The perfect conditions for rafting the Aare
The perfect months
June, July and August. But depending on the temperature, it’s even possible to raft as late as September or as early as May.
“Have you been in yet?” As soon as the temperatures begin to rise, you’ll hear people asking this question all over Bern – just as commonly as “How are you?” or “What did you do over the weekend?” What makes it so funny is that there is often no direct mention of the Aare – everyone in Bern just knows what is meant.
The perfect air temperature
Once the temperature in Bern hits around 20°C, it’s time to bring out the rafts! This is usually around the end of May or early June.
The perfect water temperature
We recommend waiting until the water temperature has reached around 16°C (around the end of May) before rafting on the Aare. It’s even more comfortable once the water reaches 20°C, since there’s always a chance of falling into the water. So it’s better to be safe than sorry! If the water temperature is still a bit too cold but you simply can’t resist getting out for a rafting tour, you’re better off wearing a wetsuit for protection.
The perfect weather
Bright sunshine or partly cloudy skies. But keep in mind that appearances can be deceiving! Even on the sunniest days in Switzerland, summer storms can frequently materialize in the afternoon or evening. Our tip: Be sure to check the weather on bern.com/en/weather before heading out to raft.
It’s also not wise to raft on a day following a storm. The river – whose waters are usually crystal-clear turquoise and clean – is muddy brown after a storm and carries a lot of driftwood in the current. This makes it dangerous to swim in the Aare or to go on a rafting tour.
The perfect water level
Before heading out for a rafting tour, it’s important to check not only the weather but also the river’s water level. In the early summer in particular, glacial ice from the Bernese Alps melts and flows directly into the Aare. This raises the water mark, causing the current to become very swift and making it much more difficult to maneuver a raft. And when the water level is too low, like after a longer period without rain, rafts are at risk of running aground along the riverbanks.
The Swiss Federal Office for the Environment regularly measures the water level. We recommend using the Aare Guru app or going to www.aare.guru (German only) to check the water level before any Aare rafting tour, and cancelling the planned tour if the water levels are higher than 230–250m3/s or lower than 100m3/s.
The perfect day of the week
If you want to enjoy a more peaceful day on the Aare, it’s better to go rafting during the week. But the typical Bernese river-rafting atmosphere is best experienced on the weekend. At Bern main station and on the train to Thun, you’ll run across countless Aare rafters who are happy to introduce newbies to the Aare and offer useful tips for their tour.
And the atmosphere at the launch points and out on the river itself can be quite festive. It’s a great meeting place, and it’s not at all unusual to find yourself chatting with complete strangers on other rafts along the tour. Tip: On holidays, such as the Swiss national holiday on August 1, spirits are especially high out on the river.
The perfect time of day
It’s ideal to avoid the strong midday sun by starting your rafting tour in the morning or early afternoon. Most Bernese head to Thun by train between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon – and their flip-flops, swimsuits, brightly colored boats and relaxed mood leave no doubt about where they’re headed. If you’re a first-time rafter, the train ride is the perfect opportunity to chat with experienced rafters and to meet someone who is kind enough to direct you to the launch point and show you the pump stations.
Of course, it’s also possible to wait and start your tour in the afternoon. But keep in mind that a tour takes two to three hours (without breaks). If you add in stops for resting, sunbathing and grilling, it can easily become a trip of four to five hours. For newbies, we recommend starting down the river by 2:00 p.m. at the latest.
This gives you sufficient time for some relaxing breaks along the still unfamiliar route, ensuring that you can make it to the end safely before the sun disappears behind the mountains.
If you have trouble understanding the Bernese-German dialect used in the Aare Guru app and are a bit uncertain in your planning, please contact Bern’s Tourist Information. They will be happy to assist with questions about rafting the Aare.
A successful rafting tour on the Aare, step-by-step
“Did we remember everything?” This is a typical question asked before starting any rafting tour on the Aare. To ensure that the whole crew can confidently answer “YES!”, we have put together a checklist for your Aare rafting tour. This way you’re sure to remember everything!
