Beginner’s guide to whitewater rafting

When my boyfriend first proposed the idea of going whitewater rafting, I thought he was insane. I envisioned the experience being something like this:

Photo by Colorado Adventure Center

Much to my surprise, you can actually go whitewater rafting on completely newbie-friendly rapids. 80% of the ride you barely even see any white water. The rapids you do go through are totally non-threatening and are actually super fun! After witnessing other beginner rafters making their way down Clear Creek while driving on I-70, I began to think this was something I could definitely do.

Despite my newfound bravery, I was still dragging my feet about actually going…until my boyfriend’s mom said that her number one “to do” item was whitewater rafting when she and my boyfriend’s stepdad visited Colorado.

Taking on beginner-friendly rapids on Clear Creek

My boyfriend’s mom is ridiculously good at doing extensive internet research, which I admittedly lack the patience for. Thanks to her aptitude for Googling, she (unsurprisingly), found a great company based in Idaho Springs called Colorado Adventure Center.

Quick aside…since we went in August, the water levels were pretty low. Water levels are higher at the beginning of summer, so your experience might be a little different if you go in June. Whatever company you go with, don’t hesitate to contact them to make sure you’re booking a trip appropriate for beginners. The staff doesn’t want you to get in over your head anymore than you do!

Figuring out what to wear was the most complicated part of rafting. I knew the water would be absolutely frigid, but it was also going to be a pretty hot day. Thankfully my boyfriend has no qualms about bringing an entire bag of clothes “just in case.” I brought all quick-drying layers (this means no cotton or denim!) as well as my raincoat and waterproof pants.

It was a beautiful day in Idaho Springs – hot and sunny with barely any clouds in the sky. I ditched my rain gear and banked on not getting too wet (completely realistic with beginner rapids!). I opted for running shorts and a long-sleeved running shirt that has really good ventilation.

If you sit in the front of the raft, you do get more wet, so you could wear a raincoat to stay dryer. However, if you’re in the sun for more than an hour, you could get hot in one, so it depends on how long your rafting trip is. You can always bring it with you and ask the guide company what they think – they’re used to newbies, so don’t be afraid to ask questions!

I would definitely recommend renting wetsuit booties if available. While only one of my feet got really wet, it would have been nice to just have rented the booties and not dealt with gross wet sneakers afterward (Yes, I left them in the car overnight by accident. Yes, they smelled absolutely horrific after. Don’t make my mistakes!). If you don’t want to get the booties, you can do what I did and wear old sneakers. I wouldn’t recommend wearing socks – that was a pretty dumb idea on my part because my feet only stayed wetter longer when my socks weren’t drying.

Make sure to bring sunglasses. The glare of the sun off the water is blinding, so it’s not an option not to wear sunglasses.To be safe, make sure you have Croakies or something similar so they don’t end up in the water. You can buy some cheap ones on Amazon.

As always, slather yourself with sunscreen, but make sure you do not put it on your forehead or above your eyes. You’ll have a helmet on, so you don’t need to worry about your forehead, and you don’t want to spend the rest your trip with your eyes on fire when your sunscreen is running into your eyes after being splashed by water. Ask my boyfriend, he experienced this agony for a majority of our day.

Like I said, the beginner rapids are quite calm, and thanks to the awesome guides at Colorado Rafting Company, we had an absolute blast. Don’t be shy about being upfront about being a beginner – you’ll have much more fun and good guides will always take care of you!


9 Comments Add yours

  1. My wife and I are thinking about going on our first rafting trip together soon, so thanks for sharing these tips. I like your point about remembering to bring sunglasses. We’ll be sure to get some Croakies too so we don’t lose them in the river.


    1. Laura Cardon says:

      Hi Derek, I’m so glad you found them helpful! Let me know how your trip goes!


  2. Riley Smith says:

    It’s interesting that you mentioned avoiding sunscreen above your eyes. My wife and I are going rafting this summer, and I was looking for ways to prepare. It would be smart to keep sunscreen off my forehead because I don’t want anything getting in my eye.


    1. Laura Cardon says:

      Yep, I would wear a hat instead! My husband spent this rafting trip with his eyes half shut because of the burning from the sunscreen. Have fun, and let me know how your trip goes!


  3. I like how you mentioned that you recommend renting wetsuit booties if available. My family scheduled a whitewater rafting trip for us this summer, and I’ve never been before and don’t know what to wear or what to expect. I will definitely keep your great tips in mind so that I can be well prepared for our rafting adventure.


    1. Laura Cardon says:

      Thanks Brooklyn! I’m so sorry it’s taken me this long to get back to you. The booties are so convenient if you don’t have sandals like Tevas or Chacos. Have a blast rafting!!


  4. Marcus Coons says:

    Thanks a lot for talking about rafting. We want to try it for the first time. It is important to have the right rafting tools.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sophia Slate says:

    Thank you for stating that you should rent wetsuit booties if available for white water rafting. My family and I are thinking about going white water rafting for the first time. I will definitely utilize all of your great tips and information when going white water rafting.


    1. Laura Cardon says:

      Thanks so much Sophia! Good footwear makes all the difference 🙂


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