The Best in the West: 5 Family Friendly Rivers

By Phil Lehman

River Trips the for the Whole Family

Great family vacations are a staple of growing up. Well, maybe they weren’t always great. But I’m 99.9% positive they were always meant to be great. Regardless, your family vacations can be great, and we’re going to give you a breakdown of some of the best rivers to take your family on this side of the Mississippi. 5 to be exact.

Lower Klamath River in Northern California

photo by Ken Lund

Sporting some fun and friendly class II rapids, the Lower Klamath River is perfect for young families. The water is warm, the hiking is easy, the blackberries bountiful and the wildlife teeming. With minimum ages of 4 years-old, this float trip is ideal for encouraging confidence in children and spreading enthusiasm for the outdoors. A truly unforgettable vacation and a surefire win for mom and dad.

Desolation Canyon of the Green River in Utah

photo group by BLM

Of course, Desolation Canyon made its way onto our list. It is, after all, a Cataract Oars favorite rafting excursion. I mean, we did name the best kayak paddle in the world after it. The Deso Kayak Paddle for whitewater.

But, back to the float. We like this trip because it has it all, fun class II and III rapids, scenic wonders, ancient remains, and historic lore. It’s like traveling back in time. Kids ages 5 and up can catch a ride on this transformative river expedition, so you can give them the advantage of opportunities to learn about ancient people, dinosaurs, and geology.

The Lower Salmon in Idaho

Sandy beaches, warm running waters, the Lower Salmon River is a place where only genius level parenting choices bring the family. During peak season, when the water is high, a minimum age of 12 years in required by most outfitters. But in the late season age limits drop to respectively 6 or 7. A little bit higher age requirement here because you’ll be encountering some bigger class III rapids. However, this gem carries with it an extensive history of ancient cultures painted along the rock cliffs. Children will relish the excitement of tackling larger rapids and boost their prowess as adventurers in inflatable kayaks.

Colorado River through Grand Canyon

photo by Grand Canyon National Park

The trip of a lifetime, right? One-of-a-kind scenery, towering sandstone cliffs, dazzling night skies blanketing the canyon, it’s another world, a world everyone should experience sometime in their life. A minimum age of 9, your family will love this hidden world. Class II and III style rapids give the thrill seeker the excitement they yearn for. Secret waterfalls and fun filled swimming holes wait around the bend, the whole place screams of seclusion. This is a trip the family will be talking about for generations to come.

Snake River Canyon

photo by Tim Lumley

If you’ve been thinking of going to Jackson to mess around, the time to stop thinking and start acting is now. So, load up the family and crank the Jonny Cash. Snake River Canyon is a great first-time river trip for little rafters. With easy rapids, mild water, and abundant wildlife the Snake offers fantastic addition to your trip to the Grand Tetons or Yellowstone. Kids as young as 4 years-old can test the waters on this section of the Snake, gain fortitude and nerve getting out of their comfort zone and accomplishing the unfamiliar.

Plenty more

This list is obviously not comprehensive. There are too many great family rafting trips to mention here, but perhaps another time. Wherever you live, whatever your age, adventure waits just around the bend. How about you? Is there a favorite rafting trip you’ve taken your family on? And what made it stand out to you?

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