One month in advance (for those who don’t live in Bern)
Organize your crew
Rafting on the Aare is more fun with a group! Typical raft sizes vary from two- to six-person boats, and some of Bern’s raft rental companies even have boats that can accommodate up to ten people.
So whether you’re planning a romantic rafting tour just for two or an excursion with a large group in multiple rafts, anything is possible. Just make sure not to go alone; rafts should always have at least two people.
Your friends are afraid of the water but you’d still like to experience the adventure of rafting down the Aare? You’re surely not the only one. Our tip: Post your interest on the “Waswiewo in Bern” Facebook page.
Set the date
You have already read the tips in the previous chapter for the perfect rafting conditions. How about a WhatsApp or Doodle group for your whole Aare rafting crew?
Arrange for a raft
Should you rent, buy or borrow? See our recommendations here.
From the campsite right next to the river pool at Eichholz to the Zollhaus pop-up hotel in an old customs house – Bern offers various accommodations right by the river, inviting visitors to spend some wonderful days experiencing the Aare. An overview of accommodations is available here.
Book a guide and/or package
Would you rather not explore the Aare on your own but have an experienced guide along? Or are you interested in a comprehensive package including a guide, BBQ, equipment and all the essentials? Such tours are often available to book at relatively short notice. However, we recommend booking around two weeks in advance just to be safe. An overview of Bern’s four rafting tour companies is available here.
One week in advance
Check the weather forecast
Is sunshine in the forecast? No bad weather or storm clouds on the horizon? You’ll find reliable forecasts on bern.com/en/weather.
Decide on a route
Besides the route from Thun (or Uttigen) to Bern – which Switzerland Tourism refers to as the “king of Swiss rafting routes” – there are other wonderful routes to discover around Bern. From slower-paced to more adventurous routes, you’ll find our favorite picks here (including specific times needed, maps, etc.).
Make restaurant reservations
Would you like to end your rafting tour with a relaxed dinner and a view of the turquoise waters of the Aare?
There are a number of different restaurants where you can dine right along the river, including Casa Novo (tasteful atmosphere and a wonderful terrace), the Schwellenmätteli’s restaurants (a special experience, right over the Aare weir!), the Altes Tramdepot (a brewery and restaurant combined) and the Dampfzentrale (industrial chic with an Aare vibe). We recommend reserving a table one week in advance. A detailed description of the restaurants is available here.
One day in advance
- Print out the route (see chapter 4, Rafting routes)
- Read the safety regulations (see chapter 5, Aare you safe?)
- Pack your gear (see the packing list)
- Buy your food (see chapter 3, Equipment and food)
- Download the Aare Guru app (for iPhones, Android and Windows Phone)
- Check the weather and water level with the Aare Guru app (alternatively in English: bern.com/en/weather)
- Check the train and bus schedule (to plan your journey and to see how you’ll be getting home in the evening)
- Check your raft for any possible damage. The two most important points: Are all paddles in place? And are there any holes that need repairing?
- Inform your crew (meeting point, packing list, train/bus itinerary, etc.)
The morning of the tour
If you read this guide carefully and pay special attention to the various checklists, you’ll be perfectly prepared and more than ready for your big rafting adventure on the Aare. On the morning of the tour, be sure to briefly check the following points one last time.
It would be better to stay home or plan a different activity for the day if any of the following apply:
👎 If there was a storm the day before or if one is forecast for sometime in the evening
👎 If the water level is higher than 230–250m3/s or lower than 100m3/s (check www.aare.guru)
👎 If you’re not feeling well or physically fit
👎 If your blood alcohol level is still above 0.05% from last night’s party
👎 If your raft has a hole and you don’t have a repair kit along
But if none of these applies to you, then just put on your flip-flops and sunscreen (yes, that’s important) – and let the fun begin!
