Unparalleled on the Oars

A conversation with Lars Haarr, a Flathead High School graduate and one of the world’s best river guides

By Dillon Tabish
Lars Haarr. Courtesy Photo

The Colorado River is famous for its rip-roaring whitewater and awe-inspiring route through the Grand Canyon.

Along this mighty stretch of water, Lars Haarr is “a legend among Colorado River legends,” as editors at Outside Magazine proclaimed in last month’s issue.

The 1993 Flathead High School graduate and veteran outfitter is considered one of the best river guides in the world, an elite status that was backed up by Outside Magazine.

The magazine named Haarr the best river guide, citing his uncanny ability on the oars navigating some of the wildest water on Earth, from rivers in South America and Africa to the Colorado, which features a never-ending rollercoaster of Class IV rapids.

Haarr, who is based in Moab, Utah, has guided for OARS International the past 15 years, and each season he typically leads up to 16 trips, ranging from one to three weeks, through the Grand Canyon and Cataract Canyon. Trips with Lars have become well-known for much more than the adrenaline rush of whitewater; he also leads nightly presentations of the stars, using his extensive knowledge of astronomy, and shares the history of the ancient cliff dwellings and natural wonder of the famed canyons.

“Lars is the kind of guide who is so good at what he does that he can’t help but elevate everyone around him to a higher level,” said Tyler Wendt, operations manager at OARS. “Lars has earned a reputation and stature with OARS guests and managers alike that is unparalleled.”

The son of Karen and Loren Haarr, Lars grew up in the Flathead Valley and developed his passion for the outdoors by adventuring throughout this abundant landscape.

The Beacon recently caught up with the renowned river guide in between trips.

BEACON: So you got your start with Great Northern Raft Company on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, is that right?

HAARR: That’s right. It was a great place to start and learn how to be a guide. The wildlife is spectacular and Glacier Park is right there. But it’s also a very short season. By mid June the snow is starting to melt and the water is high and by the end of August all the tourists are already going home. There’s a short window.

 

BEACON: Did you grow up riding the rivers here and exploring the outdoors? And is that how you developed a passion for outdoor adventures?

HAARR: Absolutely. My mom and dad were all about getting us out there. My dad took me rafting for the first time when I was 7 or 8 years old. We’d go over and run the Salmon in Idaho and that was summer vacations. We were all about being on the river.

 

BEACON: For someone who hasn’t been down the Grand Canyon, how would describe the trip and the epic whitewater?

HAARR: It’s about so much more than the water itself. The river trip as a whole is what you’re selling because it’s all about the hiking, the sightseeing, the waterfalls. The whitewater obviously plays a big part. But there’s so much other stuff going on and at the end of a trip you look back on your two-week vacation and the whitewater is not necessarily what jumps out, unless your boat turned over.

 

BEACON: What do you like most about being a river guide? What is the most rewarding part?

HAARR: I think the thing I like most is getting to share these amazing places with people who probably wouldn’t get to see them otherwise. We get to share these amazing canyons and camping under the stars, and we make it easy and accessible for folks who would not have an opportunity to do so otherwise. Seeing someone’s face light up when they see a shooting star for the first time because they live in a city, or hiking up to a waterfall in a side canyon, or seeing kids splash in the water. Sharing my love of the outdoors with these other folks is very rewarding.

 

BEACON: What advice would you offer to someone like yourself who is growing up in the Flathead and dreams of experiencing world-class adventures like you are?

HAARR: I would say don’t ever give up on following those dreams. I never dreamed I would be a river guide but once I started down that path I discovered it was my passion. I say don’t let anyone talk you out of doing what you love to do. Maybe if I had taken a different path I’d be a Wall Street stockbroker right now, but I chose a different path and I’m so happy I chose the life I live. Don’t let anyone steer you off your path or away from your dreams.

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