Durango Guide School

The course focuses on all aspects of whitewater rafting, from navigation to general river safety to river etiquette and Leave No Trace practices on the river.

The course is structured around statutes and regulations set forth by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Colorado State Parks & Wildlife pertaining to minimum qualifications for commercial river guides. Our Guide School will go above and beyond those minimums to ensure you have the knowledge and exposure to competently navigate Class III river sections. This is a professional course and the goal is to get you certified in the State of Colorado to guide commercial trips on Class III rivers comparable to the Animas River in Durango Colorado.

Course Dates:

Starting the 1st Saturday in May or 3rd Saturday in May

(see online booking calendar for exact dates)




  • Outstanding Guide Instructors that are passionate about rivers, rafting, and teaching!
  • Personal flotation device (PFD), helmet, thermal gear & all rafting equipment included.
  • Transportation to and from our boatyard (daily meeting location) to the river
  • Training that satisfies the Minimum Guide Qualifications in the State of Colorado*
    • Rigging & Maneuvering the Vessel
    • River Currents, Eddies & Waves
    • River Hazards
    • Types & causes of river rapids
    • Scouting & Running Rapids
    • River Rescue & Emergency Procedures
    • Minimizing outdoor recreation resource impacts
    • Proper fit, wearing & use of Personal Flotation Devices
    • 50 Hours of On-River Training: 30 with an instructor on-board / 20 with an instructor on the trip
    • Check-out Trip*


  • 1st Aid & CPR Certification: Current certification from a reputable organization (eg Red Cross, American Heart Association, etc) is required before your check-out trip* and for all commercial river guides. We host Red Cross certification classes every year that are open enrollment. Links to reserve a seat can be found at the bottom of this page. Online certification courses are not recognized as adequate by Colorado State Parks & Wildlife.
  • Commercial River Guide Required Equipment: While acting as a guide on a regulated (commercial) trip you must have certain equipment on your person. This equipment is required before your check-out trip* and for all commercial river guides. Required Equipment Includes: Type III or V PFD specifically intended for rafting or kayaking, knife, and whistle.
  • Employment: MWR hires a majority of our Guide School participants each year in both full and part time capacities. Participating in and passing Guide School does not guarantee employment. At a minimum we hire competent river guides but competence can generally be taught, learned, and developed. More importantly we hire based on professionalism, work ethic, integrity, teamwork, and your ability to interact meaningfully and positively with coworkers and customers. Work for 1st year guides (you) can often be minimal until the water levels lower to manageable flows. This can be as late as mid June or even later so we highly recommend 1st year guides also acquire a second job, ideally part-time and at night or in the evening.

1st Aid & CPR Course Signup:

Whitewater Rescue Technician Course Signup:

I attended Guide School with my two adult children last week. It was excellent, highly professional, well run, comprehensive and the guide instructors were awesome!. Doug led the instruction but Tarik, Anna, Roger, John, and Spencer were all knowledgeable, caring, and professional in their individual instruction. Even the bus drivers were very professional and helpful. The Mountain Waters Guide School has my highest recommendation and already I miss the learning packed days we spent there. tripadvisor

* Check-out Trip: Part of the commercial certification process requires a “check-out trip” which involves acting as a guide on a regulated (commercial) trip on the Animas River with real customers and a qualified Guide Instructor in the vessel. The check-out trip is a pass / fail scenario with opportunity for multiple attempts. Check-out trips will be scheduled based on certain criteria MWR has established to mitigate our customers’ exposure to risks and set you up for success. Before your check-out trip you must have fully completed the minimum training qualifications, have a current 1st Aid & CPR certification, and have all the required personal equipment listed above. Additional scheduling criteria includes but is not limited to water levels, number of customers and rafts on the trip, Guide Instructor availability, and types of customers on the trip. All customers participating in a trainee’s check-out trip will be informed by the Guide Instructor about the check-out trip and what it involves. Each customer must provide consent to participate. Guide Instructors follow certain guidelines to ensure the safety of our customers which includes taking command of the raft for the duration of the trip should the customers request it or the instructor feel it is necessary for the trip to continue safely. Failing your first check-out trip is very normal and your instructor will provide constructive criticism. MWR will make reasonable effort to give you the opportunity to practice, gain experience, and ultimately complete a passing check-out trip.