Whitewater rafting is an exhilarating experience that entire families can enjoy. While not as traditional as, say, a beach or an amusement park, whitewater rafting is a perfectly family-friendly activity as long as your kids meet the minimum age requirement for the rapids you choose.
Of course, to ensure that your children have a great time and want to go on more rafting trips in the future, you’ll have to do some special planning. This article covers tips on how to prepare for whitewater rafting trips with kids, including what to bring, which rapids to choose and how to maximize fun and safety on the river.
Tips for Planning a White Water Rafting Trip With Your Family
To have an enjoyable whitewater rafting trip with your kids, you’ll need to prepare in the following ways:
1. Follow the Packing List Religiously
When booking a trip with an outfitter, you’ll receive a packing list. Make sure to bring everything on the list — even the items you think you won’t need. If you decide against bringing the knitted cap and gloves just because you’re going in August, remember that they’re on the list for a good reason. On the other hand, make sure you don’t add too many items to the list, either. If you’re going to bring extras of any item, make it sunglasses, as these often end up on the bottom of the river.
2. After Rafting, Plan to Spend the Night Near the River
After a long, exciting day or weekend of rafting, your family probably won’t be in the mood for a long road trip or overnight flight. Instead, plan to stay at a comfy hotel nearby so you can relax and reflect on your favorite memories from the trip.
3. Understand How Rapids Are Classified
It’s also important to familiarize yourself with rapid classifications. This international scale is used to rate the difficulty of a rapid or stretch of river, and there are six classes of difficulty. These ratings may seem confusing for beginning paddlers, but they are based on several factors including the speed of the water, which is influenced by rainfall, and the frequency and size of boulders.
- Class I: These rapids feature fast-moving water, small waves and riffles. Obstructions are few and can be easily avoided with basic training.
- Class II: Stretches of river with this rating are clear, wide channels that don’t require any scouting. They feature medium-sized waves and rocks that you must occasionally maneuver around, which is easy with training. Rapids at the upper end of this range are called “Class II+.”
- Class III: Rapids with a Class III rating feature irregular waves, some of which may be unavoidable. Rafters must often perform complicated maneuvers in fast-moving currents and maintain good control of the raft in tight passages. Currents can be powerful in places, especially on larger rivers. Scouting is recommended for less experienced parties.
- Class IV: Class IV rapids are powerful and intense and require precise raft handling. Waves are typically large and unavoidable, and rafters must sometimes maneuver quickly under pressure. Rafters frequently need to scout before taking on these rapids.
- Class V: Stretches of river with a Class V rating can have many dangerous features, including violent rapids, unavoidable waves and steep chutes with complicated routes. Rafters who tackle Class V rapids must be in good shape, as rapids can be long with no breaks. Class V is a multiple-level scale that is designated by a decimal rating such as Class 5.1, with each level more challenging than the one before it.
- Class VI: Rapids labeled Class VI have often never been attempted and tend to be extremely difficult, dangerous and unpredictable. Only teams of professionals should attempt these rapids, and only if water levels are favorable, they have inspected the rapids closely, and have taken all necessary precautions. Once Class VI rapids have been attempted many times, their rating can be changed to a Class 5.X rating.
Family-friendly rapids are usually Class I or II, although more difficult rapids may be an option for your family depending on the age and rafting experience of your children. At any rate, it’s best to contact your outfitter and ask for their opinion before choosing rapids for your family. As even calm rivers can become rougher at certain times of the year, the rafting company may also recommend the best whitewater rafting times for families.
If you can, plan your trip so that you’re not rafting during peak run-off. To do this, you can check stream flows at the U.S. Geological Survey.
4. Confirm the Minimum Age
Even if a course is rated Class I or II, it will still have an age limit, so you will have to make sure that your kids are old enough. Age limits for whitewater rafting can range anywhere from 5 to 12 years old. Before booking your trip, call the outfitter and confirm the minimum age — even if it’s already listed on their website. The age cap can be different for each trip offered and is based on several factors, including the difficulty and required endurance.
5. Speak With Your Kids Before the Trip
Some kids may be intimidated by the idea of whitewater rafting because they’re only familiar with the sport through movies, which usually show characters encountering raging waters, waterfalls and other extreme features. If your children are scared to try rafting, let them know that most rafting experiences are nothing like what is seen in many movies.
Tips for Choosing a Family Friendly White Water Rafting Company
When it comes to being family-friendly, not all rafting outfitters are created equal. To find a company that can provide an enjoyable and safe experience for youngsters as well as adults, keep the following considerations in mind:
Finding an outfitter that follows all the proper safety regulations is an absolute priority — especially when you’re bringing your kids along. For this reason, you must make sure the outfitter is professional and licensed. When researching outfitters, find out the following about each:
- Years in business: Find out how long they’ve been in business under the current ownership. You want to pick an outfitter with a track record.
- Training: Ask about the training that their guides have received and how long they’ve been working as guides. You want guides with many years of experience under their belts.
