Release your inner child on a Wenatchee River raft trip

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Wenatchee two courtesy
People from all over come to the Wenatchee River, one of the most popular and accessible rafting adventures in the country. Courtesy photo.
How do you get six adults to do the Hokey Pokey while balancing on the edges of a raft in the middle of the Wenatchee River?

Simply tell them to do it — and they will. That’s “guide power” for you.

It happens the minute you hop in the boat when you relinquish all control to the man or woman at the helm.

You and your fellow rafters are a team now and your job is to obey the commands of your guide, without question.

And, yes, this might include taking part in water fights with other boats, hanging Titanic-style off the front of the raft as you approach a formidable wall of water or standing in the middle of the raft clutching a rope as you spin in circles of churning water, in mechanical bull-riding fashion.

You might think only kids get a rush out of such experiences, but surprisingly enough, adults revel in it, too.

I’ve seen it time and time again on every raft trip I’ve taken, from the Salmon River in Idaho to the mighty Colorado through the Grand Canyon.

There’s just something about being on the river, away from it all, that brings out the inner child in everyone. Even when civilization is in stone-tossing distance, like it is on the Wenatchee, you still feel removed from the daily trappings of society.

Surrounding you on your 12-mile journey from Leavenworth to Cashmere are verdant forests, fertile orchards and the majestic, snow-capped Cascades.

Mother Nature is at her best and Kodak moments abound. People from all over the state and elsewhere come to the Wenatchee, as it is one of the most popular and accessible rafting adventures in the country.

With its headwaters in the heart of the central Cascades and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, the river has the largest volume of raftable whitewater in Washington.

In the late spring and early summer, it’s considered a class III-IV river. This is big water season and notorious for providing the most thrills and chills.

On my early June trip on the Wenatchee, the water was moving at 13,000 cubic feet per second, which is slightly above the average flow of around 10,000 cubic feet. And it was cold — hypothermia inducing cold — to the tune of somewhere around 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Later in the season, however, the water temperature warms up, along with the increase in air temperature.

The river is then rated a class II-III and is much tamer, making it suitable for younger children and families.

During high season, wetsuits, spray jackets and booties (provided by the company) help with insulation, but know you will get wet and that initial icy spray is just a harbinger of what’s to come further down the river when you hit the major rapids.

Safety is the primary concern for most, if not all rafting companies.

At River Riders, the outfitter I chose for my Wenatchee trip, the guides will remind you that safety is paramount to the fun factor.

The company, which has been in operation since 1974, has an excellent reputation in the industry.

It’s known for having a fleet of veteran guides, who delight in sharing their passion for rafting with others. They will regale you with tales of the area and provide interesting facts about its geological formations and history.

They’ll also entertain you with their own style of stand-up comedy and, of course, they’ll do their best to bring out your inner child.

The river meanders, twists and turns through the valley. It has a good mix of calm, leisurely stretches and crazy, roller-coaster waves that leave you exhilarated and pumped with adrenaline.

Some of the more hellacious rapids on the Wenatchee have been dubbed with amusing monikers such as “Rock n’ Roll,” “Indigestion,” “Gorilla Falls,” “Drunkard’s Drop,” “Snowblind” and “Granny’s Panties.”

You’ll hear their roar before you see them and it only ratchets up the anticipation, as you get in “ready” mode and prepare to ride the  wild wave train.

As each boat makes it through, rafters raise their paddles high in celebration of their accomplishment. On my trip, there was added excitement when two rafts flipped over.

Fortunately, they were comprised of mostly of guides-in-training and rookie guides, who were out practicing on the river.

In true emergency form, however, those in nearby rafts pulled out the “swimmers” and helped grab errant rafts and paddles.

The entire procedure and operation was performed quickly and smoothly, minimizing any issues that might have had a chance to develop.

It was an impressive display of teamwork and skill that hammered home the emphasis on safety first and foremost.

Two and a half high-octane hours later, we arrived in Cashmere, hopped on a bus and headed back to the company’s site in Leavenworth, where a hearty BBQ lunch awaited us.

While chowing down on veggies and dip, grilled chicken, hot dogs and fresh fruit, we entertained each other with memorable high notes of our trip.

And no, there wasn’t a food fight, nor did anyone dance on the picnic tables.

We were once again on terra firma and our inner child had retreated.

If you go:
There are a number of outfitters that offer rafting trips on the Wenatchee.
River Riders, with their 30-plus years of experience, state-of-the-art gear and attention to detail and safety, are one of the more established and reputable companies in the business. They also do trips on all of the other major rivers in Washington, including the Tieton, Yakima, Methow, White Salmon, Nooksack, Skykomish and Klickitat.
For more information: 800-448-7238 or
All of Washington State’s Best Rivers
· Professional, Friendly, Entertaining River Guides
· 30+ years of Experience
· Our Famous Attention to Detail and Safety
· State-of-the-Art Rafting and Safety gear
· Longtime Reputation for Leadership and Excellence
· Great and Famous Riverside BBQ

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