Why You’ll Love an All-Family Whitewater Rafting Trip

There are a handful of family vacations that are more than just fun — they get under your skin and have a powerful impact for one reason or another. Our family safari in Africa was like this for us, and we all refer back to it often as our family trip of a lifetime thus far. Fortunately, you don’t have to go so far to have a meaningful adventure. We went on our first family whitewater rafting trip last summer in Idaho and now consider it to be one of the best vacations we’ve taken as a family.

Our four-night trip with Middle Fork River Expeditions down the family-oriented Main Fork of the Salmon River was epic in many ways, but here are the top five things that made this trip so memorable.

middle fork expeditions family rafting trip
Family raft trip down the Main Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho

Family Whitewater Rafting Trip Highlights

Forced to Unplug

It’s easy to talk a good game when it comes to truly unplugging on vacation, but we find it difficult in practice. When there is mobile coverage within range, it’s awfully tempting to check in and this is a slippery slope for parents and children alike.

In our case, the Salmon River in Idaho is in some of the most remote wilderness in the lower 48. Translation: no cell phone coverage. At first, a forced digital diet takes some adjustment. Any discomfort is short-lived when you suddenly have permission to do absolutely nothing for hours at a time, and it’s amazing how creative kids can be entertaining themselves when electronics are not readily available.

Teen bliss in progress

Nonstop Fun

This sounds trite but it’s true: A rafting trip with a top-tier outfitter is about fun … all day long. Middle Fork Expeditions set up our trip to give everyone the opportunity to be as active — or as lazy — as desired. Middle Fork Expeditions came prepared with oar boats where someone else steers for chill time, paddle boats where everyone on the boat is active, and inflatable kayaks, otherwise known as ‘duckies,’ where you are one with the ebb and flow of the river.

We covered more than 50 miles in three days, and everyone on the trip had a chance to do a bit of everything all day every day. Moreover, no part of the river is the same and there’s always something new to navigate. At night, we camped on sandy beaches with stand-up paddle boards, fishing poles and Frisbees. There was shortage of things to do.

How to Choose the Right Family Rafting Trip Outfitter

Five must-ask questions before you book >

Real-Life Thrills

Rafting is considered adventure travel for good reason. Rivers are unpredictable and ever-changing, and can be dangerous. This is where top-notch outfitters and guides come in — they work tirelessly to ensure safety is a priority in all situations. There are no guarantees, however, and the risk is real. This is part of the thrill, as the group must work together to navigate through rapids and everyone is ready and willing to help another rafter if they fall in the water.

There are some tragic stories out there, but most rafting adventures end well. Knowing the risk and the reward of the experience, we’d go on this trip again in a heartbeat.

middle fork of the salmon river in idaho
A no-electronics zone

Deep in the Woods

There are few opportunities within such a short period of time to access this kind of remote wilderness. We traveled down a river with no roads, only a few airstrips, for miles and miles. Although our outfitter provided all we needed and more, we still got the unforgettable experience of living outdoors in unbelievable solitude.

Authentic Connections

The opportunity to connect with one another as a family unit, while experiencing something exciting together, is a gift. We enjoyed getting to know the other participants from around the country, as well as our wonderful river guides. Nightly campfires are spent reliving the days’ highlights and talking about the day ahead. The simplicity of it all is so refreshing!

Some trips talk a big game when it comes to all-age entertainment, but rafting is the real deal for school-age-and-up kids. On the main fork of the Salmon, all ages can participate in the fun. The teenagers and college-age kids lived it up …. Have a cranky teen? Take them rafting!

Want help booking a family whitewater rafting trip?

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Browse all tips and ideas for family adventure travel on Ciao Bambino 

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Editor’s Note: Middle Fork River Expeditions offered us a media package to experience their Main Fork of the Salmon River family trip. As always, all opinions are our own. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy.


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  • We went on family vacations to Yellowstone, Yosemite, Mesa Verde, caving in West Virginia and down ropes into caves in North Carolina. We went many time down class 2 / 3 rivers on a used 7 passenger raft I was able to pick up.

    Yes, these were memorable, and great for family connection. My youngest daughter died in a random accident at a lake (having nothing to with any of these trips) in 2011 at 13. I’d like to think that these trips were truly part of her obviously incomplete bucket list.

  • I like how you say that you should have a guide or outfitter when you try to go rafting because it can be dangerous. My husband and I want to find something fun for us to do with our ten-year-old son that would be an adventure. It seems like whitewater rafting could do that, and we’ll just need to find someone who could help us with a trip.

  • I absolutely loved what you said about how rafting is a great opportunity to unplug from electronics. My family loves to spend time on their phones and gadgets, and I’ve been looking for fun activities we could do that didn’t involve these. With rafting, we could both get away from the electronics, and have a great time enjoying nature. I’ll have to find a good rafting service that could take me and my family on a trip.

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