This Trip Scored A Spot On Our Best Family Adventure List!
Finding the best family adventure experience in the great outdoors is nearly every parents’ dream. A family adventure should be fun, filled with beautiful landscapes, quality time with one another away from electronics, passing along traditions, creating memories, and nobody getting hangry*. But where and how can that dream turn into an actual family vacation? Fortunately, I have found the where and the how- a multi-day rafting trip on the Lower Deschutes River with River Drifters. My family, with young kiddos, did our first overnight rafting trip this past summer, and it was the perfect family trip I had envisioned. I look to inspire interest and confidence in other parents that rafting is a great, enjoyable, and yes, relaxing experience.
Deschutes River near Trout Creek
Going with a commercial outfitter, like River Drifters, on a multi-day rafting trip makes all the difference when it comes to that enjoyable family adventure you are imagining. For starters, they, being your guides, are professionals (even if one of the guides tells the joke that it is their first day, you can be assured it is not). They know the river, the rapids, the natural history, how much food to pack, what to pack, the best campsites, side hikes, how to pack a dry bag so your stuff actually stays dry, and what poison oak looks like so you can avoid it and a horrible rash on your vacation! Secondly, River Drifters supplied all the rafting equipment, the vast majority of the camping gear, and the meals! The gear was high quality, and you don’t have to go searching through boxes in the garage for camping gear that is several decades old or buy new camping gear at an outdoor store that will make your jaw drop when you see the grand total on the register. Thirdly, they took care of all the trip logistics including packing, planning, and cooking meals, whitewater navigation and safety, camp set-up and clean-up, and transportation to and from the river (because on a river trip, you do not end in the same place you started). Although a Lewis and Clark expedition-style family adventure sounds epic, trust me when I say go with a commercial outfitter, like River Drifters, because this allows everyone, especially parents, the ability to relax and enjoy the trip knowing that all the details are taken care of.
On River Time
There is something so genuinely exciting, regardless of your age, about standing on the river bank looking downstream waiting for your multi-day rafting trip to begin. The guides were hard at work rigging the rafts in preparation for pushing off, and my children were testing out the water and already starting their exploration of the natural things around them. You are filled with wonder and anticipation for what is in store, knowing there are miles upon miles of river ahead of you, countless rapids, solitude, stunning new scenery, wildlife, evenings at camp, and unspoiled starry nights.
Within 10-15 minutes of pushing off from our starting point at Trout Creek, we were into the first rapids of the trip, the Upper and Lower Trout Creek rapids. As we got closer, our guide invited one of my children to “ride the bull” through the class II rapids. As this was their first time rafting, my kids did not know what “riding the bull” meant so our guide kindly explained. With wide eyes, one of my kiddos replied in disbelief, “we can sit on the front of the raft through the rapids?” My youngest lept to the front of the raft before the offer could be retracted while my other child, the more timid one, thought it better to watch what happened to his younger brother before trying it for himself. Needless to say, riding the bull was a huge hit and by the end of our first day, both of my kiddos had had their fair share.
Best Family Adventure
The Deschutes River winds its way through a deep basalt canyon and truly is an oasis of blue and green in a dry and vast sagebrush desert. The air temperature was hot, but as soon as you were near the river you could feel coolness radiating off the water and instantly felt comfortable. As we floated down the river, the canyon transitioned between steep red and orange basalt rock walls rising up from both sides of the river to rolling hills covered with sagebrush, juniper trees, grasses, and wildflowers. And the wildlife was all around when we took the time to look and notice. The sound of canyon wrens echoed off the cliffs, deer drank at the river’s edge, great-blue herons stalked in the shallows, and a herd of wild horses grazed on the hillside. On calm, shallow stretches of river, we would stand in the rafts staring into the water and spot huge wild trout darting along the rocky river bottom. We were even lucky enough to see a family of river otters swimming in a small rapid. David Attenborough could have narrated the wildlife scenes playing out in front of us. On the second day, my children and I played a game to see who could count the most ospreys in one day. The winner counted 45 and got an extra serving of dessert that night at camp.
The Deschutes River also has a great balance between rapids and calm water. The rapids are numerous and spaced out just enough to keep things exciting throughout the day. One of the more memorable rapids was White Horse rapids. It is divided up into three separate rapids but you wouldn’t know the ending of one and the start of the next when you are on the river because the whitewater is continuous for over a mile. Buckskin Mary rapid, a class III, was one of my family’s favorite rapids of the trip. As we approached the rapid, you could hear the loud roar of whitewater but only see a drop where the river disappeared on the horizon. It wasn’t until our raft met the horizon line that you could see the full nature of the rapid with a long wave train and the biggest wave waiting for us at the end. We paddled hard through the wave train, shrieking in excitement. Our raft crashed through the last wave leaving all of us, including the guide in the back of the raft, soaking wet and laughing with joy!
The rapids are thrilling but the calm sections of the river are equally enjoyable for their own reasons. These are the times when you can relax and stretch out, take in the scenery, and learn about the natural history of the river from our guide. Calm stretches of the river also meant swimming opportunities. The three of us, my two kiddos and I, floated side-by-side on our backs down the river through calm water and small waves several times each day. We also played some raft games that our guide taught us, such as balancing on the outside tube of the raft while all the paddlers spun the boat, and our favorite the “trust game”. The “trust game” involved using your body weight and a paddle to counter-balance your partner as you both stood on the raft leaning out over the river. (When siblings are playing with one another, I’m sure you can imagine how it ended.)
Throughout our rafting trip, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my children never seemed to get bored- for a lack of a better word. I think this is because rafting is so dynamic. Every mile of the river offers something new. No two rapids are the same and each turn in the river reveals an unseen landscape or possibility of wildlife. Children have various options for how they want to participate or experience a section of the river as well. They can paddle, ride the bull, sit and hold on, lay back and stretch out, or take a short nap (which my youngest did one afternoon). The time spent on the river during the day is also broken up with lunch and snack stops, side hikes, and swimming.
Lower Deschutes River Camping
Once you have camped along the side of a river on a multi-day rafting trip it is hard to imagine camping any other way again. The gear boat, which is the raft rowing all the camping supplies downriver, can carry an impressive amount of gear, food, and comfort. There was no “roughing it” on this camping trip with chairs, tables, appetizers, warm beverages, and thick sleeping pads. And there was solitude. We had these perfect campsites each night along the river all to ourselves.
Camp was our time to do as we pleased. One afternoon my kiddos and I went for a hike that our guide recommended. The second afternoon I grabbed a chair, parked it next to the river, and relaxed while my kids played at the river’s edge and entertained themselves with all the new discoveries nature had to offer. Evenings on the Deschutes River were remarkable with the setting sun turning the hillsides bright gold and yellow. The river was alive with fish rising to the surface to feed as the first stars of the night appeared. When night finally did arrive, we stayed up and looked up at the Milky Way, so vividly distinct in a night sky filled with what seemed like millions of other stars surrounding it. There were no city lights or glow to disturb these stars, and my kids had never seen a night sky like that before.
“When Can We Go Again?”
On the car ride back home, I had two kids in the backseat (both wearing matching River Drifters sweatshirts and hats) laughing, and reminiscing about our trip. It was unanimously decided that whitewater rafting was a family vacation that must be repeated again next year. Then within a matter of minutes, they were both asleep.
I could say how our rafting experience provided the best family adventure and how I highly recommend it to other families, but I think my son said it best, “It was the best family adventure and rafting is so much fun! When can we go again?”
Click here to learn more about the variety of trips we offer on the Deschutes River so that you and your family can have the lived experience of your best family adventure!