My kids are blessed to grow up in rural Montana with the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Flathead River in our backyard. I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity for my kids to join me on the river many times throughout the summer. With Glacier National Park as the backdrop to our river trips, it’s easy to entertain them.
From camp games at night to fishing on the river, there is always something to grasp their attention. After countless day trips in our rafts and overnight whitewater rafting trips, I’ve learned a thing or two about bringing my kids on the river. Kids enjoy the adventure and thrill of being on the river. With that in mind, here are my top tips for whitewater rafting with kids.
1) Take a “Safety First” approach
Kids are never too young to learn basic water safety. While we as parents always hold the greatest knowledge, sometimes we need to let kids have their own experience. Youth river safety camps are an amazing way to let kids spend a day on the river making friends and learning.
Youth river camps are also a great way to let the kids explore whitewater rafting with an instructor rather than just a guide. A day in a whitewater rafting safety camp allows kids to be kids and learn by doing.
With certified river safety instructors, kids can enjoy swimming in the river or flipping a raft in a safe environment. Kids have the desire to learn so give them the gift while you enjoy a day hiking in Glacier Park.
2) Love the life jacket
Don’t overlook the most important piece of safety gear, the life jacket. Kids need to wear their life jackets at all times on the river. Outfitters have appropriate Type III Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) to keep kids safe on the water.
For toddlers, look for a PFD with crotch straps, a grab loop, and padded head support. While guides will ensure kids wear PFDs at all times on the water, be sure to lay out the ground rules about wearing it before you launch. A safe trip on the river will keep the kids wanting to go again.
3) Pick the right section of river
The most important part of choosing a destination for your river trip is knowing your ability. Choose a section of river you are comfortable on. Kids love the thrill of adventure but don’t overwhelm. If your crew includes toddlers, a river section without rapids, or with very small Class I rapids and riffles, is ideal.
Elementary-aged kids and older might enjoy the thrill of Class II and III rapids after the spring run-off. On guided whitewater trips kids must listen well and follow the directions of the guide.
4) Allow for downtime
Are you lucky enough to have your kids entertain themselves in the outdoors? On river rafting trips, kids will make friends, have that bonding moment with dad, or ask mom that wild question. On overnight trips, they’ll be worn out by the day’s exertions and be entertained by games and our guides. Whether they’re making up ridiculous riddles or playing camping games, rest assured they’re making memories that will last forever.
Most rafting outfitters have a variety of river camp games for kids and adults to play. On self-guided rafting trips, though, you’ll have to create your own. With younger kids, plan to run fewer river miles each day and spend more time in camp. Kids don’t want to sit in a boat all day; they want to get out and play in the shallows, roll in the mud, and skip rocks on the water. After all, being on the river is about so much more than just spending time in the boat.
5) Let your kids be kids
Floating down a river is fun in itself, right? Remember being a kid and taking risks? Kids enjoy the thrill of discovery on the river. When raft guides ask your young kids to give the oars a try, rest assured: they are looking for a smile too. Kids also enjoy the experience of tackling the whitewater rapids on their own.
So, when I’m in doubt whether our 10-year-old daughter can run a Class II rapid in an inflatable kayak solo, we ask our guide. Experienced rafting guides are impartial and will be the first to encourage skeptical kids to safely push their limits. Let the kids build an experience and take home a story.
Bonus Tip: Pick the right time for your trip
Ultimately the time you choose to book your river trip to go whitewater rafting with kids depends on what you are looking for. The Flathead River corridor along the southern boundary of Glacier Park is beautiful no matter the time of year. Therefore, consider an overnight camping trip along the river or let your kids and teens have a great time in youth safety camp. To learn more about available trips or the best time to visit, contact our team today.