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Your Guide To Oklahoma Float Trips This Summer

Memorial Day is here and we're sure many of you are planning a float trip either this weekend or later in the summer. Floating the Illinois River in Tahlequah, Oklahoma is a weekend well spent in the outdoors. The Illinois River curves through the Cookson Hills, so you can see rocky bluffs, trees and maybe even some wildlife during your float.

As this popular floating season approaches, it’s important that you’re prepared for a safe trip on the river with your friends and family, whether that's rafting, canoeing or kayaking.

Booking your trip

There are many options when choosing a resort for your float trip. Most resorts offer packages that include camping, the float trip, paddles, life jackets, transportation to drop off points and designated pick up areas. Most facilities offer rafts, canoes or kayaks. It’s important that you choose wisely here, making sure members of your group are comfortable to safely maneuver steering and paddling during your float.

Trips range from 2- to 5-hour trips and 4- to 8-hour float trips. Most resorts have a strict check in time, no later than 6:00 p.m., so make sure you plan accordingly to get safely off the water in time.

Always check the river conditions

Check the Illinois River levels at Tahlequah before you float. Why? The river’s water levels continually rise and fall based on current rain patterns, and it's been very rainy in Oklahoma this week! By calling ahead and speaking to your resort river guide, they can tell you current conditions and advise appropriate safety precautions. Additionally, the Tahlequah Daily Press reports on the Illinois River Basin conditions regularly.

Stay safe by following the rules

What not to take

  • Children under the age of 2.
  • Glass.
  • Styrofoam containers.
  • Ice chests or coolers over 50 quarts.
  • Alcohol is prohibited in a few public accesses, but 6% is permitted on the Illinois River.

What you should take on the water

  • Dry box to hold your keys, a small first aid kit and a whistle or a phone for emergencies.
  • Water shoes to protect your feet from sharp rocks on the river bed.
  • Small ice chest or cooler that MUST have a locking system or be held shut with a bungee.
  • Water, and lots of it (it is very important to stay hydrated during your float).
  • Sunscreen.
  • Trash bag to prevent littering.
  • Lunch and snacks, to replenish your energy after burning lots of calories swimming and paddling.
  • Extra cover up clothing, hat and sunglasses. The sun reflecting off the water will give a person without sunglasses a headache and the extra clothing gives you an opportunity not to burn.

Wear your life jacket!

When they say wear your personal floating device, please do. You never know when you might need it on the river. Even for strong swimmers, currents can pick up, or you can hit an obstacle in the water, potentially flipping your raft.

Also, it’s a common practice for teens to tie rafts together with life jackets. This is not recommended and you can even get fined for it, because tying rafts together makes it hard to safely maneuver the raft. 

Have a float plan

Have a plan set in place in case you get separated from your group. Depending on the current, it can be tough to reconnect with others, especially if you’re in two separate rafts, canoes or kayaks.

Also, make sure you plan a trip that your group can manage. If you’ve never floated the river before, it may be best to start with the 2- to 4-hour trip.

If you’re planning to float with children, you might want to avoid the crowds.

Start your trip early in the morning or plan your trip around peak holiday weekends to avoid party scenes.

However you spend your Memorial Day weekend and the rest of the summer, preparation is key to staying safe. Make sure you plan ahead, do your research, pack accordingly and of course, have some fun on the water.