As a mom of three young kiddos, I know how hard it can be to get out the door, let alone organize a day of outdoor adventure for the whole family. Packing all the stuff and all the snacks is just the beginning. Then I start to worry about the itinerary. Are we doing too much and someone will have a meltdown? Or are we doing too little and someone is going to be bored? Multiply that stress by 1000 if I’m on vacation.

Believe it or not, I have found that a day spent rafting on the river with my family is the perfect answer to all of these worries. Once I understood what kind of whitewater trips were safe for kids of different ages, then the idea of showing up and having someone else do all the work while we got to take in the scenery, sun and splashes started to sound pretty good.

After six years of rafting with my own kiddos, added to a decade of whitewater experience, here’s what I’ve learned about white water rafting with kids:

  1. Listen to the experts.
    It’s hard to know what kind of rafting trip is right for your family. How young is too young for big rapids? What about small boats versus big boats? Is the water too high right now? Ask these questions of your guide company and listen carefully to their answers. They have run this stretch of water literally hundreds of times, and they have seen the good the bad and the ugly. Trust the recommendations they give you to balance fun and safety.
  2. Lots of sunscreen.
    The direct UV rays of the sun at high altitude can do a lot of damage to the fun factor of the day. All people, but especially children, tend to burn much more quickly at altitude than they may at home. Bring hats for everyone if the trip does not require helmets.
  3. Layers, too!
    Kids get cold easily, and the water of the Arkansas, Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers is NEVER warm. Even when the sun is hot, wet clothes and a light breeze can make a chilly, miserable kiddo in just a few minutes. Use the splash gear provided and bring a dry change of clothes either on the boat or waiting at the takeout.
  4. Snacks are good, hydration is great.
    A lot of family white water rafting packages have lunch included, but check before you go on the trip whether there are snacks as well. If not, toss a granola bar or apple into the ‘dry bag’ before the trip starts to give your kids that needed blood sugar boost. Make sure each kid has their own reusable water bottle for the day as well. Staying hydrated keeps off headaches and tummy aches and decreases the likelihood of hearing that special whiny tone for the majority of the trip.
  5. Take it easy afterwards.
    Even ‘just’ a half-day rafting trip is often exhausting for the family. Make your whitewater rafting trip the only big thing you plan for the day. When rafting with kids this is even more important. Trust me, after a day in the sun, paddling hard, no one will want to hear about that evening hike you had planned or the fancy restaurant reservation where you all have to get dressed up. Think casual meals and relaxation. Stick around for a Sunset Dinner with Blazing if you want to keep it simple while still getting a little bit more of that authentic mountain lifestyle experience. Music, food, fire and views (and comfy attire preferred!) make the sunset dinners a perfect ending to a day spent on the river.

Having an adventure on the river is one of the best things you can do with your kids in Colorado this summer. The memories of the whole family together on that big rubber boat, paddling together, spotting wildlife and listening to ridiculous guide jokes will last a lifetime.

– Lindsay DeFrates is a freelance writer, mother, and river guide who lives in Glenwood Springs, CO. She can be reached at