Five Things You’ll Find on a PNW Whitewater Rafting Trip

Here in the PNW—land of rivers and untrammeled nature, birthplace of REI, and home of some of the country’s best whitewater—every adventure is unique. There is nowhere else in the world with our outdoor culture and easy access to rainforests, rivers and glaciers, especially just a few miles outside a world-class city like Seattle. This mix makes for river adventures unlike any other. Our whitewater and our locals both have their quirks, but that’s what makes these trips so memorable—you just can’t get this anywhere else.


1.       Wildlife

There are countless forms of wildlife in the PNW

There are countless forms of wildlife in the PNW

Wildlife in Washington ranges from the somewhat mundane to the utterly wild; out on our wilderness rivers you have a good chance of seeing both. Ravens, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles frequent the towering firs and cedars near whitewater, sometimes accompanied by barred owls. Deer and elk pick their own trails through the mossy banks. If you’re really lucky you might even see a black bear or a bobcat, two of the apex predators of the North Cascades ecosystem.

2.       Coffee

If rivers are the lifeblood of forests, then coffee is the lifeblood of those who raft them, at least in Washington. The PNW just might be the most caffeinated place in the US, and river runners are no exception. Almost everyone rolls up to the put-in with coffee in hand—take out cup, thermos, camp mug, whatever gets the job done. For the truly discerning (and caffeine dependent), a backcountry French press ensures fresh coffee even riverside in the wilderness.

3.       Fleece

As a river rafter and adventurer born and raised in the PNW, I proudly own more fleeces than there are days of the week. In western Washington’s wet and rainy climate, warm-even-when-soaked fleece reigns supreme; brand new and shiny fleeces, lightweight fleeces, heavy winter fleeces, vintage hipster fleeces, mudstained fleeces pulled out of the bargain bin of the local outdoors store. If most of the people on your whitewater rafting trip don’t have at least one fleece shoved in their backpacks, you probably aren’t in Washington.

4.       Cedar

No tree represents the rain-soaked, moss-hung forests of the PNW like the Western Red Cedar. Much like the locals here, it thrives beside the rivers and streams woven through the mountains, stretching hundreds of feet into the sky. Apart from their aesthetic appeal—and unique, wonderful smell—these trees provide a home for many species of birds and bugs, and even a growing platform for ferns and small bushes. In a pinch the bark can be made into water-resistant clothing.

5.       Huckleberries

If you hit the season right you might get a chance to sample one of the true gourmet delights of the PNW. But it’s not a fancy restaurant in Seattle; it’s huckleberries right from the bush, ripe and bursting with flavor. Huckleberry bushes also like the damp ground beside PNW rivers, often growing abundantly between the cedars. Make sure you’re with someone who knows their foraging, though; some similar berries found in Washington forests can be poisonous.

Read more:

What Wildlife Will You See Rafting?

What Are Wilderness Ethics?