An All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting trip begins from the put-in site on the South Fork of the American River in Lotus in May. (Photos by Steve Martarano)

How a 60-Year-Old Whitewater Rafting Company Stays Afloat

Back Article Jul 20, 2021 By Steve Martarano

This story is part of our July 2021 Young Professionals issue. To subscribe, click here.

Scott Armstrong laughs when asked why All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting has thrived in the competitive world of commercial rafting for so long. “Ours had the biggest family,” he says. 

George and Dolores Armstrong founded the company out of their Walnut Creek home almost 60 years ago. Since then, the five Armstrong children — Mark, Sherri, Gregg, Randy and Scott — along with nine grandchildren, numerous other relatives, friends and their families, have developed a vast network over six decades that has sustained the company, now operated from a 7-acre camp on the South Fork of the American River in Lotus.

One testament to the company’s connectivity powers: 35 marriages have resulted from employees who met through All-Outdoors, says Scott, 58, the youngest child of George and Dolores and the company’s operations manager.

“The legacy that George started is so remarkable, not just with his own family, but through the generations of people who have been introduced to rivers here in California.”

Peggy Lindsayformer guide, All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting

“The legacy that George started is so remarkable, not just with his own family, but through the generations of people who have been introduced to rivers here in California,” says Peggy Lindsay, 65, who is half of one of the earliest married couples who connected through All-Outdoors. She met Craig Lindsay in 1979 when they worked as guides on the Stanislaus River, eventually marrying in 1985. (The couple maintains houses in both Lotus and Truckee, where Craig runs Lindsay Construction.)

“We met on a river, we live on a river, and both of our boys (Walker and Carson) are named after rivers,” Peggy says, adding that many of the couple’s friends they met in the 1970s are still good friends today. Craig agrees, saying, “Once you fall in love with running rivers, you never stop.”

Trey Armstrong prepares a group for a trip before they venture out on the South Fork of the American River. Trey’s father, Randy Armstrong, is a physician who also drives a bus for All-Outdoors on weekends.

All-Outdoors took shape in Walnut Creek in the early 1960s when George Armstrong, a teacher at Mount Diablo High School, sought to expose his students and youngest two children to a life outdoors. After a chance meeting on the Stanislaus River with rafting pioneer Bryce Whitmore, Armstrong purchased one of Whitmore’s boats, creating a longtime friendship that helped launch Armstrong’s passion for preserving rivers.

Dolores Armstrong passed away in 2006 after 57 years of marriage, but George remains involved in the business at age 94 from his home office in Walnut Creek. All of his children, including Gregg, 66, who currently helps Scott with marketing and other administrative duties, worked at All-Outdoors, now operated from the Lotus facility that includes several administrative buildings, a bus fleet to transport rafters, and a put-in location on the river.

Trey Armstrong, 23, is one example of how the generations have carried All-Outdoors through the years. He has worked full-time for the company since 2019, doing a variety of jobs administratively and on the water, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Biola University in La Mirada. His father, Randy, who’s a physician in Sacramento, still comes up on the weekends to drive a bus for the company.

George Armstrong started All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting in 1962 from his home in Walnut Creek. His son Scott Armstrong is now the company’s operations manager.

“Throughout the years, my brothers and I and cousins all worked at All-Outdoors doing various jobs, either in the office or on the river,” he says, adding that his father often jokes that his “real job” is driving an All-Outdoors bus.

Along with pioneering the practice of utilizing everyone in a boat as paddlers, George Armstrong is proud of his legacy of championing women river guides, while operating a guide school for 30 years which actively recruits women.

“My daughter, Sherri, brought in her female friends, so early on we were using female guides,” he says. “My oldest son, Mark, was one of the early guides, and his then-girlfriend worked with us and recruited other females.” Armstrong says that his granddaughter Laura has been a guide at the Grand Canyon for many years. 

“It’s been a great pleasure of mine. Not just being on the rivers, but seeing the people that we’ve been intertwined with all along the way.”

George Armstrongfounder, All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting

After the “dark days” of 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions cut business an estimated 60 percent, Scott says he’s excited for this year as restrictions decrease. Using about 80 full-time summer employees, they expect to take around 12,000 rafters out in 2021, running one- and multiday trips on various sections of the American and Tuolumne rivers, from easy float trips to the more challenging, navigating rapids with names like Troublemaker, Fowler’s Rock, Satan’s Cesspool and Meatgrinder.

“It’s been a great pleasure of mine,” George says, “not just being on the rivers, but seeing the people that we’ve been intertwined with all along the way.” 

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