It wasn’t until very recently that Missoula, Montana became a true destination town for visitors from across the globe. As river rafting guides, we seemed to always ask the question “where are you going to next?” A large percentage of our guests are now choosing to spend their whole Montana vacation here in Missoula. With easy access to some of the best rivers, trails and breweries in the nation, it makes total sense why.
The Clark Fork River, which runs right through downtown Missoula is a major draw for visitors during the hot summer months. Taking a scenic or whitewater rafting trip is a great way to disconnect and spend some stress-free time with your family and friends. Adventure, relaxation, delicious food… A rafting trip has it all!
- There are a variety of rivers and raft trips to choose from: Blackfoot, Clark Fork, and Bitterroot Rivers all converge in the Missoula Valley.
- Fun, splashy, family-style rapids that are enjoyable for all ages and ability levels. Grandma, we have you covered!
- If your kids or other family members misbehave, you can just throw them in the river.
- Your guides can take some epic photos that are social media worthy and will certainly get some thumbs up from your friends and family.
- Great opportunity to meet other interesting and friendly folks vacationing in Missoula. Dinner plans anyone?
- You will laugh, scream, and possibly tear up through some exciting rapids.
- Your guides do all of the work. All you have to do is show up!
- Cliff jumping and swimming through rapids are exciting and a great way to cool off.
- River guides are some of the most interesting people you will ever meet and tell great stories!
- Riverside lunches are delicious and amazing.
- Different perspective of the local area from the seat of a raft.
- Guides are local Missoula experts and you can get insider tips on where to eat and drink.
- Rafting is relatively affordable compared to other adventure activities.
- Great way to disconnect from screen time.
- If your doing a whitewater rafting trip, the outcome is always a bit uncertain!
Holiday gift giving can be a very stressful thing, especially if you have an outdoor enthusiast on your list. So here’s some ideas on how to wow your beloved river rat with amazing gift giving skills.
The Wish List
Patagonia Micro Puff Jacket
These jackets are the perfect layer for cold days on the river or late nights by the campfire. It’s small enough to fit under drysuits, PFD’s, and even a heavier jacket for those really cold adventures. This puffy has a variety of different colors and an options with or without hoods so you can fully customize it for the person in mind.
Goal Zero Nomad Solar Panel
Goal Zero Nomad Solar Panels comes in a variety of different sizes with a price ranging from $60 to $400. These solar panels are awesome for any multi day trip, allowing you to recharge any portable charger you have with just a little bit of sun.
Watershed Dry Duffel Bag
If you have spent any time on a river you have most likely spent some time digging through a dry bag in search of something. Watershed’s duffel dry bag allows for you to easily access snacks, extra layers, or anything else you hide in your dry bags. They have a variety of sizes perfect for the weekend warrior day trips to extended multi day river trips.
Watershed Dry Bag
Aire Landing Pad
With a couple different sizing option the aire landing pad works as more than just a sleeping pad. You can make any spot on the river or even boat the perfect nap spot and on hot days, your Aire Landing Pad doubles as the perfect floatie to jump in the river with.
Aire Landing Pad
Straps are the perfect gift for someone who loves to spend their free time on a river. It’s one of those things where you can never have too many of them, and the versatility of them allows for all year round use.
It’s hard to imagine that a sponge would be a good gift, but if you know anyone who spends the majority of their time in a kayak or is always planning that epic overnight river trip this is perfect for them. Sponges are the perfect multitool for getting water out of your kayak, to cleaning mud off of your boat, and can even assist with showers on the river.
Yeti Hotshot Lid
For anyone who likes to keep their drinks hot, whether it be coffee, tea or hot chocolate the Yeti Hotshot cap is perfect for you. For those early morning runs on the river you can throw your mug in the boat worry-free that your drink won’t spill and it’ll stay hot.
Yeti Hotshot Cap
MPowered Luci Solar string lights
Battery free these lights are a great addition to any camping trip. String them up in the kitchen for more lightening, string them around camp for more intimate lighting.
MPowered Luci Solar String Lights
The hardest part about being on a boat is trying to figure out where you can put your drink without spilling it. The lil suckers attaches to any drink and will suction cup to anything allowing you to drink stress free.
