One can’t help but be mesmerized by the swirling eddies of river rapids. The surging water allows rafters to unplug from the stress of day-to-day responsibilities with its adrenaline-inducing twists and bumps. For a moment, the only dominating thought is about staying in the boat — that’s all that matters.

For those in high-stress careers, the calming motion of the river can soothe frazzled, overworked nerves.

“We have a regular group of nurses from (Seattle) Children’s Hospital,” said Blair Corson, who, along with his parents Bill and Karen, owns Outdoor Adventures Center in Snohomish County. “They deal with trauma every day. They use the river to release their stress by paddling in the crazy water.”

Justine Bryant, who owns Wildwater River Guides with her husband, Lance Reif, agrees the disconnection from day-to-day life is part of rafting’s allure. A month-long rafting trip through the Grand Canyon triggered Bryant’s passion for the sport. At the time, she was a rafting novice.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I’d been on short rafting trips, but there is a significant difference between a half-day trip and committing to be in a canyon for a month.”

She loved it.

“It was about disconnecting from day-to-day life and social media,” she said. “The only people you interact with are other people who are also on the river.”

At Outdoor Adventures, Corson and his father had long enjoyed outdoor voyages together before they decided to take rafting lessons. The two were immediately hooked and took guide classes. At the time, the family owned a small construction company. They offered the class to their employees so they, too, could enjoy the sport. Soon, their employees were also helping them run river-raft trips.


Justine Bryant (left) and Lance Reif (right), owners of Wildwater River Guides.

Wildwater River Guides and Outdoor Adventures Center offer river-rafting opportunities for everyone from beginners to experts. Wildwater River Guides allows children over 10 to participate in beginner-level trips.

For Eastsiders, the Skykomish River is closest, running along Highway 2 through Index and Gold Bar. The Skykomish River has both beginner- and expert-level opportunities, depending on the stretch of the river and time of the year.

“There are some great stretches of river for beginners, especially along the Wenatchee River,” said Bryant, whose company is based in Wenatchee, but meets its rafters at rivers across the region.

Class 5 stretches are for those with previous experience. It is also best to be a confident swimmer, she said.

“My first question to potential customers is, ‘What kind of experience are you looking for?’” she says.

The Skykomish River is a popular river, but also very challenging at certain times of the year.

Depending on the month and the state of the snowmelt, the volume of water moving through the local rivers varies. There are times when a river will be considered Class 5, for experts only. Then, when the snowmelt rush is over, those same rivers will calm down to a Class 1 or 2, perfect for beginners and even children over 10.

The Skykomish River is known for its Class 4 and 5 rapids, especially in May and June. “People will come from out of state to raft it,” Corson said. Then, after the first or second week of July, it becomes very tame.

Still, both Corson and Bryant said the use of a guide is strongly encouraged.

Corson said the biggest problems occur when alcohol is involved and life vests are left behind. “That makes up 95 percent of the fatalities,” he noted.

Some rivers, like the Wenatchee River, are dotted with pillars on which boats can get wrapped up. Alcohol slows the reaction time, making a fatality more likely. With a guide, the risks of those hazards drop.

“Part of the fun of being a guide is that you never know how challenging your day is going to be,” Corson said. “You don’t know how the customers are going to react to the waters, what fears they have, how athletic they are going to be. Those things are really what determine what routes we are able to take.”

What to Bring

  • Swimsuit or swim trunks 
  • Water shoes or sandals with heel strap
  • Visor or hat with brim to wear under provided helmet
  • Retaining strap for eyeglasses/sunglasses 
  • Drinking water in reusable container (with strap)