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"Thanks so much for a wonderful trip. Truly the most relaxing one we've ever had and one of the most FUN for all."
--K. Cochrane, Family River Rafting Trip,
Rogue River


Picture Yourself in a Boat on a River . . .In the Wilds of the Pacific Northwest
By Ken Streater

Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with thousands of pines and sapphire skies. Unlike the old Beatles song, this need not be just a dream. For families seeking a dream-like vacation, there are family rafting trips in the Pacific Northwest that will leave you feeling recharged, reconnected, and well rested. Imagine no loud noises (except for the periodic rumbling of an upcoming rapid). Imagine the only distraction being whether or not you should (go ahead!) have another piece of grilled salmon as you sit with family and friends along a whispering, middle-of-nowhere wilderness waterway.

Below are descriptions of multi-day Pacific Northwest family vacations on some of the best rafting rivers--Rogue river, Salmon river, Snake river-- in the world. In terms of solitude, energizing whitewater, idyllic campsites, peaceful calms, amazing wildlife viewing opportunities, and just plain fun, it is hard to find better family adventures than these! Along with providing information about these trips, we recommend you slow down from the eight days a week pace, follow the sun out west, twist and shout with joy, and just let it be, on a Pacific Northwest family vacation river journey.

Oregon's Rogue River: An Original Wild and Scenic Waterway
Rogue River rafting trips are unforgettably great. In terms of beauty, fun, warm white water, seclusion, wildlife, and proximity to major population centers, the Rogue River is truly unique. Perhaps it is this rare combination that inspired Congress in 1967 to include the Rogue as one of the original rivers of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Over thirty years later it retains the same charm and secluded character. The river still flows through one of the most poetic canyons on earth, and serves up some classic white water-- perfect for first time river runners, families, and experienced rafters seeking a premier adventure.

Located an easy day's drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, the Rogue shimmies down through the coastal Siskiyou Mountains in southwest Oregon. It is ideally located for a Pacific Northwest family rafting vacation. The wilderness of this canyon is special. Pine and oak blanket the canyon walls, rendering a tapestry of green. Dancing white water splashes down quick turn raceways. Giant, smooth, black boulders line the river, forcing rafts to squeeze, with inches to spare, through mini-canyons. Wildlife often ambles along shore, and sparkling side-canyon waterfalls cascade into the river. Rogue trip rapids are known as among the west's most enjoyable. The campsites, on sandy beaches or in forest glades, are also renowned. In addition, historic sites and cabins, such as Zane Grey's writing get-away and the Rogue River Ranch are located in this canyon. And, the fishing, particularly in the late summer and fall, is superb.

Altogether, the Rogue serves as an exceptional place for three to five-day family rafting trips!

Idaho's Main Salmon River: From Lewis and Clark to You!
Rafting in Idaho on the Salmon River, which runs through the heart of the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states, is a classic white water adventure. Broad, sandy beaches, roller coaster and rock garden rapids, riverside wildlife such as moose and Bighorn sheep, emerald waters, hot springs, old ranch sites from days of yore, and one of the deepest canyons in the world, combine to form an unparalleled setting for a wilderness rafting journey. Bill Cross, co-author of Western Whitewater, the definitive northwest river running guidebook, states, "Of all that I've boated, the Main Salmon is the nicest all around river I've ever been on."

Salmon river raftingThe Salmon, aka the River of No Return, is truly grand. With walls that tower 6,000 feet from bottom to top, the Salmon has carved the second deepest canyon in North America. It is the longest un-dammed river in the lower 48 states, coursing its way 400 miles over most of central Idaho. In addition, the Main Salmon runs through the largest designated backcountry area outside Alaska--the Frank Church Wilderness. The "Frank" and the Salmon are located in central Idaho, and are easily accessed by flights to Boise or by car from throughout the Northwest.
The Main Salmon is located in a pristine forested canyon. The remoteness of the Salmon canyon, as well as its classic class III-III+ rapids, establish this as one of North America's premier wilderness family whitewater adventure destinations. It has changed very little since its first inhabitants, the Northern Shoshone and Nez Perce tribes, were encountered by the Lewis and Clark expedition. In fact, in the early 1800's, Clark spent several days looking for a way down the river canyon. He stopped about 25 miles before the current launch point.

