The Nordic Explorer

The Nordic Explorer

Best action trip: River rafting in the North

Looking for an action packed adventure while in Iceland? Well, you’ve found it! In the North the perfect adrenaline kick awaits you: River rafting on the East glacial river of Jökulsá.

I had never ever been river rafting before prior to my rafting experience on Jökulsá. However, I was not going to let that stop me from yet another amazing adventure in Iceland. After looking at the options online, I chose to go on the East glacial river and not the family friendly West. After all, it says online that you don’t need to have tried rafting before to go on the “Beast of the East”. However, I was quite nervous on the day of my rafting experience, as everybody I talked to seemed to find it slightly ambitious that I had chosen the East glacial river for my very first rafting experience. In the end, I was glad that I did!

River rafting on the “Beast of the East”

The East side of Jökulsá is a famous among river rafters. Known for great rapids and ever changing conditions, which means that the trip down the river never stays the same and always gives you a challenge. The East glacial river of Jökulsá is a level 3-4 river (out of 5). This means that it is a fair challenge and thus it is nick named “Beast of the East”.

The rapids of the river have names e.g. The Green Room, which is a level 4 rapid and keeps you under the water for quite some time should you fall in. Don’t worry! Your guide will prepare you for what’s up ahead on the river and instruct you and your team mates on how to get through (hopefully) without falling aboard or the boat flipping.

Viking Rafting, which operates tours on the East glacial river, rates it as a 4 out of 5 difficulty.

Safety first

Prior to going on the river you get a lot of instructions. A whole lot of instructions. 

First, instructions about gearing up in all of the equipment that is being supplied to you. Small tip: Don’t forget to go to the bathroom before gearing up. Once you’re in your dry suit it’s not that easy.

Second, instructions about rafting itself. How to paddle, when to paddle, when to keep your head down, how to keep your head down, how to stick in the boat, what to do if you fall of the boat (you will) and so on and so forth. Don’t let the amount of information intimidate you. You will get the hang of things once the boat gets in the water. Also, the guide is there for a reason and will give you instructions as you go.

Apart from a lot of information to prepare you to get safely down the river, you are equipped with a helmet to prevent head injuries, a life jacket to keep you floating should you fall in the water (again, you will) and a dry suit to prevent cold water from cooling your body down too much. 

A guide sits in the back of the boat shouting instructions, steering the boat and keeping an eye out for everybody (6 persons) all the way down the river. Apart from this the boat is accompanied by 2-3 safety kayaks throughout the trip. These guys are there to get you out of the water should you be unable to do this yourself if you fall in.

In brief, you are taken great care of on your trip down the “Beast of the East”.

6 pieces of advice for river rafting on Jökulsá

Go on the East river if you’re searching for an adventure

I was really happy that I went on the East river. I had the best time and absolutely loved the action on the river. Should you go on the East river if you have never been rafting before? If you like action, yes. If you want to get in the water, yes. However, I was really happy that I had other water sports experience prior to rafting (kayaking and sailing) and that I am active person in (relatively) good physical shape (yoga and running). Knowing the basic techniques of paddling, having good balance and core strength was very helpful and made it easy for me to get the hang of things.

Don’t go on the East river if you don’t really want to get in the water

If the boat doesn’t flip by itself the guide will make it flip. Getting in the water is part of the experience. If you’re hoping to go on the river, but don’t really want to get wet then the East river is not for you. Also, if you really just want pretty pictures of the canyon then rafting on the river is not how you get them. Don’t even bring your phone or GoPro along for this ride. That is not what this kind of adventure is for. If you get upset when you crack a nail this ride isn’t for you either. One guy got his eyebrow cracked on my trip, because he got hit in the head by a paddle as the boat flipped. He was fine of course and the guide patched him up right away on the river bank. 

Go with Viking Rafting

I went rafting with Viking Rafting. Would I recommend them? Oh yes! They were great all the way through. Such nice people and very professional in making sure that safety, equipment and personal comfort was in order. Great at giving instructions – eventhough I had never tried rafting before. I felt completely safe and had the best time ever. Also, locals recommend to go with Viking Rafting. Always, listing to locals’ advice.

Plus, Viking Rafting also serves you really tasty waffles and cocoa during a pit stop on the river. They also encourage you to jump off a cliff and 4 meters into the water if you want to (you should definitely go for it! It’s awesome!).

Follow instructions from beginning to end

Prior to your trip you receive instructions on what to wear. Follow them. Wear thermal underwear and a fleece layer so you’ll stay warm. Don’t forget thick wollen socks. Your feet are likely to get cold. Also, bring some extra clothes to put on after your trip – just in case your dry suit doesn’t keep you completely dry throughout the trip.

Enjoy the scenery

The East glacial river is very wild indeed and a lot of the time you’ll be so busy keeping your balance, paddling and not falling in the water that you don’t even have time to look around. However, some bits of the river are more quiet and this is your chance to enjoy yet another sight of the truly magnificent Icelandic nature. Don’t forget to take it in. Keep a mental photo – you won’t be able to bring your phone or camera for this action ride.

Stay for lunch

After rafting you will be buzzing from adrenaline, maybe a bit cold and most likely tired after a really cool adventure. Thus, I recommend you stay and have lunch at the camp. They serve a lovely, hot meal. Trust me, it will be just what you need before heading on or back to Akureyri, where you probably live if you’re staying in the North.

Where to book?

Viking Rafting is located near the river close to Varmahlíð and operates guided rafting experiences. The Whitewater Action tour is the one that takes you down the East glacial river of Jökulsá.

Cover photo by Logan Easterling on Unsplash.

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