Family Adventures: Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater rafting is a great family adventure (click for larger image)

Whitewater rafting is a great family adventure (click for larger image)

Sure, the economy is in a funk, but that does not mean you have to settle on a family camping vacation that is anything other than extraordinary. The West offers some of the finest rafting rivers in the world and many of them are perfectly suited for all ages and abilities.

I picked three of the most popular runs, whose locations in Southern California, Southern Oregon, and Eastern Idaho, are easily reachable from most of the West without spending a large amount of your vacation dollars on travel expenses.

If you have not been whitewater rafting before, or if you have not done it in the last ten years, you might be thinking that it sounds like a lot of work and that you will be roughing-it in the wilderness at night. You will be in the wilderness, but today’s professional outfitters give any all-inclusive resort a run for their money, with plenty of snacks, great meals, and campfire games and stories for the youngsters. And best of all, mom and dad get to leave the cooking, entertaining and organizing to someone else for a change!

Chow time on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River (click for larger image)

Chow time on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River (click for larger image)

Lower Kern River, Southern California

The Lower Kern is just right for the whole family (click for larger image)

The Lower Kern is just right for the whole family (click for larger image)

Imagine you and your family shooting down a deep river canyon in 70-degree water, just three hours outside of Los Angeles! Professional outfitters, like Kern River Outfitters, are tapping into the family adventure market by offering family-friendly trips like their two-day Lower Kern. “During the summer months, families represent the majority of our business,” says Keith “Luther” Stephens, general manager for Kern River Outfitters.

The family vacations that kids remember most are usually the ones where they got to meet and play with other kids. This fact is not lost on Kern River Outfitters, who groups families together by similar children’s ages. “We’re definitely recognized as the leader in, not only class V rafting, but excellent family rafting vacations,” comments Stephens. Throw in some rapids, a big rubber boat, and your kids will be walking on air for the next six months.

Rogue River, Southern Oregon

Oregon's Rogue River is a great family run (click for larger image)

Oregon's Rogue River is a great family run (click for larger image)

When it comes to family vacation destinations, Southern Oregon has it all. There is the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Crater Lake National park and, of course, the mighty Rogue River. If your kids are into wildlife, like mine, they will surely never forget a trip down the Rogue River. Raptors are plentiful in the area, including bald eagles, and there are large populations of blacktail deer and black bear along the river.

“Every bend in the river or trail presents a new discovery,” says 35-year rafting veteran Jim Ritter, who runs Rogue River Journeys. Wildlife is plentiful here because there are large sections of the Rogue River, 36 miles to be exact, that are completely inaccessible from any road. Indicative of the family orientation of Rogue River Journeys is the fact that Ritter’s children, experienced river rafters themselves, are now training to become guides. “There is nothing better than an adventure vacation where every family member, from youngsters to grandparents, have fun together in a beautiful place,” says Ritter.

Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Eastern Idaho

Camping along the Salmon River (click for larger image)

Camping along the Salmon River (click for larger image)

Arguably, the premier family rafting experience in the West has to be the Middle Fork of the Salmon, which runs through the Frank Church Wilderness Area (largest managed wilderness area in the Lower 48 at 2.2 million acres). Rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon is an unforgettable experience. In the 100-mile journey, you’ll float through pine forests, a sage desert, and mile high granite cliffs.  Like the Rogue, your kids will hold bragging rights to wildlife that others only see in pictures, like moose, bighorn sheep, bald eagles and bear. There are no roads here, and the area is much the way it was hundreds – even thousands of years ago.

For a combination of great rapids, superb guides, comfortable camping, and fine dining, check out Idaho River Journeys. They specialize in family rafting trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon and are, like Rogue River Journeys, family run. All three brothers, Will, Matt, and Skip Volpert, are guides and their parents, Bob and Mary, manage reservations and operations out of their Salmon, Idaho home. In addition to working on a world-class river, they also eat well: they were recently featured on for their famous dutch oven cooking on the river.

Breaking for lunch on the river (click for larger image)

Breaking for lunch on the river (click for larger image)

The More, the Merrier, and the Cheaper

One way of reducing vacation cost is to vacation with friends. The outfitters mentioned above all offer group discounts and charter trips for families, scout groups, and businesses. Group discount policies vary, so it is best to contact the outfitter directly for more information.

Whitewater rafting is all about the outdoor experience of leaving behind the cars, televisions and computers in order prove to ourselves that we could have survived a hundred years ago, just like our ancestors did. The fact that today’s professional outfitters pamper us with gourmet meals and cozy nighttime accommodations just keeps us grounded in the reality that this is still a vacation. One of the best vacations ever.

For more information on the family rafting adventures mentioned here, contact toll-free:
Kern River Outfitters: 1-800-323-4234
Rogue River Journeys: 1-866-213-7754
Idaho River Journeys: 1-888-997-8399

See also…

9 thoughts on “Family Adventures: Whitewater Rafting

  1. Hank – nothing wrong with a little swim, particularly if it’s a hot summer day on the Lower Kern 🙂

  2. Great post! Lower Kern is one of my family’s favorite spots by far! There are mild enough rapids for the whole family. One of our best trips was when my wife and the little ones managed to stay strong and hold on but their big dad was knocked right out of the raft and had to be rescued!

    Big Hank’s last blog post..Camp with the Camping Guru!

  3. We don’t have any white rapids around here in Missouri.The only river we have for a float trip is the Meremac river, it’s a nice trip but nothing fast but it’s still fun.I like to set up camp on the river, we take a two day trip every July can’t wait.

  4. Charles – thanks, I grew up on a river so it brought back a lot of memories for me, too. I regret never taking a trip down the Rogue (I grew up in Oregon, so no excuse!), so two years from now, when my son is 6, we are going to make that trip.

    Alan – very true, and I probably should have touched on the fact that with these 3 outfits, you pretty much just have to show-up with the clothes on your back (okay, maybe a change or two!). They provide all of the camping gear, unless you want to bring your own.

    Dana – thanks, it’s great to hear from someone with some real-world experience!

    VE – can’t wait to make that trip. I’m kind of embarrassed that I never did it when I lived up there.

  5. I’ve been on a rafting trip with Idaho River Journeys and I can attest it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. This company is truly phenomenal. The crew is highly experienced, fun to be around and provide a five-star service to all of their customers. The food is outstanding and is by no means like any “camping cuisine” I’ve ever eaten. They are a top-notch company backed by years of experience and I highly recommend them to anyone interested in rafting the Middle Fork.

  6. In 1988, after I graduated High School, our family went on a trip to visit my uncle in Grand Junction, Colorado for a week. We went to one place where we got to try some white water rafting (about a dozen of us total went on the boats). It was only for a few hours, but it was a blast. Thanks for bringing back some great memories.