Tell me a little bit about ARTA

Q. What is unique about ARTA?

A. The four things that most dramatically set us apart from our competition are:

  • Our guides – Interesting, friendly and warm-hearted, our guides are what everyone talks about after their trip. They are considerate, competent and committed to helping you get the most out of your time on the river. You will want to take them home with you. Meet some of our guides here…
  • Our Style – Our trips are informal, friendly, and participatory, much like the feeling you get when you visit the home of a good friend. We emphasize safety, appreciate the wilderness, and enjoy good company. Read what our guests say about us here…
  • Our History – We have been in business since 1963 and have a long tradition of running outstanding trips. Our past guests are very loyal and our guides have a long and colorful legacy of providing great service; we are spontaneous and traditional at the same time. Learn more about our history here…
  • Our Corporate Structure – We are a non-profit corporation dedicated to protecting the special places we get to spend our summers. All of our profits are donated to conservation groups or reinvested in the company. See who we support here…

Q. Why are your prices lower than other companies?

A. Mainly because we work really hard to make our trips affordable, but also because…

  • We are a non-profit corporation and we make it a priority to keep our prices low. There is no pressure from investors or owners to increase profits.
  • We have been in business for over 50 years and have no debt or start-up costs to pay for out of our trip fees.
  • We have one reservations and administration office for 14 different rivers so our overhead costs are low.
  • Our style is informal – we provide outstanding guide service, good equipment and a casual, family atmosphere and we don’t provide alcohol, cots, hot-tubs, or fancy gourmet food.

Q. Tell me about your guides

A. Our guides are a diverse group of people who enjoy the wilderness and, more importantly, enjoy people. They are interesting, competent, accommodating, and entertaining. They range in age from 18 to over 50 and hold a variety of winter jobs, from student to carpenter to actress to professor. They come from across the country and have been around the world and are pretty equally split between male and female. Some are avid readers who don’t own a TV, others have cell phones, X-Boxes and iPods. You will have your favorites, but all of them are fun to spend a day or a week with.

Q. How long have you been in business?

A. ARTA was founded in 1963 with the goal of exposing as many people as possible to the values of wild rivers and pristine canyons. Our original motivation, which is still our inspiration today, is the belief that once exposed, people will treasure and protect these resources for future generations. We were the first outfitter to offer river trips throughout the West; hence we operate on a wide selection of rivers and have a generous choice of launch dates.

Q. How can I reach ARTA?

A. You can call us at 209-962-7873; our office is open at least Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Pacific Time. You can also send e-mails to anytime you want. Lastly, you can send letters and packages to 6 South Washington St. #12, Sonora, CA 95370.

Is Rafting for Me?

Q. How safe will I be?

A. Although whitewater rafting is an inherently dangerous activity, we take many precautions to increase your safety, well-being, and peace of mind. We are very experienced, prepared and safety-conscious. Thorough safety procedures are explained prior to embarking and at various times during the trip. Coast Guard approved life jackets are worn at all times on the river. Our guides are all trained in first aid and CPR and a complete first aid kit is carried on each trip. We want you to relax and enjoy your vacation without undue worry so if you are concerned about your safety, please call us so we can recommend the appropriate trip.

Q. How strenuous are the trips?

A. Most trips are not strenuous and allow you to choose the level of exertion most comfortable to you. On the river, participation levels often range from kicking back in an oar raft and working on a tan, to paddling in a paddle raft where you are part of a team involved in getting the raft through the rapids, (and across the calm stretches), to paddling yourself in an inflatable kayak where you are solely responsible for getting through the rapids and all the way to camp. In camp, our guides handle all the heavy work, including camp cooking and cleanup. You are responsible for simply picking out a site, setting up your tent, (our guides will help), and taking care of your camp belongings. In the evenings, you can again be as active as you like. There are usually opportunities for hiking, (including both strenuous mountain hikes and more casual trail hikes), as well as time to relax, read a book or take a nap.