The season is pretty much over for most of us river guides here in Western Montana. Winter is knocking on our door and most us have already transitioned into our off-season. It was a great summer and I always feel so thankful to work around awesome people and call the river my office.
I could not be more stoked with what we accomplished this season as a team on and off the river. Of course we have a short list of things we need to do this off-season. Here at ZTS we bring a high level of enthusiasm to work every day and try to treat each trip like it’s our first. Our guests deserve it, and expect it. However, there is a reason the season ends and everyone needs a break from the daily grind of being a river guide.
I have found the transition into the off season can be difficult. I like the busy days, challenging logistics, and chaos that come with owning a river business. Don’t get me wrong, there is a day each season (okay maybe 2) where I ask myself: “why on earth am I doing this”, and I sit there and reflect next to a broken down vehicle or trailer. I go from not sleeping that much to wondering what the heck I’m going to do with myself. It takes a bit of time to transition into fall work and other jobs.
The season ends so quickly and it always feels a bit informal. I always think I’ll have one more opportunity to get everyone together for one last hurrah but then all of a sudden, it’s gone. So here it is: THANK YOU TO EVERYONE!!!
Here are some of the highlights from the 2019 season:
Surf lessons – We spent the 2018 season hammering out the kinks and this year we really committed. Kevin and Liam did an awesome job teaching lessons and we can’t wait to roll out some new opportunities for next season.
First year guides – It’s not easy being a first year guide but you have to start somewhere! We had quite a few first year guides this year. Sorrel, Clara, Mitch, Brit, Max, and Liam crushed it. The first season is always the hardest and I cannot be more proud of how much they all progressed.
International guides – We are striving to bring in more international talent to add some diversity to our work pool. Tommy came over from Chile and absolutely crushed. He brought a high level of professionalism and skills with him.
Record #’s – This summer was a big one for us. We continue to grow a little bit each season and more folks are picking Missoula as a destination town to come and visit. We want to offer more opportunities to folks who want to stay close to Missoula.
Perfect safety record – We did a great job focusing on safety while still having lots of fun. No employee or guest injuries on land or water!
These are just some of the highlights from the 2019 season. We are going to hit it hard this off-season and continue to find ways to improve and make our customer experience even better.
Thank you to all of our amazing guests, staff, family, and friends for supporting Zoo Town Surfers. It means the world to me!
The staff here at Zoo Town Surfers loves doing this write up a few times a year. Our list of favorite things to do in Missoula is constantly changing, as we evolve as Missoulians ourselves. We are going to keep it basic here, since you have the Internet to guide you toward the finer details.
What else would you do on a hot summer day? There are plenty of local outfitters that will take care of the dirty work for you. If you are on a time crunch, consider a sunset float through Hellgate Canyon. If you have a full day, check out the crystal clear waters of the storied Blackfoot River, just east of Missoula.
The Rattlesnake Recreation Area is an absolute gem, situated just north of Missoula. There are endless opportunities for hiking and biking, and you can choose to go as far as you want. It’s not the greatest place for canine friends, as you’ll need to keep them on a leash within a few miles of the main trail head.
Head on down to your local bike shop andrent a bike. Then head over to Blue Mountain or the Rattlesnake and get lost for a bit! Missoula boasts some of the state’s best mountain biking, with lots of fantastic trail systems. You’ll find something for everyone!
Missoula’s ever-changing food scene is sure to please, especially if you’re seeking sustenance after your adventures. If you visit in the summertime, check out the Saturday Clark Fork Farmer’s Market at Caras Park, right along the river. The Downtown Partnership also organizes “Out to Lunch” at Caras Park, each Wednesday June through August, where you can sample local food trucks and listen to live music mid-day. At Zoo Town Surfers, we all have our favorite haunts, and we’re happy to share our suggestions with you. Just give us a call!
