Why Wilderness Rafting Trips are the Best Family Vacation, Ever.

(Hint: Disney Can’t Come Close to Rafting Magic) 

I grew up in a middle-class family in the 1950’s and 60’s America when this meant owning one car, one black and white tv, and going on camping trips for vacation.  My father taught biology at a local community college, so summers were a time for exploring and family togetherness. I remember those summers fondly and often think that this kind of unplugged family time is just what is needed today by so many.

What constitutes a great family vacation? While every family is different, there are some common themes for creating a life-enriching, memory-building family vacation. 

Sharing the Decision and Anticipating the Fun

If everyone has a role in choosing the vacation and some ownership in the process, that’s sure to help. This can be a challenge in families with different ages of children, different interests, and different ideas of what “vacation” means. I remember taking my family to Jamaica when our daughter was 14 and our son was 12. It was a working vacation (since almost all our travel is scouting out new ideas and destinations) and I remember our daughter said: “as long as we get a couple of days on a beach, I’ll be happy.”  Sitting or playing on a beach is not my idea of fun, but her preference was shared by my wife and son. So, we were sure to fit in a couple of beach days after hiking, biking, birdwatching, and exploring interior spots on the island. It’s inevitable that most families will struggle to find something everyone will like. For some families, this may mean taking turns - you choose this vacation and your brother gets to choose the next one, for example. By involving everyone in the process, there's an emotional investment that is likely to lead to a more successful experience. 

By involving everyone in the process, there’s an emotional investment that is likely to lead to a more successful experience.

If your process leads you to consider a multiday wilderness rafting trip, then you’re on the right track for choosing what I believe is the absolutely best family vacation choice ever! That may sound like quite a claim, yet as a father of two grown children who has been on many family vacations, traveled to over 40 countries, and been a raft guide for 43 years, I believe it to be true. Whether you agree or not, humor me, and read further.

girls playing in the river

If your process leads you to consider a multiday wilderness rafting trip, then you’re on the right track for choosing what I believe is the absolutely best family vacation choice ever! That may sound like quite a claim, yet as a father of two grown children who has been on many family vacations, traveled to over 40 countries, and been a raft guide for 43 years, I believe it to be true. Whether you agree or not, humor me, and read further.

Connecting with Each Other

How families connect is deeply personal and every family has their own style. But one thing that often gets in the way of connection is all the digital stuff that fills our daily lives. On a river trip, all that is gone. Everyone is unplugged and thankfully, cell phone signals still don’t reach into deep river canyons in areas where people don’t live. Without the distraction of phone calls, emails, chats, and tweets, you are able to “be here now” and truly connect with each other. When was the last time you sat quietly together, played a hand of cards or simply appreciated the sunshine? What we observe on our trips, when families are unplugged, is that people discover things about each other they didn’t know. It could be that your child has a passion for something you were not aware of or a talent you hadn’t noticed. If you haven’t been unplugged in a while, you owe it to yourself and your family.

Without the distraction of phone calls, emails, chats, and tweets, you are able to “be here now” and truly connect with each other.

In addition to the rewards that come from being unplugged, the setting also matters. The world is a different place when you are surrounded by nature’s gifts. The power of the mountains, the soothing song of the river, and a blanket of stars at night work together to create the perfect conditions for connection.

camping on the river


Relaxation 

Relaxation is another important element for any vacation, but since families often have certain relationship stress, it’s even more important to have an environment where everyone feels supported and secure. Our guides are masters at creating an environment of inclusivity and a feeling that everyone is welcome just as they are.

Family rafting trips also remove the stress of daily decision making. That’s because, unlike many other types of vacation, on a wilderness rafting tour, there are few decisions to make. You don’t have to decide where to eat, what to eat or even when to eat. We cook, cater to dietary needs and clean up the mess.

In addition, there are no decisions about where to go or what to do during the day. Just choose the kind of craft you want to ride in and off we go. When we stop for a walk to a site of interest, if you prefer to stay on the boat and watch the river go by, that’s fine. The hardest decision you might have to make is whether or not to have seconds at dinner.

You can also relax knowing that we, as outfitters and guides, provide all the gear, expertise and leadership needed, leaving you with the time, energy, and space you need to focus on each other.

kids playing on the river bank


Connecting with Nature

Being in nature is restorative. While vacations to cities and theme parks have a place, nature is always inspiring and inevitably relaxing. River trips represent the essence of nature. There are other vacations that immerse you in nature – such as backpacking or hiking trips – but they require so much effort. On a rafting trip, the river does the heavy lifting, floating gear, and people downstream in a grace-filled manner. Sailing or small boat cruising is another great family vacation. But in my experience, there’s also not a lot of room on a boat to get away and do your own thing. I’m not here to bash anyone’s favorite vacation. I’m here only as an advocate for what I think is the world’s best family vacation. 

