Packrafting on the Tarn River (France)
If you want to go packrafting during summer, it is crucial that you find a river that maintains a decent water level, even in the hotter months. It is better to go for larger rivers, as they are more likely to have a secured influx from other waterways.
That's why we chose the Tarn river in France as the destination of our first packrafting trip.
The river’s crystal clear water managed to find its way through the limestone ground, creating stunning cliffs along the way. We went to a section of the Tarn river, characterized by particularly steep slopes, located in between the villages of Quézac and Le Rozier.
Packrafting on the Tarn River (France)
Gorges Du Tarn (Languedoc-Roussillon, France)
This beautiful canyon is around 50 km long and is one of the deepest canyons of Europe.
It can be found in one of the most scenic parts of France, providing many impressive vantage points during a hike to the top of the canyon.
The best time to come here with a packraft is at the beginning of Summer, because of the nice temperatures and the fact that the whitewater sections aren't as aggressive as during spring and autumn.
From the end of April up to the beginning of June, there are frequent rain showers. The higher water levels and rapid flow that come along with this, make navigating the waters more difficult for beginning packrafters. During this period it can be quite cold during the day and temperatures drop drastically during the night. Keep in mind that you might need a wetsuit to cope with harsher conditions.
When you go from June until mid-September, you can expect T-shirt weather. This is also the start of the tourist season, so you will often meet other travellers with the same hunger for adventure.
Outside of the holiday season, most of the kayakkers are professionals, seeking more extreme experiences.
Where to begin
We started our packrafting trip in Quézac and went downstream towards Le Rozier in 4 days, covering a distance of 52 km through the beautiful valley of the Tarn river.
How did we organize our trip
We started at Quézac, but we soon discovered that there were a few passages with a rather low water level. We had to carry our packrafts a few times in order to pass a wide and rocky section of the river. A few kilometers along the way, the river got deeper again and the water carried us downstream without any further issues. We decided not to overdo ourselves and stopped for a break every couple hours.
After 4 days of paddling, we arrived in Le Rozier. We packed our stuff and went for a one day hike towards Les Vignes. I would strongly recommend to hike this trail. When you reach the top of the canyon, you will be rewarded with stunning views.
After our hike, we rafted again from Les Vignes towards Le Rozier. We found this the most beautiful part of the canyon and were happy to do it twice.
The difficulty of the rafting trip depends a lot on the season. In good conditions, this trip can be done by people with little or no experience but will still be fun for the more experienced as well.
From May to early June and during October and November, the water gets wilder, creating a perfect playground for the more experienced packrafter. Starters should go from the beginning of June up to the end of September.
Before drawing out your trip, check out the link below. It's a map with an indication of the whitewater sections of different rivers in France.
On the Tarn river, there are a few spots where you can't enter the water or where you need to get out of the river due to safety hazards. Keep your eyes open for the signposts!
Covering a part of your trip by foot while carrying your packraft, might not be very comfortable, but it’s better not to take any risks. There is a 200m long section like this between Les Vignes and Le Rozier, with multiple high drops and extremely wild water.
Even in safe areas, you should never forget that you are in a small boat on a big river. If you hit a rock badly or if you underestimated a drop, you risk to flip over and find yourself upside down in the water. If this happens, you can easily slip out of your raft and get back to the surface.
Depending on the model of the packraft, you might need to pull a loop to remove the spray deck. You can ask your travel partners to flip your boat around in order to practice the maneuver in a calm water section. They will be happy to help :)
We brought a life jacket just because we didn't know how the river would develop along the way. We didn’t end up needing it, but it’s advised to take one if you are going outside the summer season as the water forces will be stronger. These will also keep you warm when you are already wet.
A helmet is a safety feature that most people tend to hate. I didn’t wear mine all the time, but I made sure to put it on when heading towards a whitewater section. Hitting a rock when your boat flips around can knock you unconscious or give you a nasty head wound. So my advise is: Bring one with you and use it as much as possible. It might be a good idea to stick a Go Pro mount on top of your helmet!
It was our first packrafting vacation ever, so we decided to rent our gear. This way of adventurous transportation is not very popular yet, so it can be difficult to find a local shop where you can rent these rafts. Be sure to book them on time. We rented our packraft, inflation bag, paddles, life jackets and waterproof backpack bag from Off Trail in Belgium (http://www.off-trail.be/).
Other essentials that we needed for this trip were:
Helmet, light shoes for in the water and extra waterproof stuff sacks to keep everything dry in case the outer bag fails.
Where to sleep
Along the way you can find many campsites where you can pitch your tent; some of them are located directly next to the river. For a few Euros/night you can stay here and enjoy the comfort of a warm shower, toilets and a BBQ area.
There are also plenty of gîte, traditionally used by hikers in the area. It is best to book your bed a few weeks before your trip.
Be careful if you decide to camp in the wild! Keep the following tips in mind when you do so:
Water levels can rise rapidly during the night. Always put your tent on higher ground, do not camp close to the river.
Do not start a fire. Granted, it's extremely cosy, but every year there are forest fires in the area. Don't be the person that started one...
You can use the water from the river for drinking and cooking but make sure that you filter and/or boil it first (you don’t want to be drinking water that’s infested with fish poo)!
An extra tip for the ones that like to lighten their backpack:
Bring a tarp and leave your sleeping mattress at home. A packraft is the perfect alternative for a sleeping mat. We had a tarp that could fit 2 rafts, you will find a picture of it in the gallery at the end of this post.
If you follow the same route as we did, you will see a few small villages along the river. Most of them only have one bakery and one butcher, while the larger villages have small supermarkets and restaurants. There is no need to carry your own food for the whole trip, so just take some snacks for the day and one meal in case you go camping in the wild.
It's generally very warm in southern France, but note that the weather in the Tarn area can be quite unpredictable. Check the forecast on a daily basis to see if there is a chance of thunderstorm. Sometimes the wind can be very strong in the canyon; this is often a sign that weather conditions are getting bad.
In the water there are plenty of fish and river lobsters. On land, you can find forest animals and sometimes large herds of sheep and cows (they can be interested in your tent when you camp in the wild). In the air you can see magnificent vultures and eagles. If you hike all the way to the top of the canyon than you can look them straight in the eye when they fly by.
Put your backpack in a waterproof stuff sack. Take one that is made out of thick fabric. The sharp rocks in the river can easily rip or puncture a stuff sack that's made out of more fragile materials.
Essential items should be stored in a separate waterproof bag! We had a punctured bag and we were happy that the sleeping bag was packed separately in an additional waterproof bag.
This is an excellent packrafting trip for newbies that want an adventurous summer vacation, and it’s a perfect fit for the experienced ones that don't mind to go in the colder months of the year.