By: Luke Rogers
At Holiday River Expeditions, we genuinely value the opportunity to provide chartered trips for youth groups. Whether you are a church group, a school group, a scouting organization, or a dedicated youth adventure program, getting you outside is important to us!
We believe that taking kids outdoors is critical for their development—and it’s fun, too! Our expeditions provide a unique opportunity for youth to unplug from screens and really engage with the people and sights around them. They can also experience some gratifying self-sufficiency by learning how to stay comfortable for multiple nights out in the wild. Some may even feel some butterflies about the roar of the rapids, and there are few things more satisfying than coming out the other side with a big smile!
What does a day on the river with Holiday look like for youth groups?
Mornings on the river start early! Generally, the guides are up with the sun by 6am, starting the stove to serve hot drinks around 6:30. Hot breakfast is served shortly after that, and guides handle the bulk of packing for the kitchen and other camp gear, while trip participants are responsible for putting away their own tents and organizing their personal items for the day ahead. We push the boats off from shore around 9am, soaking up the summer sun, splashing through fun rapids, marveling at towering canyon walls, and looking out for bighorn sheep or other animal friends along the way!
The guides single-handedly row the boats downstream with 10’ oars, meaning participants are free to soak in the sights, absorb interesting factoids, or simply bond with each other as the day unfolds. For kids seeking an extra dose of action, we provide inflatable kayaks that can be paddled through flatwater and some of the more friendly whitewater rapids. We’ll usually arrive at camp by mid-to-late afternoon, where everyone picks out a cozy spot for their tent (or, for the adventurous, the perfect patch to unroll a sleeping bag beneath the stars!). This leaves time for youth group leaders to implement planned activities like games, discussions, art projects, writing activities, or just about anything that fits your goals for the trip. The day concludes with a hot meal served by your guides, a tasty dessert, and some time to unwind around the camp circle. Stargazing begins as the light fades, but the busy day sends most folks eagerly to bed not too long after that!
Day trips provide a more compact version of the experience – you’ll experience all the magic of bonding as a group on Utah’s most beautiful, exhilarating rivers with knowledgeable guides to serve up fun splashes and thoughtful context along the way. These trips can be easier for those who feel less comfortable with whitewater and camping, or simply want to make the most of a limited timeframe!
What types of youth groups work best on these trips?
Holiday specializes in creating a great time on the river for everyone! We routinely welcome guests between the ages of 5 and 75 and everyone in between. As guides, we love sharing these special places with newcomers, and we’ll provide you with all the gear, know-how, and delicious food to keep you safe and happy, whether it’s your first time in the desert, in whitewater, or even camping.
With that said, our past experience has helped us identify a few guidelines to create the best environment for youth trips:
- Age Appropriateness – While guides will take care of you, there is a minimum level of personal responsibility required of participants in river trips. On the water, kids need to reliably follow certain instructions for basic safety reasons. Things like “hold on”, or “don’t jump in right here”, are the building blocks of responsible behavior in the wilderness. For overnight trips, kids need an extra level of maturity to keep up with things like sunscreen use and water intake to stay comfortable for multiple days in a row. Considering these realities of river travel, 12 is the recommended minimum age for day trip groups and 14 for overnights.
- Physical Requirements – Your group doesn’t have to be “athletes” to participate in our trips, but we do suggest that all of our guests have some basic swimming proficiency. The main requirement is the ability to swim in a certain direction if the guides are directing you to do so. This page provides some more detail.
- Group Structure – Holiday handles all the basics of safe travel, good eating, and certainly a bunch of fun on the river, but our typical day also includes some unstructured downtime around camp. This is where guides turn the programming over to youth group leaders. Our campsites (usually sandy beaches) are great venues for all sorts of deliberate group activities or just free play and relaxation. To maximize the experience, we prefer at least one chaperone even in the case of mature groups, and often see a ratio of 1 adult per 4-5 kids on our youth trips. Give us a call to discuss activities we’ve seen work well for groups on past trips!
- Group Size – The minimum group size for our day trips is 12 people, while we require 16 for overnights. We will put 4-5 passengers and one guide in each of our boats, 18’ inflatable rafts built to Holiday’s custom specifications. In order to fit comfortably in the standard river campsites, and keep our flotilla moving as a cohesive unit, we like to limit group sizes to 24. One some river stretches, this is a firm cap dictated by our operating permits.
What if my youth group doesn’t meet these requirements?
Don’t give up on your river dreams just yet! Give our office a call to see if we can work with your group to create a trip that meets your needs. And if not, this is the perfect chance to get the whole family in on the experience. Age limits and group size are much more flexible on the standard trips outside of our specific youth charters.
So, which trip is best for my youth group?
If you made it this far, congratulations! It’s time for the fun part: picking a beautiful stretch of river for your summer adventure!
First up, we have two unique day trip options for those craving a taste of what whitewater is all about. On these day trips, we’re also able to swap out the oars for paddle boats, where everyone joins in the fun of maneuvering the boat downstream under the instruction of the guide at the back of the raft:
- Green River through Gray Canyon (1 Day)
- Fun Class I to II rapids in a secluded wilderness corridor.
- We handle all logistics for the day on the water, including transportation back and forth from our headquarters in the town of Green River, and lunch on the river!
- This is a great gentle section to try out kayaking and swimming.
