A successful river trip happy hour is the key to a relaxing afternoon float

Multi-day river trips are one of the best ways to celebrate the long, hot days of summer. With a good crew of friends and miles of river to run, there is no shortage of fun and camaraderie to be had on a river trip. Add the element of surprise with an unexpected happy hour, and your group is in for a treat.

In the days leading up to launch, schedule a trip to the store for essentials: snacks, ice and your drink of choice. While stocking up on beer (10 beers per person per day is the general rule of thumb; we’re not kidding), why not grab the goods for an afternoon happy hour at the same time? The group will thank you for the impromptu ice cold boozy beverage (or mocktail for the sober folks) while floating through some of the most isolated areas in the Southwest. So pick your poison and throw an extra bag of ice in the cooler; here are some tips for executing the ultimate river trip happy hour.

river trip happy hour labyrinth canyon green river utah
Cheers to another season on the river.Tiona Eversole
Think Outside the Can

Sure, beers and seltzers are a simple solution for river trip beverages. Chances are, everyone else on the river trip probably thought to bring the same thing. Think outside the 30-rack.

Unlike backpacking or bikepacking trips, rafts have the potential to carry a lot of gear. Weight and space are typically not an issue. If a cocktail/mocktail requires several components such as mixers and garnishes, plan ahead and gather all of the ingredients. There is no need to sacrifice the lime wedge or simple syrup for the sake of weight or space.

Shatter-Proof Your Booze

Glass is not your friend on a river trip — it breaks easily and is a hazard for both the boat and its passengers. Purchase liquor and mixers in plastic bottles for a river trip-friendly option. If your spirit of choice only comes in glass, consider pouring the contents of the glass bottle into an empty plastic container. A two-liter bottle is a good option, or you can divvy up the contents of the glass bottle into a few Nalgene water bottles for safekeeping. Stainless steel bottles are another boat-friendly option, although it is also more expensive than reusing a plastic bottle.

Invest in a Good Cooler

A good river trip cocktail requires ice, and not just a couple cubes. The amount of ice used per drink has the potential to make or break the cocktail/mocktail quality, especially on those sweltering afternoons where the temperature hits triple digits. A good cooler will keep ice for the duration of the river trip. Practice keeping the lid closed and latched when not in use, otherwise ice will melt quickly. 

While a quality cooler is not cheap, it’s worth the investment. A good cooler preserves ice and food for days or weeks on end, depending on size and durability. Plus, a cooler doubles as a seat or table on your boat, and can be used for other outdoor activities outside of rafting.

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Taking 2-for-1 happy hour to the next level.Tiona Eversole
Have Extra Reusable Cups On Hand

This one’s important to keep the happy hour a surprise. Members of your group might not have a spare cup, and the extra cups in the kitchen box might be buried under a heavy pile of river gear, deeming them inaccessible. Rather than make someone use their water bottle (highly discouraged since staying hydrated in the summer heat is top priority), pack a few extra cups for those in need.

Top It Off with a Garnish

A lime wedge goes a long way. The garnish will take each drink to the next level. While members of the group might have known about your surprise happy hour plan all along, they probably weren’t expecting you to throw some mint into the mix, or hand them a margarita with a salted rim. When it comes to river trips, it’s all about the little things — the details that no one will expect in the middle of nowhere. Bring those lemons and limes.

Happy Hour Upgrades

If you thought your river trip happy hour couldn’t get any better, we’ve got a few more ideas to keep it interesting.

  • Pick a Theme

Themes are a fun way to bring your crew together during the river trip. Happy hour on a Tuesday? Plan tacos for dinner and kick off the afternoon with margaritas for a Taco Tuesday theme. Got a birthday? Sing happy birthday and bring a mini cake for the occasion. Beach theme? Give everyone flower leis and throw together a fruity mixed drink.

  • Play a Game

Whether you’re happy hour is on the boats or on the beach, games add an interactive element to social time. Bring a game for the group to play like catch (bring a floating ball or beach ball to throw from boat to boat), bocce ball or frisbee.

  • Include an Appetizer

Drinks are only one aspect of happy hour. Really want to impress your river trip family? Break out an appetizer to share over cold drinks. We recommend the river map charcuterie: a mix of several different cheeses, dried meats, fruits and crackers laid out on a river map when not in use. Bon appetit!

river trip happy hour labyrinth canyon green river charcuterie
Let your culinary creativity take over. This raft charcuterie included apple slices, meats, cheeses, crackers and fresh bread.Tiona Eversole

TIONA EVERSOLE has spent the last six years rowing some of the Southwest’s most stunning rivers including the Animas, Colorado, Dolores, Green and Yampa. When she’s not rafting, you’ll find her running, hiking and biking in the San Juan Mountains. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @run.wander.ride.