“We’re thinking about doing a multi-day river trip through Hells Canyon for Thanksgiving, want to join us?”
Some multi-day river trips are planned for months while others come together just a few days before pushing off. If you know me, you know that my river trips tend to fall in the “just a few days” category. My most recent multi-day river trip came together in under a week. It started with conversation over a beer on a Saturday night, “we’re thinking about doing a multi-day river trip through Hells Canyon for Thanksgiving, want to go?” “YES!” That’s it. Now comes the planning. Ok, my fiancé, Ally, and I must get together our camping gear, multi-day river trip equipment, food, and clothing. It sounds simple when you list it like that. Then questions arise; how many people are going? Is this a kayak-supported trip or a raft-supported trip? How many stoves will we need? Will we do food and gear individually or as a group? Do we need permits? Shuttle? Things get complicated very quickly. Luckily, we’ve all planned multi-days before, some of us more than others and that extra experience is always appreciated. Another thing that makes a trip like this easier to plan is having your camping and river gear well-organized at home.
The Team for the River Trip:
7 people. 2 rafts. 2 kayaks. 2 dogs. 1 cataraft.
The Thanksgiving Hells Canyon Multi-day River Trip Plan:
– Tuesday, November 20, 2018: Load vehicles in the evening.
– Wednesday: Work all day, leave Hood River, Oregon after work and drive to Copperfield Park campground in Halfway, Oregon where we’ll camp.
-Thursday: Wake up, drive to Hells Canyon Dam, rig and launch.
-Thursday, Friday & Saturday: Paddle about 10 miles each day, find camp, enjoy and repeat.
-Sunday morning: Meet our jet boat shuttle at Kirkwood Ranch to shuttle us back up to the dam.
Thursday: The group woke up nice and early and decided to break camp quickly and hit the road without making coffee or cooking breakfast. We drove the 22 winding miles along river to the dam in about 35 minutes—not bad but we should have eaten at camp. We ate some delicious breakfast burritos, rigged quickly and put on. It was beautiful.
We found a beautiful camp, had a Thanksgiving pot luck dinner that couldn’t be beat, went to sleep and didn’t get up until the next morning. The full spread included turkey, chicken, stuffing, cranberry sauce, loaded baked potatoes, macaroni and cheese, biscuits and gravy, cheesecake and pumpkin pie. We didn’t get to talk to our families on Thanksgiving, but we spent the holiday with our river family, and we sent automated check-in messages with our Garmin InReach when we got to each camp—our Moms love this.
Friday: Friday morning was a relaxing, lazy morning. For breakfast, we had French Toast and eggs and we got on the water when we were ready. Lunch was salami and cheese sandwiches on the river. I happened to choose the worst possible time to eat my sandwich because when I went to eat, we approached a rapid, and this unfortunate process repeated three times—river problems! Ally had a specific camp in mind that our group couldn’t stay at the last time we paddled this river trip, and even though we didn’t remember the camp’s name or exact location we were hoping we’d find it. Once the group paddled the estimated 10 miles that we planned each day we stopped at the first nice beach camp we saw. We didn’t find the elusive camp that we had hoped to stay at until a mile or two into our paddling the next day, oh well. Friday evening was full of hanging out on the rafts, hiking and playing fetch with the dogs. For dinner, we had a wonderful pulled pork taco spread complete with homemade pico de gallo and the tacos were paired with a Cerveza Pacífico Clara. Mmm… that’s luxury. To top it all off, we had “late night” snacks of leftover pie and Oreos and milk by the fire around 9:00pm.
Saturday: We woke up to some stacked breakfast burritos, made some BLTs to eat on the river for lunch, packed up camp and hit the water for our last day of rafting and kayaking. We were heading to the historic Kirkwood Ranch to set up camp for our last night in the canyon and prep to be picked up by our jet boat shuttle. To be as prepared as possible for the shuttle we de-rigged the rafts, rolled them up and organized a lot of our gear on the beach before the sun went down.
Sunday: When we climbed out of our tents we saw a layer of frost on everything. We bundled up and quickly started getting our remaining gear organized down by the river because we didn’t know what time zone the jet boat driver would be using (the Snake River separates two time zones between Oregon and Idaho). The morning was crisp and beautiful.
The volunteer ranch steward, Janet, wandered into our camp kitchen to welcome us to the ranch. Janet told us that we should go see the small museum dedicated to ranching life in the canyon. Once we had everything packed up and ready for the boat a few of us went over to check out the museum, which is full of historic information, pictures and artifacts—very cool.
The jet boat driver from Hells Canyon Adventures arrived right on time (Pacific/Oregon time) and introduced himself as Dusty. Since we had all our rafts and gear packed as neatly as possible loading up the large jet boat was a breeze. We chartered their medium-sized boat. Dusty said that they can fit 4 rafts and 13 people on this boat. The jet boat ride was an amazing canyon adventure on its own. Dusty navigated the river calmly and flawlessly. Traveling through the canyon in this massive jet-propelled machine was a different perspective that I’m glad I experienced. Since we were inside a vinyl windowed enclosure, I got a bit of that feeling of being in a car with the windows up and felt separated from the outdoors. I think on a summer day with the boat’s vinyl windows all opened the experience would connect you a little more with the surrounding canyon. The jet boat arrived at Hells Canyon Dam in about an hour and a half. If you’ve ever done Hells Canyon on a private trip you know that the Pittsburg Landing takeout road is a windy, somewhat-treacherous road, even on a dry summer day (an hour long, 20-mile drive on a dirt road to the nearest highway). Overall, the jet boat shuttle was well worth a few extra dollars over getting our vehicles shuttled to the takeout and then having to drive the Pittsburg Landing take-out road in cold, slick conditions.
Summary: We nailed it. Things we’d do differently?
-As always, I over-packed and didn’t wear a bunch of the clothing I brought.
-The Coleman 10×10 pop-up tent was a great convenience thanks to its easy setup and great protection, especially on this raft-supported trip where weight and space wasn’t a concern.
Interested in an all-inclusive, expert-guided multi-day river trip similar to this one? Check out Wet Planet’s Owyhee River multi-day rafting trip and our newest offering, beautiful multi-day rafting trips on Idaho’s Main Salmon River.
Want to learn how to plan and execute your own private river trip? Check out Wet Planet’s Rowing and Paddle Raft Guide School.
Author and photographer Mikey Goyette works on Wet Planet’s Marketing team. When he’s not in the office, you can find him in his kayak on the river or on the river bank playing Spike Ball.