Middle Fork River Expeditions Family Rafting Trip Review

An Idaho whitewater river rafting trip is the family vacation that your kids (and you) will talk about forever. See Why Whitewater River Rafting is a Bucket List Must for 10 reasons why rafting is so fabulous. We had a tremendous experience last summer with Middle Fork River Expeditions down the Main Fork of the Salmon River. If you’re mulling over a river trip with kids, this trip (and outfitter) should be on your short list.

Here are the highlights from our family whitewater river rafting trip in Idaho:

10-year-old boy rafting bliss

An Idaho Whitewater Rafting Trip with Middlefork River Expeditions

The owner of Middle Fork River Expeditions, James Ellsworth, has decades of experience running river trips. He also has kids of his own and understands exactly what families with kids of all ages need for a successful adventure.

This knowledge is one of the reasons why James created a Main Fork trip in addition to their popular Middle Fork trip, as it’s absolutely ideal with kids with sandy beaches, wonderful places for swimming, and a less technical ride. We were worried we’d be missing out by taking the road less traveled … we learned that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Middle Fork Expeditions guides have years of experience

River Guides

The quality of the trip starts and ends with the guides as you count on them for everything from safety, to fun, to the meals.

All are important but safety is on the top of the list as the risks are real for everyone, not just the kids. Middle Fork River Expeditions guides are top-notch with years of experience on rivers around the world.  One of the guides on our trip has been doing this for 40 years!  The guides are constantly making decisions impacting safety as they decide when and how to approach each rapid. I had the utmost confidence in our leadership; this is key, as without that, I would never have felt relaxed on a trip like this with kids.

Variety of water toys keep everyone entertained


Our trip included 14 guests and five guides. Our equipment included two oar boats carrying the supplies, a paddle raft, and three ‘duckies’ (inflatable kayaks). Having a variety of experiences available on a trip is fantastic as it enables guest to be as lazy or as active as they want throughout each day.

Everyone on our trip had a chance to do a bit of everything and the nice part is that those who wanted significant kayak time got it … there’s some luck involved in getting an exceptional group for a given trip who work and play together well.

TIP: Creating a custom group solves the mystery factor. Middle Fork Expeditions is a small operation and the owner, James, will personally work with multiple families to construct a trip that’s great for all.

Our trip supplies included two Stand Up Paddle Boards, which were pulled out for evening fun. All the kids loved them!

I can’t attest to the quality of the rafts as I have no points of comparison, but the company supplies the tents, sleeping bags, and air mattresses and those provided by Middle Fork Expeditions are clean and comfortable. This is important. Finding sub-par gear would detract from the experience significantly.

TIP: Families should bring their own fishing poles (licenses required) if you want the opportunity to use them at night.

No shortage of fresh and delicious food


The meals provided throughout the trip were exceptional and included an endless supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. The set up alone is a wonder as every bit of food and all the cooking supplies to feed 20+ people are carried on those rafts.

River Fork Expeditions meals are substantive and varied. It’s not a white table cloth set up with gourmet, refined cuisine, but we all enjoyed all of our meals and were left wanting for nothing.


The Four Day Main Fork Itinerary is the perfect length with kids. You are gone long enough to unplug and appreciate the wilderness, but not gone so long that those who like regular bathing will be too freaked out (plus, there is always swimming to rinse off).

The daily schedule involves a great mix of river time and land time, but it’s important to note that the trip involves traveling down 56 river miles so there is quite a bit of time spent on the water. The stops are varied and include Barth’s Hot Springs for a hot dip (divine!) and a stop at Campbell’s Ferry, a old west homstead with fascinating local history.

The key for kids is that you camp on sandy beaches with swimming near them at night, so the kids can burn off plenty of excess steam. It’s absolutely ideal.

Participating in the work is part of the fun

Participatory Pampering

While Middle Fork Expeditions provides all kinds of pampering as the guides work tirelessly to ensure all guests are happy and comfortable, the level of pampering is what I’d call “reasonable” … not an over-the-top experience where guests never lift a finger.

Guests set up their own tent and sleeping arrangements at night and pack their own supplies up again. I’ve heard stories of outfitters who have all things set up on arrival which sounds decadent, but we all loved feeling like we were actively participating in the experience, despite marital squabbles over morning tent folding perfection.

Post trip group glow


The cost of the 4 day Main Salmon River trip is $1,000 (kids 5-11 receive a $200 discount) which as far as I’m concerned is a huge value given all that is included in the experience. The small plane back to the starting point is an additional $200 per person.

Families should know that these trips go out into very remote wilderness. There are no roads or cell phone service. It’s a glorious opportunity for families to unplug together and appreciate the great outdoors.

Ready to plan a family rafting trip down the Salmon River in Idaho? Visit IdahoRivers.com.

Editorial Note: Middle Fork River Expeditions hosted us so we could experience the Main Fork itinerary for families. As always, our opinions are our own. 

Relevant Links:

Why take a whitewater rafting vacation with kids

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