Best Whitewater Rivers for Family Rafting Trips

River rafting is wet and wild activity that can be the highlight of any family vacation. The secret of success is choosing a reliable outfitter and a river that provides just the right amount of excitement. 

If you've got young kids and want something very smooth, start off with a Class I float or a late-season Class II. A Class II or III trip will typically deliver mild whitewater with a few thrills, and Class IV and V are much more raucous. Note that Class V trips often require previous rafting experience, and Class VI are for experts.

For a brief introduction, see Whitewater River Rafting Trips for Families before booking a guided trip on one of these great American rivers.

  • 01 of 07

    Utah's Green River

    Family Rafting on Utah's Green River
    ••• OARS

    Class: II-V. When: April-October. The Green River flows through some of Utah's most spectacular high-desert canyon country, including Dinosaur National Monument and Canyonlands National Park, before meeting up with the Colorado River south of Moab. Good bet: OARS 5-day trip through Desolation Canyon, featuring miles of Class II-III whitewater, is perfect for families that want something a tad more exciting than a float trip. The landscape is steeped in Butch Cassidy folklore. Minimum age is 6.

  • 02 of 07

    Arizona's Colorado River

    Family Rafting Trip in Grand Canyon
    ••• Western River Expeditions

    Class: I-V. When: May-September. On many a bucket list is a trip on Arizona's Colorado River between the massive sandstone cliffs of the Grand Canyon. Good bet: Western River Expeditions 4-day trip through the Grand Canyon covers 100 miles of Class I-III river and offers the chance to spy eagles and Big Horn sheep. Minimum age is 9.

  • 03 of 07

    West Virginia's Gauley River

    Family Rafting Trips on West Virginia's Gauley River
    ••• New & Gauley River Adventures

    Class: III-V. When: September-October. West Virginia's Gauley River is one of the East Coast's most famous whitewaters when the dam is released each fall. While the Upper Gauley is famous for its hairy Class V runs, families with less experienced rafters should steer to the 13-mile Lower Gauley, which still provides plenty of Class III and IV rapids. Good bet: Full-day trips with New & Gauley River Adventures cover the entire Lower section. Minimum age is 12.

  • 04 of 07

    Idaho's Salmon River

    Family Rafting on the Salmon River
    ••• Canyons River Company

    Class: III-IV. When: June-August. Cutting through the largest roadless wilderness in the lower 48 states, Idaho's Salmon River offers a huge diversity of scenery and wildlife. Good bet: Starting on a rushing alpine river and ending in a majestic desert canyon, Canyons River Camping's 6-day Middle Fork of the Salmon trip offers the excitement of Class III-IV rapids yet is accessible for beginners. Minimum age is 12 in June but as young as 6 later in the summer.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Colorado's Arkansas River

    Family Rafting Trip on Colorado's Arkansas River
    ••• Arkansas River Tours

    Class: II-V. When: May-September. The Colorado Rockies provide a scenic backdrop for many whitewater thrills near source of the Arkansas River. Highlights for families include Class II-III rapids with names such as the Zoom Flume and the Big Drop. Good bet: Perfect for first timers, Arkansas River Tours runs two-day overnight trips that combine Bighorn Sheep Canyon, Brown’s Canyon, or the Royal Gorge with camping at a riverside location in Cotopaxi. Minimum age is 8.

  • 06 of 07

    Maine's Kennebec River

    Family Rafting Trips in Maine
    ••• Northern Outdoors

    Class: II-IV. When: May-October. Maine's Kennebec River is the most popular paddling destination in New England thanks to consistent Class II-IV whitewater rafting all summer and fall. Good bet: Northern Outdooors runs full-day trips on the 12-mile stretch of river from its source at Moosehead Lake through a rock-walled gorge in the Upper Kennebec into the easygoing Lower Kennebec. Minimum age is 10 on the Upper Gorge (Class III-IV) and age 8 on the Lower Kennebec (Class II-III).

  • 07 of 07

    Pennsylvania's Youghiogheny River

    Family Rafting on Pennsylvania's Youghiogheny River
    ••• Wilderness Voyageurs

    Class: III-IV. When: April-October. Looking for a quick rafting daytrip in the Mid-Atlantic that's exciting enough to impress teens? The Lower Youghiogheny (pronounced YOK-i-gain-y) delivers eight fun miles of whitewater in southwestern Pennsylvania, about two hours south of Pittsburgh. Good bet: Wilderness Voyageurs, located in Ohiopyle State Park, runs trips down Class III-IV rapids that last between three and five hours. Minimum age is 12.

    - Edited by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher