Elisabeth Brentano worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.
I went on my first-ever overnight, multiday rafting trip on the Snake River last summer, and my only regret? I wish I had done it sooner.
Since I didn’t have any whitewater experience (or friends with whitewater experience and river permits), I booked a four-night guided trip in Hells Canyon with ROW Adventures.
What to Expect on Your First Multiday Rafting Trip
Our group consisted of 17 guests and six guides. While camping with 23 strangers may seem overwhelming, once everyone became acquainted, it felt like a family adventure. Overnight rafting trips attract a certain kind of traveler, and these are people with whom I enjoy sharing stories and making memories. These are people who have a deep appreciation for nature, whether it’s charging through Class IV rapids or marveling at the sweet song of canyon wrens while sipping their morning coffee.
Though I spend a lot of time outdoors, almost as many days are spent planning and organizing. This was the first trip where I handed off that responsibility to someone else. Not having to worry about any logistics allowed me to fully unplug and soak up the beauty around me, and in less than 24 hours, I was hooked.
Idaho is home to some of the best whitewater in the country, and whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned river rat, there are overnight options for everyone. If you are considering booking a guided trip and don’t know where to begin, read on for more info about gear, activities, food and what to expect.
What to Pack for Your Multiday Rafting Trip
ROW Adventures provides guests with a detailed packing list, so it’s impossible to forget anything essential. Key items include a sun hat, sunglasses with a strap, sunscreen, a rain shell, water sandals, swimwear, a variety of layers, a water bottle with a carabiner and a quick dry towel.
At orientation, guests were given two dry bags: one for camp gear and clothes, which is not accessible on the river, and a smaller day bag that is always accessible. If you’re planning on bringing a camera that isn’t waterproof, be sure to pack it in a small dry bag, and bring a few extra Ziploc bags to help separate items.
What to Wear for your Multiday Rafting Trip
Sandals (like Chacos) were suitable for hours in the raft plus all of our short daily hikes, and I wore flip-flops at camp. I lived in a long-sleeved sun hoodie and swim shorts over a swimsuit, and a pair of lightweight sun gloves offered my hands extra protection.
For hanging at camp, lounge pants and a cotton tank were all I needed. While it’s important to bring layers and pack for a range of weather, having a “fresh” outfit every day may be overkill. You’re going to get wet and sweaty, and everything will be covered in sand and sunscreen, so you might as well keep it simple and embrace the elements.
Overnight Rafting Trip Tips
Guests were responsible for breaking down camp each morning, and at around 7 a.m. the gear boat departed with camp gear and overnight bags. However, guides set up camp in the afternoon, so all guests had to do was grab a sleeping pad and claim a tent. ROW provides sleeping bags, liners, foam pillows and foam sleeping pads, but if you want a cushier setup, consider bringing a small air pad (I use a Big Agnes Air Core Ultra, which packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle).
Cowboy camping is also an option, and with hardly any biting insects, a number of guests opted to sleep sans tent. The water levels on the Snake River fluctuate so much that mosquitoes can’t reproduce, and we didn’t have any problems with stinging insects, either.
The bathroom setup consisted of toilet seats over two buckets: one for solid waste and toilet paper, the other for urine. When we weren’t at camp, waste alleviation and gelling (WAG) bags were used for solid waste. While gravity bag showers were available, no one used them. Jumping in the river was far more efficient—and fun.
If you’re curious about your vehicle, those logistics are also a well-oiled machine. I paid a small fee and provided gas funds to have my vehicle driven to Hells Canyon Grand Hotel in Lewiston where we ended our Hells Canyon rafting trip.
Multiday Rafting Trip Scenery & Activities
Our trip was in mid-July during a heat wave, so the daily highs were close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Whether it was jumping out of the raft to swim rapids or wading in the shallows near camp, we enjoyed dunking in the river every opportunity we had. Most of the vegetation had turned golden brown, but there were still a few patches of green along the canyon. One of my friends rafted the Snake River in late May, and while the landscape looked like a verdant jungle, swimming wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as the daytime highs were only around 75° F.
In addition to breathtaking scenery, we got lucky with wildlife sightings. We spotted two black bears cooling off in the river, along with bighorn sheep, mule deer, hawks, osprey and bald eagles. We didn’t see any rattlesnakes, though they are present in the canyon.
Each day we were given the choice to ride in an oar raft or a paddle raft, the latter of which was far more exciting when we sent it through the rapids. (Guides paddle the oar rafts while guests kick back and relax, while everyone paddles in a paddle raft.) We ran several Class IV rapids on the first two days, but the route was much tamer after that, allowing guests to hop in inflatable kayaks. We also had multiple breaks to split up the rafting, ranging from quick pit stops to easy hikes.
Food & Meals on a Multiday Rafting Trip
One of our guides described the camp cooking as culinary wizardry, which perfectly sums up both the quality and variety of the food we enjoyed on the river. Coffee and light fare was available around 6:30 a.m., and hot breakfast was generally served around 7:30 a.m.
The standout breakfast dish was huckleberry French toast topped with whipped cream and berry compote, but eggs Benedict was a close second. We took a break for lunch around noon, and daily menu options included salad, wraps and sandwiches, with a table of healthy snacks and appetizers (fruit, veggies, hummus and more).
Appetizers and drinks were available around 6 p.m., and dinner was served by 7 p.m. From lasagna to chocolate cake, everything was made from scratch, with gluten-free and vegan options also available. Simply put: if Michelin could rate backcountry dining experiences, ROW Adventures would have earned a star or two for their skills and creativity.
A Multiday Rafting Trip is Just the Beginning
Rafting Hells Canyon helped immerse me in the river, in every sense of the term. From the blissful sensation of cool water on my skin to learning how dams have affected the region, I left feeling a strong connection to the landscape. I backpacked the Seven Devils a few days before the rafting trip, so I gained an especially unique perspective on Hells Canyon, which is the deepest river gorge in North America.
He Devil Peak, the 9,393-foot-high point of the Seven Devils Mountains, also marks the top of the canyon, which plunges 7,993 feet to the Snake River. As I gazed into the distance from the lush alpine meadows of the Seven Devils, I wondered what the scenery looked like below. I caught glimpses of grassy hills and rocky cliffs, and when I stared at those landscapes from the river 48 hours later, I felt like I had been transported to a different world.
Idaho has no shortage of natural wonders, but it’s still mind-bending that this wilderness can offer two wildly different experiences just a few miles apart.
Feature image credited to Elisabeth Brentano.
Elisabeth Brentano is a writer and photographer based in California but her passion for nature takes her all over the world to produce travel and environmental content. You can follow her at @elisabethontheroad on Instagram.
Published on March 7, 2023