Our recommendation is that you go further than Clark did and run the entire eighty plus miles from four to six days on a Main Salmon River rafting.

Family rafting vacationsNorthern California's Klamath River: Rafting Journeys in the Land of Bigfoot
The Klamath is one of the longest alpine rivers in the United States. Its warm water, fun rapids, relatively easy access, excellent camping, rich history, and exceptional scenery combine to create one of the best western rivers for a Pacific Northwest family vacation. In fact, these characteristics inspired Congress to protect the Klamath as a Wild and Scenic river, a status it has held for nearly twenty years.

Today, the Klamath serves as a fantastic river for a three or four-day family wilderness rafting trip. The Klamath runs through and around several mountain ranges, including the coastal Siskiyous, the Marble Mountains, and the Trinity Alps. Early explorer Jedediah Smith, who walked from the Midwest to the Pacific Coast, labeled these mountains the most spectacular and challenging of any he traversed (which includes the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada!). In addition to being an exceptionally rugged and beautiful backdrop for the Klamath River, these ranges also help stop coastal weather patterns from reaching the Klamath. Surprisingly, given the Klamath's proximity to the coast, the river canyon is generally hot and dry, with weather that is ideal for summer river trips. In addition, these mountains serve as an enormous watershed and drainage for the Klamath, resulting in strong river flows that render the river navigable virtually all year long. By the time the Klamath reaches the ocean, its flows can match those of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

A variety of wildlife call the Klamath canyon home, including bear, deer, otter, osprey, and blue heron. There is one special creature that is believed to call this region home: Bigfoot. Legend has it that this behemoth animal has been spotted several times in this area over the last 100 or so years. While you probably won't see this creature, almost every Klamath trip provides several glimpses of the other wildlife of this region. The Klamath River actually begins with headwaters in the Crater Lake, Oregon area and flows south and west to the Pacific Ocean. Its terminus is remarkably close to the coastal redwood parks, home to the tallest trees on earth. The Klamath and its surrounding treasures is located only a few hours drive from the Bay Area, Portland, and Seattle, yet is a world away from hustle and bustle!

The Northwest's Snake River: Winding Your Way West
The Snake River is a giant. The largest tributary of the mighty Columbia River, the Snake winds its way along the Oregon, Idaho, and Washington borders, through a high desert setting. The Snake carved and continues to run through Hell's Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America. The canyon was born more than a million years ago when water draining from Lake Idaho cut down through bedrock, creating walls towering more than a mile above the river. Hell's Canyon is a place rich in natural and human history. Old homesteads, historic Indian ruins, including petroglyphs and pictographs, and a heritage of river running define the human history. This is a place of fleeing Indian crossings, historic giant sternwheelers plying the waters, and more. Wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, deer, and black bear, along with a truly unique geologic backdrop, signal a rich natural history.

The Snake's whitewater and gorgeous backdrop, in summer months, is very family-friendly. Roller coaster waves define the Snake's rapids. Most of the whitewater is located in the first 30 or so miles of the trip, rendering excitement at the start, and time to reflect at the end of these three to six-day journeys. Rapids such as Wildsheep, Granite Falls, Waterspout, and Rush Creek are fun, big water drops that roar with excitement. Large white sand beach campsites framed by towering black rock canyon walls provide places to relax and enjoy the solitude throughout the trip.

Forming the border of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, the Snake is also an easy day's drive from Portland and Seattle, and is readily accessible from Boise. The modern ease of getting to the Snake shouldn't mislead, however, as this is a throwback to a time of peace and quiet. Come See For Yourself!

With Oregon having more protected Wild and Scenic rivers than any other state in the nation, and Idaho having the most whitewater river miles of any state in the lower 48, the Pacific Northwest is known as the family whitewater rafting paradise. Whether the Rogue or Salmon, Snake or Klamath, or one of the dozens of other rivers that afford exceptional rafting opportunities, we highly recommend traveling out west for an unmatched, all-together-now, Pacific Northwest family vacation. These rivers can really get a hold on you!

More family rafting trip articles:

What to Expect on a Family Adventure Travel Vacation

Glaciers: A Very Cool Alaska Experience!

How to Choose and Prepare for the Trip of a Lifetime

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