Life on the river can be relaxing, or exciting, almost always it is beautiful. On face value, the main feature is obvious, the river itself. Going with the flow is why we travel downstream. But, what happens when we get off the boat? The banks on the edge of the river offer more than just a place to park the raft and sleep for a night. Often in the desert Southwest, there are endless geological, historical, and archaeological sites to see. Whether you walk 50 feet or five miles away from your raft, you will be rewarded with something magical. Below are some hiking tips for your upcoming river trip.
What to bring on a hike?
From footwear, to water, to sun protection, going out on a hike away from the security of the boat requires preparedness. On every river trip I venture out on, I bring a small (18 liter) day bag that I use for hiking. I’ll usually have a mental checklist of the items I’ll want for day trips while leaving the boat, and keep them in my “carry-on” bag, so I can put them in my day bag and enjoy a hike. The following items are a few of my necessities for hiking.
On my first Holiday Trip, I heard a guide drop a line that helped me remember how to plan for a hike. He said, “if your guides are barefoot on the hike, wear sandals. If you guides are wearing sandals, wear shoes.” This is usually a pretty good rule of thumb. Usually the guides are well adapted to the hot sand and rocks, and sure footed over rough terrain. So, use them as a metric of what footwear to bring. Shoes seem like a funny thing to have on a river trip, but even if you only pull them out of the bottom of your dry bag once for a stunning hike through Slickhorn Gulch or up to the Dollhouse Granary, it will be worth it. A light pair of tennis shoes, or Teva/ Chaco style sandals are usually a safe bet, depending on the hike.
Hydration and Snacks
Water is, as always, one of the most important pieces to happiness in the desert, especially while hiking. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and if you’re going on a hike around two miles, bring at least a liter. Assess your body and how it is reacting to hiking in the hot, dry climate. Even if you’re not thirsty, you should still be drinking. The guides have a plethora of amazing snacks you can load into your bag. I like to have a good mix of salty and sweet! Eating snacks will help you stay hydrated.
Cameras and Accessories
When I get out on the river, I usually stow my phone deep in my dry bag and leave it there until we’re back in the vans. I have a camera that I have within arms reach the whole time. Either way, camera or camera-phone, you’re going to want to be able to collect the awe-striking memories as a photo. As long as you don’t drop your device in a pool or creek, you shouldn’t need a dry bag on a hike. It’s never a bad idea to have a backup plan, like a waterproof case or even a ziplock bag to stow electronics in.
When you’re on the river, it’s usually pretty easy to control your temperature. You can have some shade from an umbrella; jump in the river; and lounge in the sun to stay comfortable. As you leave the river up a sandy winding trail, you might encounter more unpredictable temperatures. I always have a hat, sunscreen (30 SPF), sunglasses, a sun shirt, and on longer walks, a light shell. It seems weird to have sleeves on in the desert but it is worth being prepared for any temperatures or elements. Remember, there is no bad weather, only bad clothing!
What to Expect out There
Walking along terraced sandstone cliffs, up into a narrowing canyon you encounter all senses and colors you could imagine. Rocks streaked with tan, red, white, and pink swirl together and crash against a ledge that harbors ancient fossils from a seabed long gone. Further along a faint trail, crystal clear water splashes into a cold pool. It’s fresh and inviting. You splash some on your face, and run the clean water through your hair. Green ferns and grasses defy gravity and grow straight out of the wall where the seeping water has found its way to the canyon. The canyon wren’s descending chirp echos around the grottoes. You have left the group and have walked to a place where there is no sign of humans. It is warm but not hot, silent besides the birds and bubbling of water. You feel the walk in your muscles and sit down in the shade of a cliff. Looking back the way you came, you can see the river far below. Soon you’ll be back down there, going with the flow. But for now, you’re alone in the quiet beauty of nature.
*For more info on what to pack on your trip, check out our Packing Checklist!
Jack Stauss moved to Salt Lake City in 2008 in pursuit of big mountains and wide open spaces. He has spent the last several years both enjoying and advocating for public lands and free flowing rivers. While he’s not typing on his keyboard, he will be backcountry skiing in the Wasatch or exploring Utah’s wild deserts. Read some of his environmental musings at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @jackstauss on Instagram