OTTAWA -- A destination attraction in the Ottawa Valley is set to open for the season this weekend.

Wilderness Tours is a popular rafting tour company situated deep in Renfrew County along the Ottawa River. After a late start to the rafting season last year due to flooding, and now COVID-19 restrictions this year, Wilderness Tours are finally welcoming their first guests of the season Friday night.

The rafting tour company is opening with new COVID-19 protocols. Tour guides will wear masks while with groups. Rafting equipment like paddles, life jackets, and helmets will be rotated out of use and sanitized after trips. Groups will also be limited to four to six guests per boat, and those guests must all be from the same social circle.

“We’ve gone out of our way to completely rejig our operations to really prioritize the physical distancing of various groups on the river," said Joel Kowalski, river operations manager and vice-president, Wilderness Tours.

"Down the river you’ll see rafts in front of you and behind you, but they won’t be mixing."

Another change specific to the rafting experience will be the river channels the tours take. The more intense rapids that are prone to flipping boats will be taken out of use.

"With those rescue operations, inevitably there’s more contact between groups. So in light of COVID, we’ll be moving all our rafting to the middle channel which is still beautiful and lots of fun, it’s a great day on the river, but it becomes easier to manage all of our COVID things," says Kowalski.

Demand is high for the rafting tours as well. Kowalski says their opening weekend is already sold out, with spots almost all gone for next weekend as well. In order to accommodate the COVID-19 protocols, Wilderness Tours can only take 200 people out on the river per day; a fifth of the capacity they could take on a normal day.

"The phones are ringing off the hook. People really want to get out and do something where they have space and can be in nature, but they still have the room to not be in large crowds and this is the perfect type of activity for that."