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River Rafting Guide School

The Best River Rafting Guides School on the American River – Period! At no financial cost!

American Whitewater Expeditions’s, zero cost whitewater rafting guide school is one of the best in California, if not the West Coast, due to the experience and knowledge of our instructors, the quality of their teaching skills, and their depth of experience on rivers all over the world. This will directly translate to you becoming a confident guide with a strong grasp of the basics and will allow you to progress faster with a solid foundation to build on. Adding to this is the fact that the South Fork of the American is an ideal classroom and river for a first-year guide to be on.

It’s not possible to become a “qualified raft guide” in 7 days or even two weeks. We believe it takes a month or more of daily river experience after guides school, possibly less with prior river experience in a kayak or SUP. We start with seven long days spent on and off the water for students to learn and get comfortable with the very basics of guiding a raft. A strong foundation of the basics is very important to build confidence and gain progression of skills on the water. After learning the basics, it’s about river time on the guide stick to get the confidence and skills you need on your journey to becoming a river guide. Every day on the water is a new learning experience. After seven days of instruction, spend an additional seven days on the river as a group, each taking turns on the guide stick and getting constructive feedback from other guides who will be shadowing you on the river. After the 14-day course, training on the river will continue as long as necessary to progress to becoming a raft guide.

Our 2023 Guide School will be taught by two senior guides, Alex and Michelle. They will be assisted by several of our other senior guides at various stages of training. Alex brings 20+ years of guiding experience in the US and overseas. Growing up in California and Costa Rica, Alex has worked and helped develop all aspects of a rafting company, and his words carry a great deal of wisdom and experience! Michelle’s depth of knowledge on the American River is unmatched, with over 25 years of guiding experience! Michelle’s patience, humor, and kindness make her one of our most requested guides! Our Swiftwater Rescue component will be woven into the second week of the course and will be taught by Matt, who is a Rescue 3 instructor and EMT. At the end of your two-week course, you will have a rock-solid foundation to build your river-guiding portfolio. You will not get a team of more experienced and highly qualified guides to learn from. Most companies’ guide schools are run by instructors with only a few years of experience. This is where quality counts.

Our American River rafting guides school is only open to applicants looking to become commercial raft guides and gain employment as a river guide after completing our guides school. Applicants to our river guides school have to go through a small interview process so we can see if we are a good fit for each other. We accept only twelve applicants to our guide’s schools so we can give personalized attention to each trainee. We have an average of one instructor for every six students, with a maximum of twelve students. On most land-based instruction, the ratio is higher, but on the water, it’s all about time on the guide stick and river miles. Be sure you are ready for long days on and off the water!

Many guide schools are run strictly to make money, and your chances of being hired are slim. If an outfitter offers multiple large guide schools, it is obvious your chances of being hired are slim. We only run one guide school, and each person selected for the guide’s school goes through an interview process with us, just like any job, because our goal is to hire all our guide school participants. There are a few colleges and organizations in California that offer guide schools but cannot offer employment to you as a guide because they are not commercial outfitters. You will find it difficult to get work with an outfitter if you did not go through their guide school. Realistically, we received 30 to 40 phone calls a year from guides asking for river work who have been trained by universities, for-profit-only guide schools, and outfitters who do not hire from their schools.

So select your guide school carefully! Ask hard questions. Don’t be fooled by low prices or slick copy. If you have any questions, please email Arnie, our Operations Manager.

Contact Arnie by email [email protected].

Our hiring practice

Our 14-day intensive guide training course will give you the skills to be a Trainee Guide. If you are hired as a Trainee Guide, it will mean that at the end of your guide school, you will accompany a qualified guide who will assess your skills and further your training as you guide a commercial raft trip. With a minimum of 20 training trips (in most cases), depending upon your abilities, you should be ready to guide your first solo commercial raft trip.

