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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.

It’s not possible to become a “qualified raft guide” in 7 days or even 2 weeks. We believe it takes a month or more of daily river experience after guides school. We start with 7 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 all 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 7 days of instruction, spend an additional 7 days on the river as a group, each taking turns on the guide stick and getting constructive feedback from other guides. After the 14 day course, training on the river will continue as long as necessary to progress to becoming a raft guide.

Our 2022 Guide School will be taught by two of our senior guides, Michelle and Andrew. They will be assisted by several of our other senior guides at various stages of training. Michelle’s depth of knowledge on the American River is unmatched with over 25 years of guiding experience! Andrew grew up on the American river and has guided all over the world including New Zealand and Australia. 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.

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 compleating 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 8 applicants for our guides school so we can give personalized attention to each trainee. We have an average of 1 instructor for every 4 students with a maximum of 8 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 2 or 3 guide schools then it is obvious your chances of being hired are very slim, we only run one guide school and each person selected for guides school goes through an interview process with us, just like any job. Our goal is to hire all our guide school participants. 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.

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 email me.

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 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 7th – May 20th (14 Days)

1 instructor for 4 students

Maximum 8 students

COST: $750

The In-Depth Instructional Phase of our guide school starts May 7th to May 13th. 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 14th to May 20th 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 7th – May 13th

  • 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, bring a tent or car camp

May 14th – May 20th

  • 7 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 in group area
  • 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 8 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
  • 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