Whitewater Rafting: The Ultimate Family Getaway


Somehow it’s August already, and you know what that means: back to school for the kiddos (and some adults). In the chaos of school supply shopping and bracing yourself for the last few weeks of summer, it can be difficult planning last minute family trips. What’s something that will pacify your seven-year-old’s energy, entertain your 60-year-old father, and will still be cool enough for your high school senior? More importantly, what’s something that will be nice to your wallet? How about….(c’mon you know it’s coming)….whitewater rafting!!!

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed since being a guide, it’s that families thrive off of these trips. No matter the age, the variation in interest, or the level of bravery, every member of every family finds excitement in some part of rafting. Take the Firnkoess family from Seattle, for example. Parents Mike and Marilyn and 13-year-old Carson, 10-year-old Bella, 8-year-old Audrey and their friends Adam and 10-year-old Sophia Jenkins all piled together on a raft down the Roaring Fork earlier this season. Aside from Sophia, who had been rafting before, none of the Firnkoess children had any idea what to expect while whitewater rafting. At the high-water level back in June, the Roaring Fork had a pretty solid section of class III rapids that interrupted an otherwise peaceful float. After raging through the rapids, Mike and Marilyn’s kids couldn’t get enough.
“It was even more fun than I remember it being before,” she later wrote to me. “It was great to do it as a family and all of the kids wish we could go again. They had a blast, which made it even more fun for the adults!”

The Firnkoess family enjoying the rapids. Photo courtesy of Glenwood Adventure Company

But it’s not just the rapids that make an epic rafting trip. In fact, often it’s the absence of rapids that make our trips so memorable.


In the calm sections of our raft trips, rafters are able to swim in the refreshing and cool rivers, play games, and even sumo wrestle their siblings off boats! That’s one way to get the kids’ energy out:


The calm Roaring Fork River is now the perfect trip to take the tiny tykes on, with stimulating and small class II rapids, secluded stretches of scenic river and the occasional wildlife. It’s a great option for first-timers as well, and there’s nothing better than seeing a nervous first-timer “riding the bull”—sitting on the very front of the boat, legs over the side with bow line in hand—by the end of the trip.

The Colorado River is much the same as the Roaring Fork with wildlife and beautiful scenery, but offers an awesome section of class III rapids at the beginning and more class II’s throughout. It’s also great for first-timers who are feeling brave and want to laugh at their family members getting soaked after busting through a wave. Along the banks near the end of the trip, hot springs bubble up naturally from below the earth and are usually highly welcomed by guests after a chilled swim, especially on overcast days.

Enjoying the hot springs


Getting to listen to corny jokes and folklore provided expertly by your river guide makes for the last ingredient of a memorable trip for everyone. Dana K., who lives in the valley of Glenwood Springs, recently wrote a review on TripAdvisor about her family’s experience:

“In our party we had 4 children ranging from 13 yr to 6 yr old. This was a very safe and fun trip for all ages. The kids even went down Shoshone. I recommend this to anyone looking for something fun to do when they are visiting GWS….At the end of our friends vacation we asked everyone what was the best thing they did on vacation and it was unanimous ‘rafting’.”

—Dana K. (link)

Once you’ve made best friends with your raft guide, other activities like horseback riding, ATV rides and segway tours around Glenwood add to an seriously eventful family vacation. The Firnkoess and Jenkins family also checked out the Glenwood Adventure Park, which has a EPIC coaster, swing, laser tag, two caves to tour, and tons more rides. With so much to do in just the little town of Glenwood, usually the only regret is that there just isn’t enough time. But that’s the beauty of it—with so much variety, there’s absolutely no room for boredom or a lame ending to summer.

Me with the Firnkoess and Jenkins family

So sorry in advance: school is going to be even more of a drag after this.




By Jenn Cleary