The 10 Best Multi-Day Family River Trips in the West
What makes a great family river trip
The best multi-day family river trips offer fun for everyone. A river trip is a great way to spend quality time and bond as a family. Great family river trips meet the following:
- Large campsites with access to hiking
- Flow in the summer when kids are out of school
- Mostly class II and III whitewater, with few class IV
- Good for inflatable kayaking and other small crafts
- Accessible and appropriate for grandparents and kids
Certain trips offer a variety of activities, sceneries, and levels of difficulty to ensure everyone in your family has a good time. Here is, in no particular order, the best in the west: the perfect rivers for your next multi-day family trip.
1. The Rogue River
A true Classic! The Rogue River is one of the original 8 Wild and Scenic rivers, and a true Oregon gem. This 34 mile trip is best done in 4 or 5 days. While most of the rapids are class II and III, make sure you are ready for Rainy Falls, Mule Creek Canyon, and Blossom Bar.
With the Rogue River Trail running alongside the river, the Rogue's numerous historical sites and side creeks are a short hike away. Kids will love the splashy whitewater, and spend the afternoons playing in the river at camp. With all the eagles, ospreys, deer, bears, and many more animals that call the Rogue River home, wildlife sightings are a frequent source of entertainment. All this makes the Rogue River Oregon's best multi-day family river trip.
2. Main Salmon River
Originally called the River of no Return, the Main Salmon is ironically one you'll want to keep coming back to time and time again! This Idahoan treasure offers exciting, big water class III whitewater during the day and massive sandy beaches at night. With plenty of hiking, fishing, wildlife, and hot springs, there's something for everyone to enjoy. This 84 mile, six day river trip is one of Idaho's best and most popular family river trips!
3. Middle Fork of the Salmon River
You can't talk about the best river trips without mentioning the Middle Fork. The Middle Fork of the Salmon is an experience unlike any other. Throughout the 100 miles and six days of this trip, the scenery constantly changes. You descend out of a high mountain valley into rolling foothills, then into the massive granite chasm of Impassable Canyon.
Prepare to be excited by the continuous class II, III, and IV whitewater, soak in picturesque hot springs, and catch more fish than you though possible. Passing through the middle of the largest contiguous wilderness area in the lower 48 states, you experience Idaho's majestic wildness firsthand. This bucket-list trip deserves its reputation of one of the best multi-day rafting trips in the world.
4. The Green River - Gates of Lodore
It's mythical-sounding name is no accident. As you float past the Gates of Lodore into the Canyon of Lodore, you enter a landscape straight out of a Tolkien novel. What was previously a flat Colorado desert suddenly becomes dramatic, 2000 foot canyon walls.
Your next 4 or 5 days will be filled with gorgeous campsites, exciting whitewater, and a constantly changing landscape (you even enter a new state!). Most of the rapids are class III, however prepare yourself for the class IV Disaster Falls (where the John Wesley Powell expedition lost their first boat), Triplet Falls, and Hells Half Mile. Whether your family has a geology buff, whitewater daredevil, avid hiker, beach-chair lounger, or western historian, the Gates of Lodore offers something for everyone. This makes the Gates of Lodore one of the best family river trips in the west!
5. The Green River - Desolation Canyon
Don't let the name fool you, this section is a Utah desert paradise! Desolation canyon offers stunning high-desert scenery along a river steeped in western history. This 84 mile trip is best done in 6 or 7 days.
Desolation is full of whitewater, with over sixty rapids and riffles, most in the class II/III range. Hiking options are aplenty with over sixty hikeable side canyons. Hundreds of historical sites line the river, but the most impressive is Rock Creek Ranch, offering a taste of ranch life in the wild west. So whether you want to lounge on the beach all day, hike through gorgeous desert vistas, experience powerful historical sites, or have fun in playful whitewater, Desolation Canyon has you covered!
6. The Colorado River - Ruby-Horsethief and Westwater
A classic Southwestern river trip! Ruby-Horsethief canyon offers picturebook Utah desert scenery - towering sandstone walls, crooked desert spires, flat-topped mesas dotted with juniper trees, and a big brown river flowing through the heart of it. The first 24 miles of lazy, flatwater through Ruby and Horsethief canyons invites you to have a good time sunbathing on rafts, exploring side canyons, and playing in the river.
Make sure you stay at one of the Blackrocks campsites! After you pass the Westwater boat ramp, the river picks up speed as it drops into Westwater Canyon. Here, the river cuts through jet black, 1.8 billion year old rock, creating a completely unique desert river landscape. This 11 mile stretch offers exciting class III whitewater, with one class IV, Skull Rapid. Chaining together Ruby-Horsethief and Westwater makes for a perfect 4 day family river trip!
7. San Juan River
A southwestern river trip straight out of a picturebook! This 56 mile, 4-6 day trip takes you through some classic desert scenery.
At normal water levels, the flatwater is broken up by fun, splashy class II rapids. Beautiful, winding side canyons provide incredible hiking opportunities, as well as the opportunity to view some ancient native american pictographs. Just east of Lake Powell, the San Juan is located in one of the least light polluted areas in the country. Expect incredible stargazing at night above the 1000 foot canyon walls. The San Juan is truly one of the best desert multi-day family river trips.
8. The Grand Ronde River
Another of Oregon's classic Wild and Scenic rivers, the Grand Ronde is treasured for its scenic beauty. This 43 mile, 2-4 day river trip takes you through a unique and diverse landscape in Northern Oregon. The upper section of the river winds you through dense evergreen forest, most of which is only accessible by the river.
The lower section meanders through the foothills of Southern Washington. The Grand Ronde offers fun, mellow class II and III whitewater and a huge variety of wildlife spotting. The large camps and stunning views make the Grand Ronde one of the best short family river trips!
9. The East Fork of the Carson River
A northern California gem! The East Fork of the Carson is 20 mile overnighter that takes you out of the pine forests and snow-capped peaks near Lake Tahoe and into the high desert. It's class II-II+ rapids make for an exciting beginner run or a fun, mellow run for experienced boaters.
Hot springs midway through the run offer great campsites with hot spring access. This run is perfect for all ages and skill levels, making the East Fork of the Carson one of the best overnight family rafting trips.
10. The Lower Klamath River
The Lower Klamath River offers some of the best bang for your buck in Southern Oregon and Northern California. This 25 mile, 3 day trip offers fun, splashy class II whitewater that kids will love without worrying the parents. The large, sandy campsites offer endless opportunities for kids to play and parents to relax. Wild blackberry picking, wildlife spotting, and warm water make the Lower Klamath one of the best kid friendly multi-day river trips around!