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This is a guest post written by Lauren Nowack at trekbible. “Family Friendly White Water Rafting Trips in Cali”
A day on the river, whether floating down the lazy stream while you take in the scenery or hitting a few good spots of white water, can be a spectacular opportunity to bond together as a family. California is the perfect spot to go if you’re searching out family-friendly whitewater rafting trips, as it’s usually warm and sunny, keeping all the kids happy even when they get splashed. When looking for where to take the family, there are a few things to keep in mind. These vary from the length of the trip, experience needed to go, and the reputation and safety of the guide companies.
As far as length, make sure to plan a trip with the full understanding of how much energy your family has. Long days in the sun can tucker the little ones out quickly, and there is no way to speed up a rafting trip if someone has a breakdown; you’ll go at the pace of the river. So, take into account if they will need naps, and also when those should be if they have to be moved around to accommodate the trip.
Next up is how much experience you have, and what kind of rapids you would like to see and go through. River sections are rated on a scale of one through five, five being the most challenging. Class I may have an occasional rock or two, but for the most part will be a smooth sailing ride down a calm river requiring no technical navigation. Class II will have a few more rocks and small waves. There will be clear channels your raft goes through, but navigating is still optional as this is still not a class that could flip your raft. Class III and IV are obviously increasing difficulty, with larger waves, move difficult and mandatory maneuvers, as well as the need for strong swimming skills if you’re knocked out of the raft. Class V is for expert and experienced rafters who are prepared to engage fully in the experience and listen well to their guide. Class V does pose a safety threat, but also pays that off in sheer thrill. So, knowing this, let’s find some good rivers in California!
Embark on a float trip on the South Fork of the American River. As you float for five miles through the Coloma Valley, you and your family can enjoy class I through III rapids with the perfect safety of a guide through All-Outdoors Rafting. The river is incredibly forgiving, allowing for a fun time for families with kids five and above. This trip is a five-hour excursion with lunch provided, so plan accordingly. If you head out in late summer though, there will be fresh blackberry bushes lining the river for an easy and healthy snack!
If you fall in love with the South Fork of the American River, no one will be surprised. It is the number one destination for white water rafting in California. If you’re ready to step it up a notch, you can do the next section which is Class III+. Each rapid has a high thrill rating with a calm pool before and after, allowing you to catch your breath, regroup, and have a few good laughs about what just happened! Expert guides will help you navigate the river, so there’s nothing to worry about as waves crash over the front of your raft. You’ll be cruising through the Sierra foothills, so the scenery will be stunning. This trip has an age minimum of eight years old with All-Outdoors Rafting, so this is for when the family is a little bit older. You can make this a one day or a two-day trip, with food provided either way making it the perfect escape from cooking the meals yourself.
When looking online for which part of the South Fork to do with your family, there are a few companies that combine the trips. This hybrid trip, offered by Whitewater Excitement, creates a leisurely morning getting the hang of rafting with an afternoon of incredibly fun class III rapids. If you’d like to make a weekend of it, river outfitters often can turn these trips into two-day excursions with camping, barbecues, or even a hybrid trip with another family-friendly activity along the way, such as biking.
If you are seeking the most mellow trip for your four year old and yourself, don’t fret, there is a trip for you. Utilize the South Fork’s gentle current while doing a Sunset Float through White Water Excitement. They’ll make sure everyone is safe and sound as you drift into the stunning Californian sunset; and yes, there will be snacks at the end!
If the South Fork was spectacular but your family of teens is ready for the next big thing, try out the Middle Fork of the American River. With Class III to IV rapids, the thrill is even bigger. With the larger rapids and greater risk, however, you must be twelve years of age and agree to paddle at any moment you are asked. The challenges in the river mandate that all participants are fully engaged. This being said, the eighteen-mile stretch that is classified as the Middle Fork is indisputably awesome. With the Tunnel Shoot Rapid, you will experience “Big Drops”, a quick eighty-foot river descent through an eighteen-foot chute. Because this river is dam controlled, it is stellar to raft at any point during the summer. If your family loves the outdoors, check out this trip through American Whitewater, as they offer free camping the night before your rafting trip! You can’t beat that for a wonderful family getaway.
If your family desires to spend a few days in Yosemite, the Merced River might be the perfect addition to your trip. While in the park, you’ll see the Merced weaving its way through and carving out canyons; wouldn’t it be awesome to raft on that same river? This river is not for the faint of heart, as it’s rapids are Class III and IV. With huge, roller coaster rapids tossing and tumbling you along, this will be a day of non-stop grins. The RV’s driving next to you and pulling off to watch you take on the river may honk their horns, expressing their jealousy along the way. So, be prepared to have the time of your life if you’re twelve years old and up. The Merced River trips are for the adventurous beginner or the excited intermediate rafter.
If you’re in need of a river in the south-central part of California, look into taking a trip on the Kern River. On the Kern, through Mountain River Adventures or Kern Rafting, you can pick and choose exactly what you’re wanting out of the trip. Do you want to just have a half day, floating on the Lower Kern, with small Class I and II rapids? Or, are you looking to combine that with the second day of Class II and III rapids? If you’re ready, the Kern goes up to Class IV on the Upper. So, this is truly a variety spot all within easy access near Bakersfield, CA.
There are more rivers in California that have class IV and V rapids, but these are more demanding. Rivers such as the Tuolumne, Kaweah, and the North Forks of the American and Stanislaus Rivers are for experienced rafters ready for a thrill ride. With age minimums between twelve and sixteen, maturity is needed and you have to be more than okay getting wet and paddling whenever you are asked. But, if your family is ready to take on this adventure, it will be more than worth it.
Whatever trip you’re looking for to introduce your family to white water rafting, or let them experience the true thrills that whitewater can provide, California has a myriad of rivers ready to whisk you away. Safety is key for you and your family, so make sure to go on a guided trip, listen well, and keep your nose and toes out of the water in the white water float position if you do go for a swim!
Lauren is a trekbible writer and story maker from Pine Valley, California. She and her husband work in the recreation department at a camp. In their free time, they enjoy mountain biking, building out their Sprinter van, and adventuring with their new puppy, Shadow.