By Lauren Wood
Your family is a team: the most important team you’ll ever be a part of. Like any team, you’ve got to train and practice together to be successful. You have to build team spirit. You need challenge and reward. Most importantly, you need to play together.
A family river trip is like the ultimate team-building vacation. It’s the perfect mix of high adventure activity, carefree relaxation, and mystical contemplation. Our whitewater river rafting trips give your family an experience that is structured enough to be safe and seamless, but wild enough to be challenging and fun! It’s an experience your family will never forget.
Here’s some more info on the five best family whitewater rafting trips in Utah.
This four-day whitewater river trip will take your family through the back door of Dinosaur National Monument, where you can see bighorn sheep, birds of prey, and countless other natural wonders. The canyon lies in an incredible ‘ecological transition zone,’ where low-alpine flora and fauna meet up with high-desert terrain.
Lodore is a truly unique canyon that contains the narrowest point on the entire Green and Colorado River system. As you float below towering rock walls you and your family can together experience the awe of being ‘held’ by the canyon, a force that is bigger and older than any human being.
This family river trip also includes some great class 3-4 rapids like “Hell’s Half-Mile” and “Disaster Falls”. While these rapids may sound daunting, they are the perfect level of challenge and fun for a family whitewater adventure.
You can read even more about what makes Lodore so special here.
When John Wesley Powell came upon this during his first trip down the Green River he called it “a region of wildest desolation”. Vast, undisturbed wilderness stretched in front of him on all sides. It was the kind of place that Powell lived to explore.
Desolation Canyon is a little more mapped out these days, but no less wild. If your family loves the rugged wilderness, rough rapids, and tons of beautiful scenery, this is the perfect whitewater trip for you.
Desolation cuts deep into the Colorado Plateau, at times rivaling the Grand Canyon with 5,000 foot rock walls on either side. But it’s not all cliff walls. There are plenty of sandy beaches with shady cottonwoods trees to curl up under for an afternoon nap.
You can read more about why ‘Deso’ is the ultimate family river trip destination here.
The San Juan River is a gorgeous, winding tributary to the Colorado River located in the untamed Southeast corner of Utah. This river has every facet of a fantastic family whitewater rafting adventure, from ancient petroglyphs and ‘monumental’ views to small rapids and swimming holes.
This trip starts off in the tiny, rustic town of Blanding, Utah. It then takes you alongside the border of the present Navajo Nation, where sacred sites from the ancestral pueblo civilization still dot the environment. The river winds its way through amazing red-rock formations and small, periodic rapids make for a great, kid-friendly adventure.
On day four of the trip, the family can take a hike up Slickhorn Gulch, a famously fun side canyon that contains a grotto and swimming hole. On day five, you get to wrap up your family river trip with a peek of the magical Oljeto Wash.
Westwater Canyon is a favorite of old-time river runners like Kim Crumbo and Dee Holladay. These guys fell in love with Westwater because it was a serene, untrafficked area with abundant rapids and wildlife. We have tried to keep it that way so you and your family can enjoy a whitewater trip just like previous generations.
Holiday helped make Westwater a protected study area back in the 1970s by taking key decision makers down the river to show them how important the geology, cultural sites, and ecosystems of the area are. Now, we would like to take your family there to show you the same thing: nesting eagles, unforgettable views, and world-class rapids.
Get wet and rowdy in “Skull” and “Sock-it-to-Me” rapids. Then, calm your heart rate down with some stand-up paddleboarding along the calmer stretches of the river. Finish off the day roasting marshmallows with your kids by the fire. This is the stuff of classic family river trips.
If we had to choose one word to describe Cataract Canyon it would be BIG. Big cliffs, big rapids, big water volume. Just below the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers, this canyon is myth-making territory. The perfect place for a BIG, unforgettable family whitewater adventure.
Big drops like “Little Niagra,” “The Claw,” and “Satan’s Gut” make the rapids of the Grand Canyon look piddling. During high water this is some of the biggest, baddest whitewater in all of North America.
But it’s not all high-adventure in Cataract. Ancient sites of the Ancestral Puebloan people help us ponder our own history and culture. The spectacular views on the “Doll’s House” hike give us perspective on our lives. You can read more here from our veteran river-runner and guide Lauren Wood.
River season is right around the corner, so be an MVP and book one of these five Best Whitewater Rivers for Family Rafting Trips in Utah.
About the author: I have been a river runner my entire life. It was learning from the Holiday boatwomen and men of the 1990s that led me to find my own oars. I have been a guide for Holiday River Expeditions since 2009. In my spare time, I work as the Green Riverkeeper Affiliate with Living Rivers & Board Chair of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. A life well spent organizing communities to protect the rivers and lands I love. I find that the lessons from the river inform my climate justice work and truly all aspects of my life.