisted of (almost) retired couples, a family with 2 adult daughters and a father traveling with his adult son.
All of them were American, we were the only Europeans.
What about privacy?
For some privacy can be a challenge.
The group eats together, you sit right next to each other on the raft, the other guests and Colorado white water rafting crew are always in for a chat.
The only time on your own is when you are zipped up in your tent. Camping grounds were quite large and could be a stretch of sandy beach but also a rougher terrain with rocks and bushes. We could choose our own little spot to set up our tent.
Whether that was close to the kitchen area or far away from the rest. As long as you could hear the coffee call and the Colorado white water rafting crew could clearly see your tent from a distance.
Bathing or using the bathroom was never a problem. People would really make sure not to be seen by anyone.
You can always have the person you travel with stand guard for you.
What if you get sick or injured?
There is no phone reception.
However the Colorado white water rafting crew has a satellite telephone in case of emergencies. And that includes serious stuff like heart attacks or fractured bones. No blisters or a sore throat.
On the third day on one of our hikes Luc fell backwards and broke 3 ribs. The crew provided him with pain medication and they would ask several times a day how he was feeling. Just to make sure that there was no internal bleeding.
Sleeping on a field bed and go rafting with 3 broken ribs is not a very comfortable thing to do. However Luc decided for himself that he was still mobile enough to continue our Colorado white water rafting trip.
What if you just had enough?
Then you have to sit this one out and wait until you have reached the end.
Being bored, scared or fed up is not enough reason to get you out of there.
Where does the trip end?
We were taken out by helicopter at Whitmore Wash.
That in itself was a great experience, the cherry on our cake.
After packing up on the last morning we traveled along the river for another hour or so. Until we reached Whitmore Wash where there is enough space for a helicopter to safely land and take off.
It took a while to have everyone transported. Only 2 to 3 people were allowed on each flight, depending on your weight for best stability. Hence the expression: “If you lie, you die”.
We were taken back to the Bar 10 Ranch lodge. There we could take a hot shower, eat and relax. And yes, that was probably one of the best showers in our lives.
A couple of hours later a small plane brought us back to our starting point, Marble Canyon airfield where a few of us had parked our cars.
The end of our Colorado white water rafting trip.
Would we do the Colorado white water rafting again?
Apart from Luc’s broken ribs and a water sandal that broke on the second day (which we able to fix with duct tape for the remainder of the trip) everything was great. The Colorado white water rafting crew, our group, the food, the gear.
What an experience, an absolute joy.
This Colorado white water rafting and camping trip is highly recommendable.