Dear procrastinating parents: We feel your pain. We know you’re slapping your foreheads, asking yourselves why you haven’t booked your summer trip yet. You are not alone! Many other families are in a panic, unable to figure out what kind of trip will delight all members of their group—and now they fear it’s too late to find something great.
We’re here with a solution. It’s one of the best family-bonding experiences you could hope for: a river-rafting vacation. Rafting trips combine a dose of nature, a soupcon of adventure, and a scarcity of Wi-Fi to bring the most scattered family together. Even city slickers can’t resist the joy (and thrill) of whitewater, and mastering the challenge as a unit working together makes for vivid memories and a sense of familial accomplishment. Since your guides handle all of the logistics and you don’t need to check into and out of hotels every night, you can sit back and pay attention to the important details—such as what your kids want to chat about around the campfire.
But don’t those trips fill up months in advance, you ask? Not always. Mindy Gleason, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for river rafting vacations usually has some last-minute availability, and if you contact her through our site, you’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.
To spark your adventurous spirit, here’s the low-down on a few U.S.-based trips that are ideal for families. These specific trips may not all still be available, but they’ll give you an idea of what a river-rafting vacation entails. What’s more, on any departure with a significant number of kids, a bag full of games and toys (customized to the ages of the minors) will be sent along, and a guide will act as “Fun Director,” organizing sand art, volleyball, Frisbee, educational stories, sing-alongs, and more for the kids, to make sure that everyone’s always having fun.
What it is: This six-day Western adventure starts in the adventure-sports capital of Moab, Utah, and takes in two of the country’s most famous national parks: Arches and Canyonlands. You’ll spend the first four days rafting part of the legendary Colorado River (including the infamous Big Drops), visiting the ancient pictographs and petroglyphs peppered along the river (fodder for next year’s middle-school history report?), and hiking through Canyonlands’ glorious Cataract Canyon. For the final two days, the Red Cliffs Lodge will serve as home base while you explore the parks by 4×4, go horseback riding, or just chill by the pool.
What it is: This five-day trip from Vernal, Utah, takes you down the Yampa, a major tributary of the Colorado. While the paddling is mellow, the landscape is far from ordinary: Tall sandstone walls are streaked with jet-black “desert varnish,” and the canyon holds fantastic hikes to well-preserved Native American granaries and knock-your-socks-off viewpoints of Dinosaur National Monument’s geological wonder. By July, the river is gentle enough for young children (the minimum age for this trip is seven), as well as anyone who wants to trade the usual oar raft for an inflatable kayak.
What it is: Go ahead and challenge even the snarkiest teen not to crack a smile during a balmy summer day on the remote Snake River, shooting through big-volume rapids and then diving into the warm, clear water. Of course, you’ll probably have already won them over with the scenic small-plane flight over Hells Canyon—the deepest gorge in North America—on your way to the put-in from Lewiston, Idaho. Choose among oar rafts, paddle rafts, inflatable kayaks, or wooden dories to take down the river. Since the Snake’s flow is controlled by the Hells Canyon Dam, it has reliable whitewater even late into the season (the rapids on free-flowing rivers, such as the Yampa, get less intense as the summer wears on).
What it is: Introduce your family to two of our country’s iconic national parks by kayak, foot, and raft on this multi-sport adventure. Starting from Jackson, Wyoming, you can opt for either a five-day all-camping program or a six-day trip with two nights in hotels. In Yellowstone you’ll visit Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and some of the geyser basins in the park, then transition to kayaking and hiking in Grand Teton; wrap things up with a peaceful float trip on the Snake River, where you stand a good chance of spotting moose along the banks.