Along with your river guiding abilities, the most important aspect of being a river guide is being a “people person.” You must enjoy being with people from diverse cultures and of varying age ranges and be sensitive to their needs as rafters. You must show a high degree of patience and empathy, and engaging clients with a fun attitude is a must. We can teach you all the rafting skills you’ll need, but it’s the quality of our staff and their ability to relate to customers that keeps our clients coming back year after year. It’s also important to be a team player. No one enjoys working with someone who doesn’t do his or her share of the work. Raft trips are a group effort, and you will be assessed on your ability to lend a helping hand.

Please note that the completion of our guide school does not guarantee employment. Each individual is assessed on his or her own abilities and personality. Be genuine, friendly, and caring – the rest will fall into place.

Whitewater Rafting Guide School 

May 1st – May 14th (14 Days)

COST: $0.00

The In-Depth Instructional Phase of our guide school starts May 1st to May 7th. During this time, expect long days on and off the water. Learning all the basics of steering a raft, using water currents, expecting to get wet, swimming rapids, and learning self-rescue, etc. This is a very immersive week of instruction, be ready for long days. An overview of instruction is below.

May 8th to May 14th is for river time as a group with passive instruction from experienced guides. During this time, you and your fellow classmates will move into raft groups where you will take turns guiding your own raft. You will go down the South Fork, taking turns guiding your own raft or based on water flows, on the Middle and North Forks, riding along with the Instructors and getting on the stick in the slower stretches. During this phase, the instructors will be on hand to give advice, answer questions and assess your skills.

If you are offered employment with American Whitewater, you will need First Aid and CPR certificates that are good for the entire rafting season. If you gain employment with us, we will facilitate and pay for your Rescue 3 Swiftwater Rescue Certification as well.

What is Included & What is NOT Included?

May 1st – May 7th

  • All Instruction
  • Lunch daily – you are expected to provide your own breakfast and dinner, however, you are welcome to use our facilities to store and prepare your meals.
  • All transportation from Camp to River
  • All River Fees and Taxes
  • Wetsuit, Splash Jacket
  • Life Jacket & Helmet
  • Group Camping area, bring your own tent or car camp

May 8th – May 14th

  • 7 days on the River South, Middle, or North Fork accompanying AWE Commercial Trips
  • Passive Instruction and Guidance from experienced Guides
  • Lunch with Commercial Trip – on your own for Breakfast/Dinner
  • Free Camping in group area
  • Free Use of Wetsuit & Splash Jacket
  • Free Use of Lifejacket & Helmet

Guide’s school cost is $0.00, although we do require a deposit payment of $300 to hold your spot. Just like we are going to make a commitment to invest in you and your training at no cost, your deposit is your tangible way of showing your commitment to attending the course! Don’t worry, you will be refunded your $300 deposit in cash on the first morning of our course. But you will lose your deposit if you do not show up and those funds will be used by the trainees for food etc. Once Arnie has accepted you into the course, you will be asked to send us a deposit via check or Zelle, we do not accept credit cards as deposits! The class size is limited to 12 students and is filled on a first-admitted basis.

Brief overview of training and areas of skills to be covered


  • Inventory of trip equipment
  • Loading of equipment in vehicles
  • Put-in procedures
  • How to pump up & fully rig boats
  • Individual safety talk

BOATING SKILLS (River navigation)

  • Forward paddle
  • Back paddle
  • Left & right turns
  • High side
  • Ferry angles
  • Obstacles
  • Use of current & crew
  • Swimming
  • River etiquette
  • Quiet zone
  • Proper use of paddle
  • Customer safety
  • Assisting another boat
  • Assisting people back into the boat after falling out


  • Self-rescue
  • Flips
  • Wraps
  • Boat rips
  • River first aid
  • Swimmers
  • Guide exits
  • River knife
  • Throw bag skills
  • Knots and Rope Systems


  • Boats
  • Paddles
  • Pumps
  • First aid kits
  • Vehicles
  • Lifejackets


  • Care & Instruction
  • Professionalism
  • Legal & Liability