The Schedule of a Raft Guide

How to Have Vacation Time Measured in Months

Throw your time card out the window. In fact, go ahead and throw your concept of a Monday through Friday workweek out that same window. Now open the door to the possibility of having not just a few weeks of vacation per year, but a few months.

Sound good?

Graphic of a scale with a hand balancing time vs. money

The typical raft guide job follows a similar schedule. Working hard for part of the year, most raft guides enjoy more time off than any other profession. In addition, time spent “on the clock” as a raft guide often does not feel like work at all. This combination is one of the best-kept secrets of the raft guide profession.

There are only two elements governing a raft guide’s work schedule: the river and the guide.

Most rivers in North America vary in the volume of flow throughout the year. In combination with the seasonal climate, rafting trips are usually only run on a particular river for a few months out of the year. Therefore, each river has a different “season” when raft guide work is available.

A river’s season depends on the river’s water source. In Idaho, California, and regions within the Rocky Mountains, rivers flow as the snowpack melts. This usually occurs in late spring to early summer. During this time the water levels vary with the temperature, the warmer it gets the more snow melts into the riverbeds. Other rivers flow when a dam upstream releases water or when there is a greater amount of rain in the region.

The majority of raft guide jobs are available during the summer months. Most rafting customers take a vacation during this time of year, wanting to get outside for the warmer weather. The majority of people would not even think of rafting with snow on the ground and a brisk wind blowing through the trees, although it is still possible. Many outfitters will begin running trips in early spring until late fall, with the bulk of trips being in June, July and August.

Who wouldn’t want to change pace as the days begin to get longer and warmer with a new, exciting job?

Summer rafting season is also conducive to the part-time raft guide. Students, teachers and other professionals with more availability in the summer find these jobs a perfect complement to their existing line of work because of this schedule. Others begin to guide strictly on the weekends as a supplement to their current income.

Out of the thousands of rivers commercially rafted in the United States, none has become more iconic than West Virginia’s Gauley River, run during the famous Gauley Season.

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During Gauley Season, veteran guides and returning clients flock to West Virginia for six weekends in early fall. The Summersville dam releases enough water to allow rafting outfitters to schedule trips and use the river for commercial purposes. This time of year also compliments the summer raft guide’s schedule perfectly, allowing for more work when summer trips begin to slow down Some guides make the trek for work opportunities, others for recreation, all for fun.

A raft guide can also combine several different seasons on multiple rivers. Professional raft guides often travel between different regions to take advantage of the “high season” on several rivers. Full-time river guides spend at least half the year guiding full-time on a hand full of rivers.

So what do raft guides do for the rest of the year?

The intelligent raft guide will plan his seasons so that he has 2-3 months of vacation time every year. Many guides will find other seasonal or temporary jobs, such as jobs at ski resorts during winter months, to bring in more income and a change of scenery. Other guides simply relax, travel or spend time at home.

Scheduling the year’s work as a raft guide becomes an exciting event. Opportunities to see and experience new places are always available with more time to enjoy life in between.

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