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River Rafting Guide School

The Best River Rafting Guides School on the American River – Period!

American Whitewater Expeditions’s 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.

The content of most guide schools is much the same regardless of the commercial outfitter you select. However, schools and outdoor recreation programs do have a lower level of content and quality than almost any outfitter – it’s best to learn from a professional commercial raft guide. Between commercial outfitter schools, the main difference is in the quality and length of the school.

It’s not possible to become a “qualified raft guide” in 6 days or even 2 weeks. We believe it takes a minimum of 6 long days spent on and off the water for students to learn and get comfortable with the very basics. After that, it’s all about river time on the guide stick to get the confidence you need. Every day on the water is a new learning experience. After 6 days of instruction, spend an additional 6 days on the river as a group, each taking turns on the guide stick and getting constructive feedback from other guides.

Our 2021 Guide School will be headed by one of our senior guides Nikki Doyle and she will be assisted by several of our other senior guides. Nikki is an Australian Native but has lived in California for 25+ years and her depth of knowledge on the American River is unmatched with over 25 years of guiding experience! All our guide school instructors hold the highest commercial guide accreditations in the industry and work as guides year-round in the US and overseas. You will not get a team of more experienced and highly qualified guides to learn from. Most company’s guide schools are run by instructors with only a few years of experience. This is where quality counts.

We accept only 12 applicants for our guide’s school so we can give personalized attention to each trainee. We have an average of 1 instructor for every 6 students with a maximum of 12 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!

Many guide schools are run strictly to make money and your chances of being hired are slim. If an outfitter offers 3 or 4 guide schools then it is obvious your chances of being hired are very slim, we only run one guide school. There are a few colleges and organizations that offer guide schools but cannot offer employment to you as a guide because they are not commercial outfitters. We only hire first-year guides out of our guides school.

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 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 call or email me.

Contact Arnie directly at 530-642-0804 or 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 be accompanying 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 guiding abilities, the most important aspect of being a river guide is being a ‘people person’. You have to enjoy being with people and be sensitive to their needs as rafters. 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, be friendly and be caring – the rest will fall into place.

Whitewater Rafting Guide School 

May 16th – May 30th (14 Days)

1 instructor for 6 students

Maximum 12 students

COST: $750

The In-Depth Instructional Phase of our guide school is from May 16th to May 22nd. During this time expect long days on and off the water. Learning the basics of steering a raft, using water, expect 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 23rd – May 30th is for river time as a group with passive instruction. 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 every day guiding your own raft or 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 provide your Rescue 3 Swiftwater Rescue Certification as well.

What is Included & What is NOT Included?

May 16th – May 22th

  • All Instruction
  • Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner daily – you are expected to cook your own meals with food provided, do dishes etc
  • All transportation from Camp to River
  • All River Fees and Taxes
  • Wetsuit, Splash Jacket
  • Lifejacket & Helmet
  • Group Camping area
  • 2 Person Tent & Foam Sleeping Pad

May 23rd – May 30th

  • 6 days on the River South, Middle, or North Fork accompanying AWE Commercial Trips
  • Passive Instruction and Guidance from Staff
  • Lunch with Commercial Trip – no Breakfast/Dinner
  • Free Camping & Use of Tent, Pads, etc
  • Free Use of Wetsuit & Splash Jacket
  • Free Use of Lifejacket & Helmet

Guide’s school cost is $750. A $375.00 non-refundable deposit is due when you sign up, with the balance due 30-days priort to the start of the Guides School. The class size is limited to 12 students and is filled on a first-admitted basis.

Brief overview of areas 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
  • Water fights
  • 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


  • Breakfast, lunch & dinner prep
  • Clean up
  • Kitchen Etiquette
  • Serving River Lunch


  • Care & Instruction
  • Professionalism
  • Legal & Liability