Missoula is nothing without its beer. We have a few stellar breweries right in town, with more popping up each year. After each Zoo Town Surfers river trip, we serve up cold ones from Big Sky Brewing Co., whose westside tap room sits next to one of our favorite outdoor music venues, the Big Sky Brewing Co. Amphitheater!. We also serve up Draught Works beer as well which usually has a food truck. We love to see summertime shows at the new Kettlehouse Amphitheater, alongside the banks of the beautiful Blackfoot River. Kettlehouse Brewing has two tap rooms in Missoula proper; our afterwork go-to is the Kettlehouse Southside. And, of course, no visit to Missoula would be complete without a game of pool and some gumbo at the infamous Charlie B’s. You’ll find Charlie’s right downtown, at the corner of space and time. A double cocktail from Charlie’s won’t do you any favors athletically (or socially), but you can marvel at the faces of the local legends preserved in portraits on the walls, soak up the whiskey with southern fare from Dino Cafe, and belly up at any time of day, before or after your Missoula adventure!
1. Kokatat Dry Suit: Essential for working on the river and swimming in cold water.
2. Capilene base layer.
3. Kokatat Dry Top: Great option if you can’t afford drysuit and more versatile if you combine with bibs (#8). Can use all year long.
4. Kokatat Habanero Unisuit: Love this warm layer. Less bulk with uni-suit around the waist.!
5. NRS Helmet Liner: This keeps your head warm, you can also use a swim cap if you can’t afford one of these.
6. HydroFlask water bottle: Don’t forget to stay hydrated and also make sure to secure inside of boat.
7. Sweet Helmet.
8. Kokatat Bibs: Combine with dry top and stay dry. Super versatile piece of gear. I wear these more than my drysuit, especially when I’m guiding. More comfy for prepping lunch, rigging boats, and around camp if its rainy.
9. Rescue PFD: This is an industry standard for guiding. River knife, whistle (on elastic band), and watch are always attached.
10. Neoprene socks: Wear these on the outside of your drysuit/bib socks to prevent pin-holes and wear and tear from gravel/dirt that gets inside your shoes.
11. Neoprene mitts: Only ones that keep my hands warm
12. River booties/shoes: This is a whole separate topic. Just make sure you have good shoes that won’t fall off your feet if you take a swim
13. Salamander Guide Throw Bag: always on you when needed.
14. Ridgerest sleeping pad to change on: Why not spoil yourself?
15. Sprayskirt: To keep the water out and me inside my boat!
16. Personal lap bag: This contains extra layer, snacks, sunscreen, and about 30 other items. We will write another blog on what to pack inside your lap bag. I highly recommend Watershed Ocoee
17.Gear bag: Gotta put all this stuff in something. Keep some carabiners handy for strapping down, etc..The only time I forget a piece of gear is when I seperate it (usually for wash). Don’t separate your gear!
Guide training is the first step to becoming a river guide. This week is essential for acquiring the skills and knowledge needed for the upcoming guide season. Boat control, understanding basic river hydrology, guest experience, and river safety are among the key lessons covered. Guides will not, nor are expected to, be experts in any of these categories upon completion of training; however, the techniques and information demonstrated are the fundamentals for a lifetime of continual progression as a guide and river-lover.
The first day of guide school is full of excitement and nerves—both good things. All first year guides have different river backgrounds. Some have been around whitewater their entire lives, while others have yet to raft a river. Either way, it is okay. Every single person at training is already connected by one thing—a fondness for the river.
The entire river community is a special place. It is difficult to find a more welcoming, encouraging, stoked(learn the word stoked prior to training) group of people. Every returning guide is eager to pass along their knowledge and experience to the newcomers. Welcome this information and it is shocking how quickly progression occurs.
Perhaps the most intimidating yet fun part about training is navigating the boat with the oars. On the first day the oars may feel like an awkward eight-foot arm extension that cannot be controlled. All good. Rowing is nonintuitive and will only get better with practice. By the end of training, every guide will be navigating rapids in style.
One of the most difficult skills for a river guide to master is reading the river. This skill enables the guide to successfully navigate the river at almost any flow. Learning to read the river takes years to master and is best practiced by following the path of an experienced guide. Asking lots of questions is pertinent in developing an understanding of river hydrology.
The most important goal of guide training is to develop relationships with the other guides. Like Rome, guides are not made in a matter of days; it takes time, mistakes, and constant learning. Experienced guides have copious amounts of river knowledge and tricks from years of being on the river; by forming solid relationships, inexperienced guides guarantee explosive progression throughout the season.
Guiding is fun, and because of that, it is easy to show guests a fantastic time on the water. After all, that is the whole point. So join a guide school and become part of the best community on this earth.