From the mighty Mississippi to small, rippling creeks that scatter past rocks with a spray of white, waterways carry a touch of magic. Rivers have their own pulse – and a life cycle, swelling in the spring and shrinking with the heat of summer. And they're also the source of life. River ecosystems support fish, water birds, insects, and frogs. They draw a range of mammals to their banks, from deer and bears to muskrats and river otters. With all this activity, it's no wonder we're drawn to river camping!
Not only are rivers easy to find – they're on every continent except Antarctica – but they're also tremendously varied. You can camp beside broad rivers like the wide Missouri, by twisting ones like the Snake, or by gurgling mountain streams. Rivers can be deep enough for shipping or shallow enough to wade across. There are white-water rivers that race by and quiet-moving ones with shallow bends where dragonflies like to play.
Part of the draw of river camping is the activity it provides. A river is the ultimate playground. You and your family can spend hours wading through the water or inner tubing downstream on a hot summer's day. Fishing is an eternally popular river sport. Some rivers support white-water rafting with raft guides, while others are quiet enough to kayak or boat on your own. Rivers are also fabulous places to watch for wildlife. Hawks, eagles, and other large raptors perch in trees above rivers. Fish swim and jump through river waters. And the insect population draws groups of birds and bats. If you go river camping this June, be sure to bring your guide books and binoculars!
If you're likely to be playing on your river, you might want to bring a pair of old tennis shoes to wear into the water. Underwater rocks and snags can be painful, especially when your feet are already chilled by river water – shoes can protect your skin. If your hands are prone to drying and cracking, you might wear gloves if you're likely to be getting your hands wet.
If you're having a problem with mosquitoes and bugs, you can drive them off with a smoky fire (if fires are permitted at your campsite), citronella candles, or mosquito repellant. It's important to take pains to keep your campsite dry, especially if you're tent camping. Be sure to use a durable tarp under your tent and a rain fly that's in good working condition. And if you'll be wading in the river, of course you'll want to have several pairs of dry socks.
As always, you'll want to wear sunscreen when you're river camping, and be sure to drink plenty of clean water. With the cool river water below you, it's easy to sweat more than you realize, especially in the sunny month of June. So don't forget to drink those fluids!
Rivers have a poetry all their own. With their constant motion and symphony of sounds, they add their soothing rhythm to your camping experience. This summer, as you camp, take a moment to appreciate your river and its unique, wild magic.