It is important to treat the Aare with respect and find out more about the dangers before you swim. Swimming in the Aare is only recommended for experienced swimmers and is at your own risk.
The floodplains along the Aare river are particularly sensitive ecosystems. As a result, almost the entire river landscape between Thun and Bern is protected. We ask all those who stay around or on the Aare river to respect nature, not to leave any rubbish or disturb the animals unnecessarily.
Three ways to get a raft
Is your rafting crew complete? Then all you still need is a raft. Here are some tips on buying, renting or borrowing a raft.
Renting a raft
If this rafting trip will be a once-in-a-lifetime event, we recommend simply renting a raft. There are various companies in Bern that rent out rafts in different sizes (for two to ten people). Rental prices per raft (including the equipment) range from CHF 60 to CHF 700. The rental procedure and options are similar from company to company.
Here’s how it works
Rafts can be reserved in advance, either online (at any time) or by phone (during the company’s business hours during the week). Reservations can usually be made up to one day before the trip. But to be sure of securing a rental raft during the peak summer season, we recommend making your reservations one week in advance.
On the day of the tour, you can pick up your raft at the launch point (Thun Schwäbis or Uttigen) and – if you’d like – receive comprehensive information on raft handling, safety aspects and the route itself.
The package usually includes equipment such as paddles, an air pump, life jackets, a dry bag and the route map.
After that, you can paddle away and enjoy your tour! You can then return the raft when you exit the river at Eichholz or Marzili (depending on the rental company you use). Just be sure to return the raft on time (usually by around 6:00 p.m.).
If you’d like, the raft rental company can transport your dry clothes and valuables directly to the destination point by car. But most rental companies provide dry bags, allowing you to take your personal items along on the raft and keep them safe and dry.
Besides just renting the raft, would you like to raft down the river with an experienced guide? Or are you interested in a comprehensive package including a guide, BBQ, equipment and all the essentials? Most raft rental companies offer these kinds of packages.
Enjoy a special discount if renting a raft on a Monday. For just CHF 99 per raft (for up to six people), it’s well worth extending your weekend in Bern. Book today with the rental company Aareschlauchboot – and paddle away!
Comparison of raft rental companies
The following chart compares three raft rental companies and provides an overview of the most important points (swipe left if viewing on a mobile phone).
|Aareschlauchboot||Outdoor Interlaken||Kanu Shop Siesta Oppi|
|Number of people
|6 people (max.)||16 people (max.)||10 people (max.)|
|Available rafts||4-person raft
|Prices starting at||CHF 130.00 to CHF 170.00/raft||CHF 99.00/person||CHF 80.00/raft|
|Route||Uttigen–Bern Eichholz||Schwäbis–Bern Eichholz||Schwäbis–Bern Eichholz|
paddle for each person,
life jackets, large dry
bag, Aare map, luggage
transfer to Bern Eichholz
|Complete rafting equipment,
free drink after the trip,
free pick-up service,
|Raft, paddles, life jackets,
dry bag, route map,
transport of valuables
|Deposit||CHF 30.00/raft||-||CHF 50.00/raft|
|Cancellation||Free cancellation up to
48 hours before tour
|Free cancellation up to
48 hours before tour
|Free cancellation up to
72 hours before tour
|Particulars||Monday is Aare rafting day!
Those looking for a special
deal can enjoy a beautiful
rafting trip on Mondays,
starting at CHF 99.00 per
|Optional BBQ on board
for CHF 100.00 (not
including food) or for an
additional CHF 19.00/person
|Payment must be made
in cash on-site, reservations
must be made by 4:00 p.m.
the previous day, at the
Check the weather early enough beforehand. In the case of last-minute cancellations, payment will not be reimbursed or credited. Most rental companies allow for free cancellations up to two days before the tour. After that, the amount will be credited and the rafting tour can be rescheduled for another day.
