How to Plan an Overnight Rafting Trip: Ruby Horsethief edition

We just got back from an awesome 3-day raft trip on the Ruby Horsethief section of the Colorado River. It’s right on the Colorado-Utah border and is a canyon adventure if I’ve ever seen one. Want to plan a trip like this yourself? I have a post for you!

We had an amazing time on the river last week. But I am a planner! River trips can succeed or fail based on planning, so here is what I did to make it work. Spreadsheets were involved.

Get together your dream team

We did the Ruby Horsethief with a group of our good Winter Park friends: Nik and I, Sarah, Brad, and Natalia. Going down with a group of people who let you truly be yourself is one of the best parts of being on the river!  It’s good to be on the same page with your group about things like partying, side hikes, and cooking. We had an amazing and close experience, but I’ve also had nightmare river trips with weird strangers. Choose wisely.

The crew (minus me and Cheat)


Sarah, Natalia, and Brad

Plan dates

For some rivers, your date is determined by your permit and there is little-to-no flexibility. For others, permits are easy to come by or not required. We started by figuring out the rough time frame when everyone was available and getting the permit from there. We had ample time for a night of camping at each end, as well as time to take two nights on the river instead of just one.


Secure a permit and plan itinerary

Permit systems are different for every river. Ruby Horsethief permits are reserved online through at the Ruby Horsethief Permit site. As dogs are allowed, you pay “per heartbeat.” You sign up for campgrounds when you reserve your permit, though you can change to open campsites at any time before you print the permit out. Be sure to take a look at the map when planning where to stay.


We stayed at Beaver Tail 2 because of its proximity to the Rattlesnake Canyon hike, and at Mee 1, because of its (relative) shade and proximity to the Mee Canyon hike. Nik took care of all this stuff because he rocks.

Nik has mad skills! He’s able to hold two oars and a beer and pet the dog all at the same time. 🙂

Get gear and assign who is bringing what

This is where the spreadsheet really came in handy. We had a list of all the group gear, including gear we are required to bring for the permit (e.g., fire pan). We had a pre-trip meeting and determined who would bring what. We also needed to rent some gear like the raft so we found Rimrock Adventures in Fruita, CO who would let us put in right from their location. We decided to rent an 18’ oar rig raft, which was a lot of fun (except in the wind!) and gave us tons of space. It came with lots of gear, too, like a cooler and dry box. Taking time to make sure that everyone has all the personal gear they need (e.g., PFDssleeping pads, sun protectionpersonal mess kit, and so on) is important, too, especially if anyone is new to multi-days.

Plenty of room to spread out

Also, while you are planning, make sure you have a plan and everyone is on the same page about leave no trace principles. Most river environments are very fragile, and with thousands of people passing through, we have to do our part to take care of it! Pack it in, pack it out and always leave it cleaner than you found it.


Plan meals

I did most of this because it was a short trip and I enjoy cooking for people. 🙂 Other trips will have small groups be responsible for a day at time. Several meals I made ahead and froze (such as chili and breakfast burritos). Other meals included meatball subs, hummus pitas, boil-in-bag rice with prepackaged curry, summer sausage with cheese and crackers, and of course, oatmeal.

When planning, make sure you have all your tools accounted for in your gear list. I also planned more perishable foods for early in the trip and less perishable foods for later when we had less ice. I avoided the hassle of bringing raw meat in the cooler, but if you want steaks on night 3, you do you. Don’t ever eat food that’s been contaminated with cooler water unless food poisoning in the backcountry sounds like fun to you.  Also, avoid glass (no one wants to reach in the cooler for a beer and cut their hand open!), and if you’re like me, consider ease of dishwashing. Most importantly, don’t forget plenty of beer for the true relaxed river experience. 😉

Know when to lay back and relax!

To be honest, it always takes me a day or two to switch from “plan all the things” mode to “kick back and chill out” mode. Hopefully you’re better at it than I am. Find some shade and a hammock and do absolutely nothing. It will serve you well, I promise. 🙂


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