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Choosing a Family Rafting Vacation: What to Know


How to Choose the Right Trip To Make Your Family Vacation a Great Success

Below are some helpful tips we have used over the years in planning successful adventure vacations for our families with kids under 12. These tips are also helpful for first-time rafters.
  • Want to experience the perfect introductory river to great whitewater rafting: try the Kennebec at a regular release level.
  • Maybe you aren't bringing the kids this time, or you are active, in good health, and have a go-for-it attitude - then go straight to Penobscot River Rafting, Kennebec Turbine Test Releases, and Dead River Special Releases, and experience outrageously fun, Class IV+ whitewater adventure right away! 

Questions to ask of your family or inexperienced group:

1. Guided Rafting Trips: What To Expect

  1. Guided trips use the services of a professional outfitter who is typically highly experienced in the outdoor activity and area of your tour or trip. Outfitters train their guides to be proficient in the sport (river guiding, mountain biking, fishing, etc.) as well as to be knowledgeable about the local history, culture, wildlife, and ecology of the region. This is a great bonus with guided trips. You’ll learn a lot about the area of your tour or trip, and family trips tend to have guides who really enjoy engaging kids in outdoor recreation and nature.
  2. Guided trips take care of all the details for your family; including access to any necessary gear, preparing and packing all meals, and all trip logistics. Your family’s “job” is simply to participate in the experience.
  3. Guided trips are the best choice if any or all of these conditions apply:
    • Your family has little or no experience in the outdoor activity
    • Your family doesn’t want the hassle of arranging any logistics or trip planning, especially for a location that you have never been to before
    • You don’t have any or most of the gear necessary to do the trip.
  4. Guided trips will cost more than self-guided because you are using the outfitter’s professional guiding, trip planning, and logistics services.
  5. Guided trips are usually the best choice when you are inexperienced yourself and/or have younger children who require constant supervision. In this situation, you (the parents) can focus your complete attention as needed on your kids and not be distracted by trip leading requirements. Once your kids are older, more self-sufficient, and more familiar with the trip experience, self-guided trips can become ideal ways to share together in the complete creation of your family vacation.

2. What level of physical exertion do you want for your family adventure trip?

  • This is a really important question and depends on your family’s general physical fitness level and each family member’s tolerance for challenges. With very small kids, the trip must either account for their abilities (slow and short) or have a “recover factor” of being able to ride in a backpack, stop and rest/play by a stream, take a nap while traveling, etc.
  • Outfitter’s understand the exertion requirements of their trips and have usually years of experience with families of all ages, so they will be able to tell you which trips are best-suited for your family.
  • In general, rafting exertion levels mirror the river's classification of rapids. So Class I-II rapids on a river mean gently moving water and an easy float trip with little paddling effort required. The higher the rapids classification, the more intense the paddling will be (at your guide's instruction) in order to keep your boat on the desired course in the river.
  • If you are doing a self-guided trip, set your family members up for success with a first trip that you know they can comfortably accomplish. If you are on a multi-day vacation, it helps to start out slowly and build up the length of time and level of exertion of your trips. Of course, if your family members are all seasoned athletes in training, go out and pound from day one!

3. How can you tell what kind of river rafting trip is best for your family?

  • Whitewater rafting is a popular outdoor recreation activity that requires no prior experience or skills in order to participate with a licensed outfitter on a guided or guide-assisted trip. In contrast, a self-guided rafting trip in which there is no professional outfitter helping you maneuver down the river is a completely different situation. Prior experience, knowledge, and skills can be important to your trip’s success, especially on swiftly moving water (Class II and above).
  • Whitewater rafting varies from a float trip on gently moving water (Class I) to swiftly moving higher volume whitewater (Class II-III) to very fast, turbulent rapids (Class IV-V) that require precise maneuvering to run the river.
  • Rafting with professional guides is a somewhat unique sport because it requires no previous experience, even on really big rivers. However, that said, your appetite (and your family members’) for adventure and level of physical fitness will determine how much you enjoy your rafting trip. You can set your family up for success by choosing an easier rafting trip as your first one (Class II-III) and working up to big volume whitewater (Class IV-V) over time if your family really likes it and as your children get older.

4. How can you to tell if your kids are ready for the next level of whitewater rafting?

  • They loved their last trip and want more action on the river.
  • They like sitting in the front of the raft for the biggest action of splashing through the rapids first.
  • They can paddle enthusiastically throughout the trip’s duration.
  • They took advantage of opportunities to swim through rapids and play in the river at designated play spots (like jump-off rocks).
  • They meet the age and/or weight requirements for the next level of rafting trip intensity.
  • Note from a Mom who started taking her kids rafting at ages 7 and 3: Don’t push your kids too fast. Always emphasize fun first and don’t jump into intimidating water levels. It will pay off in spades as your kids grow older and their interest in river trips increases successfully!
Just had the best time ever rafting the Kennebec. Will be back to do Dead River and the Penobscot. Thank you all for such a fantastic time. The staff/ guides are all stars. Hopefully see you all next year

– Catherine L.
Your Family Package was a great way to introduce our two suburban, TV loving children to the wonders of Maine. And, it didn't hurt that the whitewater rafting was more exciting than any theme park ride! Our family will definitely be back.

– Jim M. - Norwalk, CT