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  • Address: 605 N 3rd St | McCall, ID 83638
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We’ve all heard the adage “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Heraclitus said that somewhere between 544 and 483 BC, but it still rings true today. And no one knows more about how the river is always changing than a river guide.

“I have probably been on more than 800 river trips and I have seen something new every single time,” says Kurt Armacost, co-owner of Hells Canyon Raft. His guiding career began at age 16 when he started working for the family business. In 1996, he and his wife Heidi took over management of the company and have continued the tradition of introducing (or reintroducing) guests to the wonders of Idaho’s rivers.

Idaho. Lower Salmon River. Whitewater rafting point of view from in the raft. MR

“Every time you go out it is a different experience,” says Heidi. “From the water level to the animals you see to the people and personalities on the trip, no day on the water is exactly the same.”

And while that ever-changing experience keeps guests coming back time and again, there is one constant that is the backbone of every trip…the guides.

“A river guide has the unique ability to don many hats,” says Lauren Demo, co-owner of Salmon Raft. “Guides are expert whitewater navigators, backcountry chefs, constellation spotters, historians, bartenders, and beach game instigators – oscillating between roles throughout the trip.”

A guide can really make or break the experience, says Demo, which is why rafting companies like Hells Canyon Raft and Salmon Raft work so hard to find, train, and retain their amazing guides. In addition to being personal recreation directors, guides are also well versed in swiftwater rescue and backcountry emergency response.

“It takes a lot of expertise and a lot of river miles to learn how to safely navigate whitewater,” says Demo. So, while the charisma of a guide shines, behind the scenes there is a lot of training, a lot of expert knowledge, and a lot of hard work that goes into every day on the water.

“Our guides are our family,” says Kurt. “They have this amazing ability to put in 12 to 14 hours every day and make it look fun and easy.” Which is just one of the reasons why a few days on an Idaho river is unlike any other experience. “It is just such a unique vacation,” says Heidi. “You actually get to be on vacation the entire time…everything is taken care of for you.”

In addition to rowing guests down the river and regaling the boat with tall tales and fun facts along the way, guides take care of just about everything on the trip. Meals are cooked, cocktails are mixed, tents are set up and taken down, boats packed and unpacked each day…all by your guides. “I joke that you just need a swimsuit and a toothbrush because everything else is taken care of for you,” says Demo.

“You really don’t have to think about a thing,” says Heidi. “Everything is laid out for you, all of the logistics taken care of. So really the hardest thing you have to do is decide if you want to go fishing, go for a hike, or sit back and read a book.”

And that is when the magic really happens. “There is an amazing thing that happens when people really start to disconnect from devices, from work, from all the noise,” says Demo. “They actually start to connect to one another.” It happens between families and friends, and it happens with complete strangers on the same trip.

“One of the things I love to see is multi-generational families come on a trip,” says Heidi. “Everyone has the room to do what they want – fish, hike, read, enjoy a sunset – but they are all still together. No one has to stay back – everyone gets to go all the time and participate in everything at the level they want to.” On the boat, on the beach, at meals, around the campfire. Everyone is together with very few distractions.

That connection also happens with different groups on the same trip. “It’s always really cool to see people exchanging contact information and giving hugs after a trip,” says Demo. “We have actually had people who live on opposite sides of the country meet on one trip then come back together for another trip years later.”

Who wouldn’t want to wax poetic about that kind of experience. Disconnect to reconnect. All made possible by some stunning whitewater and charismatic, hard-working outfitters. Maybe Heraclitus came up with his famous line while dreaming about being a river guide.

credit Idaho Tourism

Now what? How to book your river trip

Booking a river trip is like talking to a personal concierge. If you call a company like Hells Canyon Raft and Salmon Raft you are going to talk directly to an owner. They are experts at helping you find the right trip and pair you with the right people.

Each rafting company holds permits on different stretches of water and can take 3, 4, 5 or even 6-day trips. The first step in booking a trip is to figure out how long you want to go and on what river. From there, find a reputable outfitter who offers those options.

We recommend getting in touch with one of these specialists to help you plan the trip of a lifetime:

America’s Rafting Company (idahooutdoortours.com)

Multi-day trips in Hells Canyon and on the Salmon

Hells Canyon Adventures (hellscanyon.biz)

Single & Multi-Day Rafting in Hells Canyon with jet boat return

Hells Canyon Raft (hellscanyonraft.com)

Multi-day trips in Hells Canyon and on the Salmon

Mountain River Outfitters (idahoriver.com)

Multi-day trips in Hells Canyon and on the Salmon, Day trips on the Salmon

Salmon Raft (salmonraft.com)

Multi-day trips in Hells Canyon and on the Salmon

Tamarack Resort (tamarackidaho.com)

Day trips on the Cabarton Stretch of the Payette River