Q. How are rivers rated in terms of difficulty?

A. The International Scale of River Difficulty classifies rapids, (not rivers), on a scale of I to VI with I being easy and VI being unrunnable, (for guided whitewater rafting, Class III is considered beginning level). The difficulty of a rapid can vary significantly with changes in water levels; the ratings we use are based on normal river conditions.

Q. Who travels with ARTA?

A. ARTA guests are incredible; if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have nearly as much fun. A lot of them were introduced to rafting by their parents on ARTA trips over 30 years ago and are now bringing their own kids, (which is fun and reassuring), others heard about us from satisfied guests, and still others just did a Google search and liked our website. There seems to be a common thread of adventurousness and curiosity as well as a preference for some sort of personal growth or discovery, as opposed to a need to be pampered and coddled. Regardless of who we are at the beginning of the trip, at the end, we are all one big happy family.

Q. Are children welcome?

A. Absolutely. Some trips are better than others (the Rogue, Main Salmon and Green/Lodore are classic family vacations) and some are off-limits (high water Tuolumne and Illinois trips). We have some suggested age limits, but every kid is different so these are only guidelines. Everyone who works in our reservations office has taken their own children on almost every trip we offer, so calling and talking about the options is a good idea (and fun for us too!)

Q. How many people are on a trip?

A. An average trip is around 16 guests and 5 guides. Each managing agency has regulations regarding maximum group size so the most is 25 guests and 6 or 7 guides (except the South Fork of the American where we can accommodate up to 60 people at a time). We typically have one guide for every 3 or 4 guests, and one raft for each guide.

Q. I’m traveling alone – will I have fun?

A. You’ll have just as much fun as anyone else, maybe even more fun. River trips are social free-for-alls and you will quickly be assimilated into the group. Our guides are masters at community-building and at making everyone feel welcome, the other guests are almost always fun to meet and get to know, and there are often other solo travelers; you won’t be alone or ignored unless you want to be (and you’ll be able to pick a really small, cool place to camp).

Q. How do I choose an appropriate trip?

A. The first concern should be difficulty: how challenging do you want the whitewater to be? Even though the majority of our trips are suitable for everyone, there are differences in the intensity and frequency of the rapids and in the difficulty of each river based on the season; decide what thrill level you want, then make a choice or ask for a recommendation. Secondary considerations should include length, location, scenery, water temperature and participation levels. 

Q. Do I need to know how to swim?

A. No. A lot of our guests can’t swim and they are fine. You will be wearing a personal floatation device that will keep you afloat and knowing how to swim isn’t really that important when it comes to whitewater, so non-swimmers are welcome.

Q. I’m worried about falling into the river. How often does this happen?

A. First of all, its not that big of a deal to fall in and second of all, as is the case with a lot of things, it happens a lot more on You Tube than in reality. Overall, probably less than 5 percent of the people who go rafting with us end up going for an unplanned swim at some point during their trip and that includes all the people on the Class IV and V stuff we do, all the people in inflatable kayaks AND all the nutty teenagers who don’t mind falling in; if you really don’t want to fall in, (or if we really don’t want you to fall in), we can put you in the appropriate raft on the appropriate river at the appropriate time and reduce the chance to ridiculously small, (but remember, its not that big of a deal).

Q. What type of shape do I need to be in?

A. The great thing about a river trip is that almost anyone can participate. We have taken paraplegics, blind people, octogenarians and professional golfers as well as tri-athletes and long-distance runners. Most of our guests fall somewhere in between and you can choose from a variety of activity levels both on and off the river to match your preferences and lifestyle. We are almost always a long way from advanced medical care, so your general health is very important. If you have a serious or chronic medical condition, please talk to your physician about the activity level AND about the lack of immediate access to advanced medical care.

Q. What are the minimum / maximum ages?

A. The age limits vary by trip and time of year. We have taken children as young as 5 and as old as 85. Because we take a variety of rafts, including big, relatively stable oar rafts, we can accommodate a large range of ages and abilities. It is common for us to put people who don’t want to fall in (or who we don’t want to have fall in) into the larger boats for the larger rapids. See minimum/maximum ages for our recommendations and call us if you have questions or concerns.