- This is a great way to preview our premier weeklong youth trip section: it overlaps the last day of our Desolation Canyon trips.
- Colorado River near Moab (1 Day)
- This fun section features fun Class I-III whitewater rapids: great for kids and inflatable kayaks.
- A unique opportunity to marvel at snowy mountain peaks in the middle of Utah’s red desert.
- This spectacular landscape has been featured in countless Hollywood movies.
- Conveniently located right outside the tourist hub of Moab, so you can be back in town for dinner!
Next, a couple of overnight opportunities for those who are ready to try their hand at river camping:
- Fisher Towers (2 Day)
- Class I, II, and III rapids are ideal for beginners.
- This is the “extended version” of our Colorado River Daily, adding some more river miles and a camping opportunity.
- This trip highlights the cinematic beauty of the Colorado River. With enormous looming sandstone monoliths and the LaSal Mountains, the landforms will awe children.
- The area is a natural haven for majestic birds like bald eagles, snowy egrets, and blue herons.
- San Juan River (3-5 Day)
- 83 miles of gentle but exciting Class I-III rafting, great for children and inflatable kayaks.
- Explore thousand-year old indigenous dwellings – if you look closely, you can still spot the fingerprints of these ancient peoples in the mortar!
- Wild turkeys, wild horses, big horn sheep, beavers, and the ubiquitous great blue herons make their homes in the secluded canyons of the San Juan.
- Holiday typically schedules all of its San Juan River trips in May and June, when spring runoff provides the best current for boating. Due to drought conditions across the West, the San Juan may not be boatable in 2023. As of late January, we’re still monitoring conditions for projected water levels, give us a call for the latest expectations!
If you’re looking for a deeper, longer immersion in Utah’s remote canyons, we have one trip in particular that is great for getting youth groups off the beaten path:
- Desolation Canyon (5-6 days)
- More than 60 different Class I–III rapids over 85 miles!
- This is the best trip for inflatable kayak enthusiasts, both flatwater and whitewater
- Learn the stories of canyon locals like the notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy
- Sprawling beaches with shady cottonwood trees
- Option to extend beyond 6 days in some cases
- Stunning scenic flight over the river corridor to remote wilderness put-in. (Discounts may be available if groups have road transportation options to meet our vans for pickup near the boat ramp access road, as an alternative to this flight)
Finally, for groups seeking more advanced rafting, or simply some new ideas for veteran river rats:
- Lodore Canyon (4 days)
- Rocky, technical Class III & IV rapids
- A rainbow of colors and a billion years of geology make this perfect for rock nerds!
- Riparian ecosystem hosts bighorn sheep, majestic eagles, and more
- Float through Echo Park, the remote heart of Dinosaur National Monument
- Learn the story of a milestone battle in America’s environmental conservation movement
- Westwater Canyon (2-3 days)
- Big water for big splashes and big fun!
- Stand-up paddleboard & inflatable kayaks opportunities in the flat water
- Billion-year-old black rocks form sheer walls rising straight out of the river
- The narrowest part of the Colorado River: Skull Rapid
- See bighorn sheep, various birds of prey, and, if you’re really watchful, playful otters
“There is simply no better experience than a river trip for a young person to unplug from the stress and chaos of their everyday lives, and then from that place of peace to ponder life’s biggest questions. We all return home with a renewed belief that we are indeed part of something bigger, and inspired to create the life of our dreams. For all of us at Open Roads, Holiday Expeditions has repeatedly delivered this kind of magic for our students, for more than 20 years! They are simply incredible.”
-Trevor Hall; Founder, Open Roads
“Santa Fe Preparatory School has been sending the senior class down the river with Holiday River Expeditions for 20 years. I have been privileged enough to be a part of these yearly expeditions almost every year. That Holiday has the best gear and guides you can find is well-established. However, I want to share what I think are the most indelible and meaningful aspects of these trips. Our trips were one of the last events before graduation in the spring (though I have often thought that the trip would be a great way to start their senior year). The formula is unbeatable: take the students away from the digital distractions of modern culture (no texting, no Instagram, no Facebook drama, etc) and place them in beautiful scenery with relatively comfortable camping and amazing food. A day or two into the trip, an amazing transformation starts to happen: the students start to really talk to each other, face to face, without digital filters, and with whatever social groupings existed before, begin to dissolve. I often described the trip to the parents of the students as “The Slow Goodbye”, because I could always watch the reality of their high school completion sinking in during the trip. They would often reminisce about their years together, but also share what they were excited about in their lives after high school. In talks around the campfire, they begin to see that their rigid identities in high school don’t have to define them moving forward. Honestly, the trips were some of the most gratifying for me as an educator. I got to see the results of students’ work, and that of parents and teachers as well. It is often said that educators and parents are trying to plant seeds for the future in kids. The beauty of our river trips is that I actually got to see those seeds sprouting. And even more importantly, I think the students sensed this in themselves as well.”
-Eric Rounds; Retired Director of Experiential Education, Santa Fe Preparatory School
Luke is a South Carolina native who visited Utah’s canyon county a few years ago, and never found his way home. At this point, he’s fully embraced learning all he can about the vast desert and raging rivers, so he might be here a while. He’s a big fan of riding bikes, eating snickers, finding scorpions, and bringing people along to share in all the adventure!