Cross your oars and knock on driftwood, folks: Holiday’s best guides are sharing their go-to magic charms for the perfect river trip. 

The river rolls on with or without us, an impersonal force of beauty and danger. But humans have this habit when faced with vast, impersonal forces of beauty and danger: we make them personal. Superstitions, lucky charms, benevolent spirits, and tricksters: the river becomes a perfect space for magic.

It’s said that quantum physicist Niels Bohr — by all accounts a very rational person — kept a horseshoe above his door for good luck. When a friend asked him if he really believed in the charm, he scoffed: “Of course not: I’m not an idiot — I’m a scientist.” “Why do you keep it there, then?” asked the friend. To which Bohr answered “I’m told that these work even if you don’t believe in them.”

So below we’ve sussed out the wildest superstitions of our river-runners, who ordinarily seem quite level-headed. You may find them weird or wacky — but believe them or not: they just might work.

1. Control the Weather


Always pack a tent. Having rain gear with you is the best guard against rain, says Lauren Wood.  Her grandma Sue Holladay endorses the mantra “It never rains on Holiday!” Though, she concedes, occasionally it does. But that doesn’t make the statement less satisfying, and also gives you something to laugh about when it does inevitably rain.

And never, ever, ever talk about the wind.


2. Befriend the Spirits and Monsters

River Monster Superstitions

Honk before driving over cattle guards. River runner Allegra (or Legs) explains that trolls hang from the bars and if you don’t honk you’re liable to run over their fingers. Since trolls are basically drinking buddies with the river gods, you can guess what happens next.

Hold your breath and lift your legs when you cross a bridge.

Find a good stick to throw to the river gods before a big rapid. Legs notes that after a few days, guests will always help you make sure they have a stick. Never retrieve the stick from the bottom of the rapid — that’s like taking the gift back.

Don’t look at snakes. This way you don’t see them.

Don’t talk about skinwalkers.

The Mascot rides on the water cooler. (‘Mascots’ are a kind of familiar daemon, little monikers of the guide or the space — maybe a plastic dinosaur in Dinosaur National Monument or some other critter with significance to the group).

Don’t be greedy with your cold one: pour out a sip for the river gods!

3. Pre-rapid Protections

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Always pee before big rapids. (Depending on fearfulness and continence, this might also have practical benefits).

Don’t camp above rapids, and don’t dawdle once you’re there.

Dip yourself in the river before the rapid — it offers some kind of tribute that will keep you safe. (This seems to function on the same order as allowing a dog to sniff your hand before reaching out for a pat: if the river knows you, she’s less likely to bite.)

Similarly: kiss Tiger Wall before taking on Warm Springs Rapid on the Yampa. Show the canyon some love and hope for a kind gesture in return!

Keep pre-rapid chit-chat to a minimum.

Just like the tent prevents rain, Legs recommends you always “rig to flip” — secure everything in the boat — since worry is a charm against mishap.

And never celebrate a clean run until you’re officially, fully, incontrovertibly through the rapid.

4. Cuisine and Couture Superstitions

Couture Superstitions

Always look good. It’s safer to look good.

Wear an amethyst for protection.

Wear Chuck Taylor High Tops through rapids.

Carrots in river meals shall be grated and not chopped.

Always pack glitter.

5. And Finally:

Superstitions and Tall Tales

NEVER let the facts stand in the way of a good story.


Have your own river-running superstitions? Tell us in the comments below!

Kate Savage Blog Writer

Written by Kate Savage, desert wanderer, river lover and freelance writer.  Check out Holiday’s River Currents blog for more of Kate’s writing soon!