Q. Will my children or I be bored?

A. If you are bored, it’s your choice. A lot of people worry about “sitting in a raft doing nothing all day”. For them we have paddle rafts, inflatable kayaks, hikes, places to swim, maps and guides who can tell great stories. If those don’t work, just ask your guide if you can try rowing. In camp you can hike, fish, putz around with your gear, swim, help out in the kitchen (and share stories and a glass of wine with the guides), read a book or take a nap. Kids will be in heaven all day and even the most easily-bored ones will find something or someone to entertain them – it’s an exciting world out there and there is always plenty to do. We worry most about teenagers because sometimes the fun, entertaining things aren’t cool enough at first. But we’ve found that jumping off rocks (“360 cork spins”), swimming rapids (“Are you serious, I can just float through in my lifejacket?”), and even talking to grownups (“What’s it like to be a teacher?”) become acceptable after a few hours in a small group of people. We can’t remember getting a post-trip evaluation that said the trip was boring.

Q. I have a Boy Scout group that wants to go rafting. Is there a special trip for large groups?

A. Our Cooperative Trip program offers trips on the South Fork of the American (beginners) and on the Merced (more advanced) that are perfect for groups who don’t mind planning, purchasing and preparing their own food. By doing so you can save a lot of money and use the trip to teach valuable lessons about responsibility and teamwork. We do these trips for a lot of Boy and Girl Scout troops, Church groups, businesses and other organizations that enjoy a little more involvement with their trip.

Life on the river

Q. What types of rafts do you bring?

A. We take a diversity of rafts on most of our trips, giving you the opportunity to experience the river in a variety of ways. Paddle rafts and inflatable kayaks are our favorites because of the participation level they provide. On these boats you are actively involved in getting through the rapids and down the river. On longer trips we also take oar rafts which carry a few passengers plus all the food and overnight gear. On very difficult rivers, where precise maneuvering and extra power are needed, we use oar/paddle combination rafts. On all trips everyone rotates between the various craft, allowing everyone to enjoy the different experiences.

Q. What are the meals like?

A. Our meals range from a zesty Mexican fiesta to a delightful Oriental stir-fry to a down home American barbecue, all served with a variety of side dishes and a distinctive flair. All meals from lunch on the first day through lunch on the last day are provided and are prepared from fresh ingredients by our guides. Fruit juice or punch and water are provided with every meal. We are able to accommodate most special dietary needs; please let us know if you have a special request.

Q. What is your policy on alcohol?

A. We do not provide alcoholic beverages on our trips but you are welcome to bring your own. For your safety, no drinking of alcoholic beverages is allowed on the river. We will gladly join you for a beer at the end of the day, a glass of wine with dinner or an evening cocktail, but alcohol consumption is not the focus of our trips.

Q. What do I need to bring?

A. Most of the items you need in order to be comfortable on the river can be found in your closet or rented from us. Our Equipment List and Packing Guide gives a good outline of what you need. If you don’t do a lot of camping or if you are traveling by plane, we recommend renting camping gear from us; our rental equipment is high quality, appropriately-sized and comfortable. The two most important items that are somewhat specialized are a “fleece” jacket/pullover and suitable shoes. “Fleece” jackets are abundant and can range from $100 Patagonia soft-shells to $10 Outlet seconds to $2.50 thrift store bargains. Make sure it is spun, polyester fleece (often called Polartec), NOT a “fleece sweatshirt” which is often a 50/50 blend. For shoes you will need something that can get wet and that will stay on your feet while swimming. Keen, Chaco and Teva make specialized, water-worthy sandals that are great; (try to avoid those with Velcro straps, the Velcro gets dirty and fails) and many people are fine in old tennis/running shoes. Aqua-socks don’t work very well because they don’t provide enough sole support for walking on rocks (great for sand, not so great for rocks). On some trips (high water Tuolumne and Illinois ) we require wetsuits (we will provide them) and on some early season trips we require rain gear. Other than that, it’s just a few T-shirts, some shorts or bathing suits and a hat.

