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Blue Coyote Field Guide

Blue Coyote Ranch: Salida's
modern ranch-style hotel


Best activities in Salida: Private Boating Classes

For my whole life I have always been incredibly drawn to water. I grew up in the Rockies so in a way it was odd that water was where I felt most at home. We aren’t exactly a beach location!

Best activities in salida

Shot from the Canyon River Website - with some classes, this could be you!

So it was truly with childlike wonder that I started watching the river rafters when I moved to Colorado. I lived in Denver when I first moved here and tried desperately to find classes through REI to learn to river raft, river kayak, really anything that would get me on the river. I didn't know much about it, but I was positive river sports must be one of the best activities in Colorado.

It wasn’t until I moved to Salida that I finally found a company, Canyon River Instruction, that teaches average joes the ropes of river rafting. I heard about the company quite a few times before I actually signed up.

One of the best activities in Salida is taking a class with Canyon River

Here’s a tip to the other river dreamers out there – you’re going to make other boaters super nervous. At the end of the day, most people who recreate in whitewater spent at least some time as a guide – learning basic river safety, getting experience with the constantly changing river and learning general etiquette.

No one has ever said anything outright to me but over time I've realized “private boaters” (ie not guides) can cause worry among the more experienced boaters, and rightfully so. If a boat capsizes in the river, it often falls on other boaters to help wrangle people and equipment and to act fast with a throw bag. So yeah, the people out there doing this every day really want you to know your stuff.

Last summer I went out on the river quite a bit with friends in an inflatable ducky, and then upgraded to a cataraft this spring. I dabbled in many other activities in Salida (fishing, hiking, etc) but this was by far the best activity I could find and I wanted to improve my skills.

Finally, I signed Mike and I up for a private class with Canyon River Instruction. Allan was our instructor for the all-day class. The length of the class made Mike and I both nervous – we aren’t big fans of long structured activities where we don’t have any control over our own experience.

But Canyon River turned out to be nothing like that. With a private class it’s 100% your call what you learn. Allan checked in with us throughout the day to make sure he wasn’t teaching us what we already knew and to ensure even the smallest questions were answered. He actually gave us a whole schpeil on how to attach our raft to our trailer because it was something I had been stressing about - his method is WAY easier than what we’d been doing and also way more secure. Allan even gave me tips to get the river stink out of my neoprene jacket.

After feeling us out for what we wanted to do that day and where we were at in our experience level, we spent a little bit of time in the classroom. I honestly wasn’t expecting this and was relieved he didn’t just throw us out in the river the way my friends had been doing (but also thank you river friends because you are my favorite people).

Allan drew a river on a whiteboard and showed us exactly how a raft should approach curves in the river, conflicting obstacles, and rapids. I’d been on the river with friends before and they kept telling me to angle the boat this way or that way, but it wasn’t until it was drawn on the board that I actually understood why the angle of the boat matters so much.

After that we got on the river! It was super helpful to help get the boat attached to the trailer, and then get it set up in the water. People who have been on the river for years know a lot of little tricks to make life smoother and Allan was generous in sharing his knowledge with us.

We practiced some rowing in a calm eddy at the boat ramp while we were tethered to the shore. This was also a game changer for me. When friends had taught me, it was always on the river and I was so nervous looking at what was ahead that it was hard to focus on what different oar strokes accomplished. Being able to flail around with the oars BEFORE going down the river allowed us to understand what the boat did in response to different oar movements.

Then we took off down the river! Mike and I both took turns rowing and a few times when we messed up Allan was quick to jump in and grab the oars before we smacked our faces on a tree. He was super patient and encouraging to us and tailored different practice exercises for each of us based on what we needed help with.

In the end, the class felt a lot like a day on the river with friends. At no point did I feel bored, stressed or otherwise uncomfortable. After the class, I got right back on the river and felt way more confident rowing my own boat, evaluating what parts of the river I could do and feeling like I knew enough to at least not be a major hazard to other boaters.

Rafting is the best Salida activity!

The class felt more like a day on the river with friends than a class!

This company is really doing awesome work and making whitewater sports more accessible to non-guides! I plan to sign up for a group swiftwater safety class nest to learn more about what to do in emergency situations. I’ve talked to a number of people who have taken Canyon River’s group classes and the experience sounds just as awesome as the private class was.

If you’re like me and have spent a lot of time wistfully watching people rig up their boats and take off down the river, please consider taking a class with Canyon River! You might just find a brand new passion that otherwise would have felt inaccessible!


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