July 21, 2008 in City

Float trips accessible, inexpensive

By The Spokesman-Review


Rafting outfitters

•EPIC Adventures (EWU), 359-7920; www.ewu.edu.

•FLOW Adventures, 242-8699; www.flow-adventures.com.

•Pangea River Rafting, (877) 239-2392; www.leaveboringbehind.com.

•Peak 7 Adventures (free for underprivileged youth), 467-5550; www.Peak7.org.

•River City River Runners, (509) 844-5934; www.rivercityriverrunners.com.

Jackets required

It’s the law: Life jackets are required to be worn while swimming or floating in the Spokane River in Spokane County.

Booking a float trip with a qualified guide on the Spokane River is one of the best recreation bargains around. Travel is minimal – city folks can ride a bike to the put-in for some trips. Guide costs range from free to as low as $45-$60 a person, with all sorts of group discounts and options that can be explored on company Web sites.

Five commercial outfitters – a record number – operate on the Spokane River this year, offering services ranging from evening trips that include wine-tasting or dinner to a simple half-day trip for cooling off on a summer day.

The fact that many people haven’t heard of these outfitters is a good thing in one sense: They’re operating with qualified guides who haven’t made news by wrapping rafts on bridge abutments.

But only about a week remains in the best whitewater action before flows get too low and the Bowl and Pitcher and Devils Toenail rapids in Riverside State Park become too rocky to run again until fall.

Tamer flows prompt a shift in floating strategy. Some companies, such as FLOW Adventures, stay on the river in low water by putting trippers into forgiving solo inflatable kayaks.

“We do a quick clinic and then everybody follows the guide’s line down the river bobbing and bumping around like a bunch of ducklings,” said Jon Wilmot of FLOW. “There’s no reason people can’t have a good floating adventure on the river well into August.”

Other guide services on the river include:

•Peak 7 Adventures, a nonprofit ministry geared to youth trips, especially floating and backpacking trips for underprivileged youth.

“Parents contact us and we try to work out trips for the kids, offering scholarships to kids who can’t pay,” said Ryan Kerrigan, Peak 7 guide.

• River City River Runners, offering whitewater rafting as well as upper-river floats ending with wine-tasting at Arbor Crest Winery, coordinated by Spokane City Tours ( www.spokanecitytours.com).

• Pangea Whitewater River Rafting, based in Missoula with trips on the Spokane and Clark Fork Rivers.

• EPIC Adventures, based at Eastern Washington University, provides river guide training as well as trips for students and the public.

“I’ve been on rivers around the country,” said EPIC pro-staffer Bill Milliken. “The Spokane River isn’t a destination for whitewater tourists, but that makes it nice for people who live here. We can enjoy the river without the big rafting scene.”

Nevertheless, with five companies working on the Spokane River – up from none a decade ago – some attention to crowding has been necessary, especially in the lower river whitewater stretches that go through Riverside State Park.

A park rule enacted this year requires outfitters to use vans or carpools for shuttling rafters to leave room for parking at the few river access areas such as Plese Flats.

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