On a rafting trip the river does the heavy lifting, floating gear, and people downstream in a grace-filled manner.

For many, time in nature is a rare occurrence, yet so important for both children and adults. Books have been written about this, such as the Last Child in the Woods - Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.  Being surrounded by oxygen-giving forests, soul-lifting birdsong, neck-bending mountains, and an endless sky is rejuvenating. Rivers that flow through remote wilderness areas bring all this to you. They take you deep into some of the most pristine places on the planet – areas that are often hard to access any other way. 

River canyons are a place to kick off your shoes and feel the earth underfoot. They create an environment where you can be still and reflect. They set the stage for connecting with each other and with nature, opening your eyes to new discoveries and spectacular scenery. Activities include birdwatching, stargazing, rockhounding, and tree-sniffing. Tree-sniffing? Yes, we invite you to put your nose close to a ponderosa pine and see what you discover.

a family posing for a picture while river rafting
 

Space Apart and Space Together

Another reason river trips are so fulfilling is that there is space for everyone to do their own thing, while simultaneously sharing the experience. That’s because while we are rafting during the day, everyone is almost always within sight of each other. We keep the rafts fairly close together for safety reasons. An oar boat is always in the front, leading the way. Next come paddle rafts and, when we have them, inflatable kayaks follow the paddle rafts. This means that everyone can watch what others are doing. If a bear or deer saunters by, usually everyone gets to see it. When the paddle raft hits a big wave and everyone is soaked and grinning from ear-to-ear, the entire trip enjoys the fun. When we stop to take walks to Indigenous rock art sites, or pioneer homesteads, we do it together, sharing in the experience. 

Another reason river trips are so fulfilling is that there is space for everyone to do their own thing, while simultaneously sharing the experience.

Let me illustrate how this works on a typical day on a whitewater rafting trip: 
Grandpa Eugene is 74 and wanted to share quality time with his extended family, so he proposed the idea of going rafting. While he’s not the athlete he once was, riding in an oar-powered raft with a knowledgeable guide rowing, is perfect. Since photography is his hobby, he’s in heaven taking pictures of the scenery and the rest of the family having fun.

Grandma Sally is Eugene’s wife of 45 years. She’s an avid fisher and from the back of the oar raft that she shares with Eugene, she can cast all day long. It’s her first time fishing from a moving raft on moving water and her guide gives her tips that help her technique.
Son Brian is 17 and a daredevil. He was excited to come on the trip but concerned he might be bored. Then he found out there were inflatable kayaks. He has a hoot paddling through the Class II-III rapids on his own, following the direction of a guide leading the way in a paddle raft.

Brian’s sister Julie is 14 and wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of leaving friends behind at home. But she’s a good sport and at the orientation meeting, the night before the trip was happy to find that there were two other girls of a similar age.  On day one they bonded pretty quickly and have opted to ride in the “girls’ raft” led by ROW guide Maddie. (By the way, the Maddie’s strong female leadership role that inspired Julie to return to the river 5 years later and start her own journey to become a rafting guide.)

Frank and Debbie are the parents of Brian and Julie and live a hectic life in the city. Part of this is regular work-out routines and running. They were a bit worried that a river trip might be too sedentary. They opt to ride in a paddle raft along with 3-4 other people and a professional guide and are delighted with the physical activity since everyone paddles as a team through the rapids and the flat water between them. 

So, on a typical day, while each person has experienced the river in their own way, they have also shared in so many adventures. But it doesn’t stop there.

Once in camp, there’s also plenty to do. Again, people can choose to enjoy the wilderness in their own way. For some, it might be a hike or casting out a line for fish, while for others it may be a nap and a book. On some days, in the late afternoon sunlight before dinner, Eugene and Sally play cards with Brian and Julie. A few other guests are throwing horseshoes. Frank and Debbie head out on hikes, sometimes enticing Brian and Julie to join them. 

girl playing the violin while camping


Your Guides – Making the Magic Happen
River guides, in general, are amazing people and with friendly smiles and encouraging words, set the stage for meaningful group dynamics and personal rejuvenation. They are of course trained professionals with the technical skills to manage the risk inherent in outdoor adventures. We’re especially proud of our ROW guides because, more than this, they are heart-filled individuals that care about you. They are leaders, amateur psychologists, group dynamic specialists, naturalists, talented cooks, and colorful storytellers, who carry a smile and can-do attitude.

If we've piqued your interest, take a minute to read our Blog or watch our video about a typical day on the river

 

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