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
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
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."
The 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
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.
Northern California's Klamath River: Rafting Journeys in the Land
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.
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!
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!
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