Family-Friendly Adventures: Whitewater Rafting

Guest post by Christine Lindstrom of Lindstroms on the Road.

Think whitewater rafting is a dangerous sport reserved for adrenaline junkies? Think again! While there are certainly areas that only the bravest (craziest?) and most experienced river guides should attempt, there are also plenty of places that are appropriate for kids and beginners. If you’ve never considered trying whitewater rafting, or you’re waiting for the kids to be grown before attempting it, take another look at the family-friendly side of whitewater rafting!

Why take kids rafting?

Rivers are a force of nature! Some of the most beautiful landscapes, including canyons, arches, and caves, have been formed by moving water. Exploring these areas by foot or by car are great ways to experience them, but being on the river itself gives a new perspective. It is easier to understand the power of water to erode rock when you have felt its current beneath you. Nowhere is this more clear than in whitewater.

There are places along the banks of rivers that can only be reached by water. Waterways are ideal places to spot wildlife as they drink or wash themselves. There is a lot to be learned on the river simply by being there.

It’s also just plain fun! Whitewater rafting is like a natural amusement park, with rapids as the feature roller coaster. There are often opportunities for swimming, rock or cliff jumping, and other fun along the way. It is sure to be a day that none of you ever forgets!

Family-friendly whitewater: What to look for

The difficulty of rapids are rated on a “class” scale using Roman numerals, from Class I to Class VI. Up to Class III rapids is generally considered safe for beginners. Occasionally Class IV is also okay for families, especially with an experienced guide if it is only a short section.

Look for outfitters with a good reputation for working with families. Interaction with the guide could make or break the experience for children. Go by personal recommendations when possible, and consider calling the outfitter and specifically talking to them about how family-friendly the experience will be.

What to Expect

You’ve chosen a location, talked to the outfitters, and made your reservations. Now what?

When the big day arrives, be sure to arrive on time. You’ll want to be dressed in clothes that can get wet, such as bathing suits or comfortable sportswear. Sun protection is important as there isn’t much shade on the river and the glare off the water increases the risk of sunburn. Use sunscreen and wear clothes for protection. Don’t bring anything you don’t absolutely need, and ask the outfitter about lockers for things like car keys, wallets, phones, etc.

You will be given gear such as floatation vests, helmets, and paddles. Even strong swimmers will need to wear these. Your guide will also give a safety speech, teach you some basic commands, and show you some basic paddling skills. Often you will board a bus for transportation to the “put in” point where the rafts should be waiting.

After that, just follow all instructions from the guide and enjoy the ride!

Recommended Rivers

Always double check with the outfitter about age or height restrictions for kids before booking your trip. Just because a river is a beginner class does not always guarantee that they will be willing to assume the risks of having children on board.

Here are three places in different regions of the country that are great for beginners You can also use this website as a resource to find a great whitewater rafting near you.

1.  The Rogue River, Oregon

Class III / Intermediate

Season: May-October

Great for beginners and families, the Rogue River offers exciting stretches of rapids with long, flat stretches in between for fun and swimming. There is no shortage of beautiful canyon scenery and wildlife can often be spotted along the way. The river is dam controlled, so flows are consistent all summer long. Most outfitters allow children as young as 6.

Learn more at

2. The Rio Grande River through Big Bend National Park, Texas

Class I-III Beginner-friendly

Season: Year round

Great for beginners, the Rio Grande through Big Bend National Park offers many trip options, ranging from a half day to six days, and rapids rated from Class I to Class III. It’s a perfect place to get your feet wet (pardon the pun!) while enjoying the incredible scenery of this remote border area. Opportunities for side hikes, swimming, and hot springs abound. This is one of the few rivers that’s warm enough to raft in the winter, which makes it a very popular spring break destination in March. Trips offered all year round. Children as young as 4 can participate, though some tours have a minimum age of 8.

Learn more about river trips through Big Bend National Park.

3. The Upper New River, West Virginia

Class I-III Beginner

Season: May-September

Passing through lush Appalachian canyons, the New River is well-known in whitewater circles for its wide range of water features. The Upper New River offers enough adventure to be exciting without exceeding a Class III difficulty rating. Opportunities for swimming make it a great family outing, and it can be run with children as young as 6. The Lower New River is more of a challenge and not recommended for children. The New River is not dam controlled, but as a high-volume river the flows are sufficient for the whole season. Be sure to choose an outfitter licensed by the National Park Service.

You have probably already experienced the special bonds created by a shared family adventure. Make a splash with the kids this summer with a whitewater experience you’ll never forget!


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