How to Become a Colorado Whitewater Rafting Guide

If you’re a river lover, then getting a Colorado whitewater rafting guide job could be a dream come true. But how do you go about turning that river dream into a reality? The answer is different for each Colorado whitewater rafting outfitter, but some basic requirements are in place throughout the state.

Colorado Raft Guide Job: Hiring and Training Process

Many river outfitters begin solidifying their guide team in the early spring. At Timberline Tours, we focus on attracting and retaining world-class guides who have deep industry experience, so we begin the process well in advance of the summer season—and often as soon as the previous season ends.

Colorado Whitewater Rafting Guide
Timberline Tours guides come to Colorado from rivers around the world.

New rafting guides must meet Colorado’s state whitewater rafting guiding standards before they’re allowed to guide trips commercially. The minimum Colorado standards include having 50 hours of certified training, First-Aid training certification, and CPR training certification.

Different Colorado rivers are managed by different groups and therefore have different guiding requirements. The Arkansas River, for example, is managed by Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which requires a certain number of miles on the Arkansas River before being a trip leader and more for being an instructor.

Many Colorado rafting companies run their own guide training courses that can last up to two weeks or longer and include river guiding skills, CPR training, and First-Aid training. The next step for guides who get hired is river-specific training and outfitter-specific training. For certification purposes on specific stretches of river, it is customary for guides to train on that section, guide the section with a training guide, and then qualify on that section before being allowed to guide that stretch of river independently.

Colorado Whitewater Rafting Guide
A view of guests rafting on the Browns Canyon section of the Arkansas River

At Timberline Tours, the guide training and try-out process can change from season to season, depending on staffing demands. In some seasons, we have offered a full-scale guide training course and then offered new guides jobs from this training class. In other seasons, when we have a high number of expert guides returning, we may not offer a public guide training course but rather offer already-experienced guides the opportunity to try out for our team.

Colorado Raft Guide Job: Description and Skills

Having a Colorado whitewater rafting guide job, first of all, requires whitewater guiding skills. Every guide begins building these skills at some point, whether that involves years spent on the river or beginning to develop them at a raft guide training course.

Colorado Whitewater Rafting Guide
Timberline Tours guides are committed to safety—and fun. | Photo: Rapid Image Photography,

At Timberline Tours, our world-class river guides don’t simply get guests safely down the river. Good raft guides need a variety of professional and personal skills, and we look for guides who have:
Physical Fitness: Raft guiding is a physical job and demands physical fitness.
Guiding Skills: Guides need the ability to read water and have paddling and rowing skills.
Social Skills: Rafting guides interact with a lot of guests, and we look for guides who are customer-service oriented.
Knowledge of the Local Area: Rafting guides are also like tour guides who enthusiastically share local stories and history.
Strong Leadership Skills: Raft guides are looked to for advice, knowledge, and quick decision-making skills.
Commitment to Safety: Raft guides are expected to act safely and with the safety of everyone in the raft and on the river in mind.
Openness to Coaching: The best raft guides want to get better, and that comes through applying constructive feedback and being committed to improving guiding skills.
Team Mindset: Being a raft guide means being a part of a team that often becomes like a family. Having a team mindset involves being on time, working hard, and looking out for others in the river family.
Commitment to Stewardship and the Environment: Raft guides uphold local environmental standards and act in accordance with river permits.

Colorado Whitewater Rafting Guide Job: Professional Development

Once becoming a raft guide, ongoing professional development is important for skill progression. Taking a swiftwater rescue course is a great idea, and many outfitters require this level of certification. Guides continue to do outfitter-specific training to learn new river sections and to guide more challenging stretches that remain within their skill level and experience. No matter how fun it may be to have the job of a Colorado whitewater rafting guide, the best guides always have an ongoing commitment to improve and develop professionally.

Want to experience whitewater rafting in Colorado with the world-class guides at Timberline Tours?


Timberline Tours is the Vail-area’s premier whitewater rafting and backcountry jeep tours outfitter, also offering stand up paddle board (SUP) and duckie river trips on Colorado’s Eagle, Colorado, and Arkansas Rivers. All of our guided trips are open to Vail, Colorado visitors, locals, families, and corporate groups.

To book your Vail, Colorado adventure, call Timberline Tours at (970) 476-1414, or email us at