Q. What’s the camping like?

A. On most overnight trips we will stop at a wilderness campsite along the river in the late afternoon. Campsites are usually sandy beaches or flat benches adjacent to the river; many have a nearby creek, most have hiking opportunities and all have toilet facilities. We will set up a central kitchen and eating area and guests find individual tent or camp sites in the surrounding area. While meals are being prepared, you are free to swim, relax, hike or even help out in the kitchen. After dinner, the campfire is usually kept burning for singing, storytelling and marshmallow roasting.

Q. How much “stuff” can I bring?

A. We really encourage and help you to pack light and efficiently. It makes everything easier and it feels good to live a simple life for a few days. We suggest one change of versatile clothes for in camp, one or two changes for during the day, some warm, river clothing (fleece, rain gear) in case of inclement weather, camping gear, toiletries, a book, headlamp and appropriate shoes (in camp and on river). The waterproof bags we provide are plenty big for everything you need; most people bring more stuff than they need.

Q. What’s a typical day like?

A. Every day is different, but a typical day starts with our guides getting up around 6:00 am and starting a big pot of coffee and breakfast. Some guests enjoy getting up early and enjoying that first cup of coffee during the quiet, slow pace of the morning. Around 7:00 we’ll make the “coffee” call, signaling everyone who is still asleep that it is time to start moving around and breakfast is usually served around 8:00 giving us a nice opportunity to enjoy our meal as the day warms up. After breakfast, while the guides break down and pack up the kitchen, guests take down and pack up their camp gear and bring their bags down to the rafts to be loaded. It is traditional on ARTA trips to enjoy a little time together in the morning, going over the day’s itinerary, planning the activities, sharing thoughts, and maybe hearing a historical tale or inspirational story. We are usually on the river between 9:00 and 10:00 , depending on that day’s anticipated mileage.

On the river, the pace is pretty relaxed. We usually spend about 3 hours heading downstream, maybe stopping to scout a rapid (look at it from shore), or to take a short hike to a creek, swimming hole or settler’s cabin. Lunch is served picnic style along the river, sometimes at a creek or fun place to explore. After lunch, we are usually on the water for another 2 to 4 hours, again stopping once or twice to hike, swim or just take a snack break.

We get to camp in the early evening and there is a busy half hour or so of finding a camp site, setting up and getting settled. Then there is usually plenty of time to hike, fish, swim, read, or just sit along the river and talk while our guides prepare snacks and dinner. Many of our guests enjoy coming into the kitchen area and sharing in the timeless ritual of communal food preparation. This is usually a fun place to be and we love it when you join us. Dinner is usually served as the sun settles and it is common to sit as a group and enjoy conversations (and seconds, and dessert) until near dark. When conditions allow, we will have a big campfire and tell stories or play some creative games until the stars come out and we head to bed, full of great memories of the day and great anticipation of tomorrow.

Q. How hot or cold will I get?

A. If you are on the Illinois in April, you will get cold; if you are on the Main Salmon in August, you will get hot. But generally, you will be comfortable. Good gear (fleece and rain gear) will keep you warm and the river will keep you cool. One of our more experienced (and blunt) guides used to always say: “If you are hot, you are stupid”, meaning that you can always jump in the river and cool off. There is no better place to be on a hot day than in or by the river.

Q. Can I bring my own life jacket?

A. We require all of our raft guests to wear Coast Guard approved Type V lifejackets that are made especially for whitewater rafting. If you have your own Type V lifejacket that is in good condition, you may wear it on our trip. If our guides don’t think your lifejacket is safe (condition or age) they may ask you to wear one of ours. By the way, ours are very comfortable.