Buying a raft
Have you finally been bitten by the Aare rafting bug? Rental prices per raft (including the equipment) range from CHF 60 to CHF 110. If you plan to raft the Aare several times each summer, it’s worth buying your own rubber raft (prices range from CHF 80 to CHF 700). It allows you to be more flexible and to save money – plus you get to be the proud owner of a raft.
How about blue and yellow, red, or perhaps olive green? Of course, bright colors are the most fun on the turquoise waters of the Aare. But there are more important things to consider when buying a raft than just the appearance. After all, not all rafts are the same. In order for your raft to smoothly navigate around some of the riskier patches of water, and to make sure your trip isn’t ruined by an unexpected puncture or a broken paddle, it’s important to invest in professional gear. Here are some tips to consider.
What do I need to consider when buying a raft?
It’s better to have a raft that is too big than too small. Rafts that are made for two people often don’t have room for backpacks or picnic bags, and they tend to be a rather snug fit even for couples. So, you’re better off choosing a raft that is slightly larger – for instance, a three-person raft for two people, or a four-person raft for three people. Also, pay attention to the raft’s maximum weight allowance (safety first!).
A good rubber raft should have at least three air chambers so the whole raft doesn’t deflate if one of the chambers is damaged. The more air chambers, the better.
Make sure the paddles are made of sturdy material; you’re looking for a solid stick, not a matchstick. This makes it much easier to navigate the river current. Tip: Take along an extra paddle, just in case. This will help you keep a cool head if one of your paddles breaks or permanently goes for a swim.
Paddles and an air pump are often included in the raft package. But make sure this is the case when you buy your raft, and check that the materials are free of defects. Better to check before your purchase than to be sorry later!
Most rafts are made of PVC, which is easiest to repair. Clever rafters go ahead and buy a repair kit when buying their raft. Many rafts already have a repair kit included; but if not, you can ask about one in the shop.
Comparison of popular rafts
Rafts are available to buy at Coop Bau + Hobby, Intersport, Athleticum, Manor, Galaxus, Siroop and many other sporting goods stores. The following four rafts are ideal for the Aare (swipe left if viewing on a mobile phone):
|Intex Challenger 2
|Number of people||2 people||2 people||3 people||4 people|
|Maximum weight||170 kg||250 kg||320 kg||380 kg|
|Number of air chambers||3||4||3||3|
|Dimensions||236x114 cm||128x271 cm||295x137 cm||295x128 cm|
|Package contents||Paddles, foot pump,
grab line, grab handle
and repair/patch kit
and carrying handle,
Boston safety valves,
4 air chambers and
Sevytest pressure check
a repair kit,
pump and paddle
|Two paddles, pump|
|Color||yellow and blue||blue and white||green and yellow||green|
|Where to buy||Sportxx||Galaxus||Interdiscount||Gobatrek, Genfergasse
11, CH-3011 Bern
(a three-minute walk
from Bern main station)
|Price||CHF 74.90||CHF 109.00||CHF 89.90||CHF 177.00|
|Particulars||Strong vinyl construction
|Sold without paddles||Strong vinyl construction
|Also perfect for fishing|
Don’t forget to put your name, address and ideally your phone number somewhere on your new raft straight away. This is a mandatory requirement of the Swiss Inland Navigation Ordinance and allows rescue teams to return unmanned rafts to their owners and avoid time-consuming and costly search and rescue operations.
Borrowing a raft
Looking for an inexpensive option for your rafting tour? Sharing is caring! Many Bernese have a raft in their basement and are happy to loan it out on occasion. So if you have connections in Bern, try asking your friends or workmates.
Are you just visiting Bern? If you’re spending several days in the capital, use the first days to chat with the locals – like at the Turnhalle Café and Bar – and ask them about tips for rafting the Aare. With a little luck and charm, you might be offered a raft to borrow or get invited to join a rafting tour.
If you’re looking for a more unusual raft, there are some interesting alternatives out there. Aare rafting has become such a popular sport that you’ll now find rafts resembling unicorns, floating islands and more; there’s even a kind that doubles as a trampoline on the water!