You’ve decided that this summer vacation will be unlike any others. No Disney crowds, big city traffic, or imported sand beaches. This summer you want something fresh, something with adrenaline, something fun! You are looking for the whitewater experience of a lifetime.
But where to go? What river is best? What is safe for the family, but challenging for the adventure lover?
With the rise in popularity of whitewater rafting, the locations and options available are almost overwhelming. And you still want to make a whole vacation out of the experience, but you don’t know where to start.
Use the following list of questions to choose the perfect destination whitewater rafting experience this summer.
1. Do you want to camp on the river?
This is an amazing experience, unlike any other. To ride the rapids, paddle hard/play hard in the sun all day, set up camp beside the rushing water to cook out and tell stories in the long summer evenings. Then wake up the next day and do it again! If you are looking for a ‘multi-day’ experience, this can narrow down your choices significantly. Rivers like the Colorado, Green, Salmon and San Juan are famous for offering a great mix of big water and floats over the course of several days, but it is not for everyone. Multi-day river trips are remote and, while any guide worth their salt will take care of a customer to the nth degree, expect the usual challenges of outdoor living. If that sounds like a little much, then stick to what we call ‘day floats.’
2. Family Friendly?
When you are evaluating your options for bringing the kiddos on the river (which is a great idea!), it is important to understand the ‘class’ of rapids and what that means. Once you know which class you are looking for, you can search more efficiently.So here is a quick summary of the rankings used in most whitewater communities:
Class I – Flatwater, no obstacles or hazards in the water.
Class II – Moving water, involves ‘riffles’ or small rapids, which will cause the occasional fun splash, but almost no danger of leaving the boat by accident.
Class III – Larger waves, the boat will move up and down, and water is likely to slosh into the boat, soaking everyone! This class is where you absolutely need a trained river guide, but younger children are usually still welcome, often sitting in the middle of the boat through the toughest sections.
Class IV – Big water. Big waves, tough sections for guides to negotiate. Major fun for the adrenaline junky. The potential for a ‘swim’ is very real even if everything is done right. Not usually recommended for young children.
Class V – Expert only. Waterfalls, Grand Canyon at high water, etc.
Do you want an alpine setting somewhere in the Rockies? Rolling hills of the Appalachians? Or are you looking for desert canyons in Utah? How close do you want to be to a major city? Denver, Salt Lake, and Boise have access within a few hours to some world-class whitewater. States like West Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia are also becoming known for their amazing rivers. Once you can identify your answers to these questions, your search will become a lot simpler. For example, “I’d like a Class 3 day float near Denver,” will narrow down your options, and the only thing left to consider is your budget for trips and lodging.