Q. Where will I sleep?

A. With the exception of our Rogue River Camp/Lodge trips, where you will spend one night in a riverside lodge, all of our overnight trips camp along the river. You will sleep in a tent or under the stars in some of the most beautiful places imaginable. Some camps are huge sandy beaches and you can camp near the river with your own stretch of shoreline, other camps are on benches, slightly above the river and surrounded by trees and full of little nooks and alcoves. Generally you will be just a short walk from the central kitchen area, but adventuresome people can find very isolated spots on the outskirts of the camping area.

Q. Can I bring my boom box?

A. You can bring it, but you can’t play it. We’re in the wilderness and not everyone has the same taste in music, so bring your phone and ear-buds instead. Part of the pleasure of wilderness rafting is leaving some of our material possessions behind, so we encourage you to embrace the simple life and listen to the natural world for a few days. Other things that we really don’t want you to bring include guns (unnecessary), expensive jewelry and irreplaceable items (they can get lost).

Q. What are your emergency procedures?

A. All of our guides are trained in First Aid and CPR, (most have Wilderness First Responder certification) and they are very experienced and most have been on the particular stretch of river many times. They have good procedures for dealing with emergencies, (the most important of which is preventing them – so expect a constant concern for safety). On most trips we carry communication devices (satellite phones, etc.) for dealing with emergencies and requesting outside assistance. Satellite phones are for emergency use only; sorry, we cannot accommodate non-emergency calls.

Q. Are evacuations common?

A. No, they are very, very rare.

Q. Tell me about the bathroom facilities.

A. We have been doing this for a long time and we have developed some pretty good practices and equipment. The typical solution is what we affectionately call “The Groover”, a sturdy metal or plastic box with a toilet seat that takes care of all our solid human waste. While it isn’t enjoyable to think about, using the Groover is actually surprisingly pleasant; minimal odor, comfortable seat and almost always a beautiful location. We have techniques to safeguard your privacy, so going to the bathroom in the wilderness isn’t something to worry about – you won’t be digging any holes or squatting.

Q. Do I need to bring toilet paper?

A. You can, (boyscout), but we bring plenty.

Q. Will we encounter wild animals?

A. It is common to see wild animals on all of our trips, really rare to “encounter” one. We usually get to watch otters, deer, bighorn sheep, and tons of birds in their natural setting. Occasionally we see bears, but they are generally afraid of or indifferent to us so they pose little danger. Rattlesnakes live in most of the canyons we visit and we see them often enough to always be alert to their potential.


Q. What is and isn’t included in the trip price?

A. All trips include some pre- and post-trip transportation, waterproof bags for your personal gear on wilderness overnight trips, all on-river meals and non-alcoholic beverages, and friendly, knowledgeable guide service. You are responsible for your own personal gear (or you can rent it from us). In addition, you’ll need to provide transportation to and from the area, meals and lodging before and after the trip, additional beverages beyond what we provide, and an open mind for adventure and excitement!

Q. What about tipping?

A. We want you to feel like a guest in our home; tips are never expected. But, if you feel that your guides did an outstanding job, a gratuity is a flattering way to let them know. Tips should be based on your satisfaction, your financial means and your attitude about tipping. A typical tip ranges anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the trip cost, (with the occasional recommended book or coveted hat thrown in). It is customary within ARTA to give the tip to the Lead Guide who will distribute it equally among all of the staff. And thank you very much.

Q. How do I make a reservation?

A. You can book online (our full schedule is here) or you can call us at 209-962-7873 and we’ll sign you up if there is space available or talk to you about alternatives. Most trips require weeks of advance planning so the earlier you call the better. However, if your schedule doesn’t allow you to plan far in advance, or if taking a trip was a last minute idea, please give us a call. We can sometimes accommodate late additions. After you sign up we’ll e-mail you all of the information for your trip and a link to our reservations site where you can tell us what you want to eat and where you can pay for your trip. Or you can call us and we can do it all over the phone.

Q. What type of discounts do you offer?


  • GROUPS – Groups of 10 or more receive a discount off of the regular adult fare on most of our trips.
  • CHARTERS – Groups chartering an entire trip receive a discount on most of our trips.
  • YOUTH – On most trips we offer a discounted fare to children 17 and under accompanied by an adult.