- Permits: Find out about which government entity is in charge of their permit and practices for training their guides.
By choosing a professional, licensed outfitter, you can be certain that they follow all the rules and will ensure your safety throughout the trip.
2. A Fun Experience for All
You can find out whether the outfitter caters to kids by finding out the following:
- Family-friendly menu: When you’re on a rafting trip, the only food options are those your outfitter provides, so it’s important to find out whether they offer a selection that both adults and kids can enjoy. If the food’s too fancy, kids may refuse to eat it, and if it’s too simple, the adults might get bored.
- Family-friendly supplies: Multi-day rafting trips include camping, so the outfitter should bring along games and toys for kids to enjoy at the camp.
- Family-friendly guides: Not everyone can relate well with kids. Make sure the outfitter’s guides understand children’s need for special attention. They should be willing to organize fun activities such as musical chairs and freeze tag for the camp.
- Family-friendly attractions nearby: You should also find out whether the surrounding area has family-friendly activities such as amusement parks, mini-golf and zoos.
In addition to asking the above questions to the outfitter, you should also find out what other customers think. Check out travel review websites to read first-hand reports and useful advice.
Tips for White Water Rafting With Your Family
Once the rafting trip has begun, you can maximize fun and safety by following these tips:
- Make sure your helmets and life jackets are snug. Before setting off, your guide will make sure that your helmet and personal flotation device are properly secured. Keep in mind that these life jackets are likely different from those flimsy ones you used on childhood fishing trips. Jackets used for whitewater rafting trips are heavy duty and will feel very snug when you first put one on — which is the way it should feel. The reason for this is so that if you fall out of the boat, someone can easily pull you back in by your jacket without it coming off.
- Make sure the younger kids are well supervised. If white water rafting with younger kids, make sure that each raft has at least one adult per child. The oarsman counts as an adult unless the rapids are Class II+ or higher, in which case they will have to focus on steering the boat instead of looking after a child.
- Allow your child to take a few risks. As parents, we often shoot down seemingly risky activities that our kids want to try simply because we’re unfamiliar with real risks involved. On a guided rafting tour, however, we have the luxury of rafting guides who we can turn to for a second opinion. If you’re uncertain whether your 12-year-old can handle a certain rapid by themselves, simply ask your guide. If the guide says yes, it can be a great opportunity for kids to challenge themselves and gain confidence.
- Be the parent. Don’t leave the task of babysitting your kid to the guides. While a good guide will interact with your kids and make sure they have a great time, it is still your job to parent them. Luckily, this job is easier on a rafting trip than at home, as the kids frequently won’t have any excess energy to argue with you.
- Make sure your child listens to the guide. One of your most important parenting duties will be making sure that your kids are paying attention to the guides and following their instructions. If you’re following the guide’s instructions closely, your child will be much more likely to do the same.
You’re sure to make many memories on your whitewater excursion — many of which you’ll want to capture. Here are some tips on how to best document this wet and wild experience:
- Bring a waterproof camera. As whitewater rafting is a thrilling experience, you may be tempted to document the adventure with an expensive camera. However, once you set out on the roaring river, you might have trouble finding a moment to pull out your fragile DSLR without it getting drenched and completely ruined. While DSLRs can take fantastic photos, on a whitewater rafting trip, you’ll probably end up taking few if any at all. Instead, consider purchasing a low-cost waterproof point-and-shoot camera. If you have a camera that you don’t mind getting wet, scratched or dirty, you’ll end up documenting a lot more of the adventure.
- Let the kids use the camera. Another benefit of bringing a point-and-shoot is that you let your kids snap some shots as well. While their pictures may not turn out to be masterpieces, at least you’ll be in them!
- Don’t forget to take camp photos. Some of the greatest memories on rafting trips are made at the campsite, so don’t forget to get photos of your family around the campfire, eating marshmallows, playing games or setting up the tent.
- Choose a rafting outfitter that provides photos of your trip. You won’t have to worry about getting good photos on the river if your rafting company provides them for you.
Schedule a White Water Rafting Trip for Your Family
If you’d like to have a fun rafting adventure with your family while enjoying many events and activities in the nearby area, book a rafting excursion with Southeastern Expeditions on Georgia’s famous Chattooga River.
Southeastern Expeditions has gained a reputation as a highly professional outfitter with experienced, fun guides who are committed to safety. Many of our customers are either repeat guests or were referred by other Southeast Expeditions customers, and we believe that our high customer satisfaction rate is due to the following:
- Qualified staff: All members of our staff, including our guides, drivers and administrative staff, have years — sometimes decades — of experience. They also have safety training, with many having received advanced first aid training.
- Friendly staff: Our team is also friendly, open and committed to making your experience as fun and memorable as possible.
- Lots of deals: We offer a great variety of packages that make your rafting trip affordable and hassle-free. Just pick your package and leave everything else to our team of professionals. We want you to focus on enjoying the adventure.
- Service year-round: Although our season only continues until late fall, we work year-round to make our rafting adventures the best they can be the following season.