Tips for successful overnight rafting with kids
Overnight rafting trips hit all the major goals that I have for a really good family vacation:
- Can we get out into nature – Yes!
- Can we wear sandals and fleece and tie dye – Yes!
- Can my family escape my enthusiastically sung camp songs – No!
Multi-day rafting trips on a family friendly river, such as the Rogue, Deschutes or Grande Ronde, can be, believe it or not, one of the easiest vacations you can do with kids. ‘Cause here’s the thing: You don’t need to entertain anyone. The entertainment is getting from the launch point to the take-out.
Rafting is fun! Camping is fun! Exploring camp, star gazing, eating outside- all fun, fun, fun! However there are some things you can do to make the adventure more successful and ensure that you have as much fun as the kids.
These tips and insights apply to guided multi-day trips as well as self-guided rafting trips. Generally though, whether you are captaining your own boat or someone else is pulling on the oars, when it comes to overnight rafting trips with kids, it’s about packing smart and making sure the essentials are easily accessible.
Start with Checklists
Trip packing checklists are important for any river trip but absolutely essential to ensure a successful family rafting trip. It’s no fun to show up at the boat launch and realize you did not pack sunscreen, or propane!
Packing lists are easy to find online, and you can tailor them to your crew and circumstance. If you are on a guided overnight rafting trip the outfitter will supply you with a packing list. However I recommend doing a quick online search to supplement what they give you.
Northwest River Supplies (NRS) has some good checklists specific to rafting/camping trips, and REI has hundreds of packing lists available for all kinds of outdoor adventures. While I have perused many of these packing lists I have not found a single one that had canned whipped cream listed as an essential, which it clearly IS. Put it on the list!
What Clothing to Pack
This will be one of the first things to figure out. You, of course, do not want to under-pack, but you really don’t want to overpack either.
You will need one set of clothes for rafting, and one set for camp plus some extras. Your rafting clothing will depend on the weather but generally it will be lightweight synthetic material. You’ll want to think layers- items that are easy to pull on and off as the day progresses or the weather shifts.
Avoid cotton clothing. When wet, cotton gets heavy and cold. Cold kids=really unhappy kids. A wide brimmed sun hat with a chin strap is important and you’ll definitely want sandals that strap on your feet so they can’t float away. Old tennis shoes work too. Lightweight rain jackets are handy as windbreakers and help keep the splashes off if it’s cool or breezy.
When you get to camp you’ll be very happy you have a full change of clothes to get into. The dry clothes will feel amazing! Easy and comfortable layers is what you are shooting for. A separate pair of shoes for camp are a must. I like close-toed shoes for camp for my crew because we like to tromp around camp and hike along the river and you don’t always know what you are going to stumble across.
Tips and Tricks
- Long sleeve sun shirts and pants will help to avoid battles over sunscreen and will keep you from going insane from having to apply and reapply sunscreen a billion times.
- Sun hats can be a hard sell if you have a kid that just hates hats. If you can, let them pick out their own river hat- they are more likely to wear it if they picked it out. Or you can let them decorate it! Stickers or patches can go a long way.
- Pack a lightweight, long, sleeveless dress that you can use as a “privacy tent” for the kids as they change out of their river clothes- it takes some pressure off of having to get the tent set up right away, and once they are changed and dry they are ready to explore camp, or better yet, help set up that tent!
Pack extra underwear for everyone in your crew. It’s small and doesn’t take up much space and you just never know.
On the Raft you’ll want one or two small dry bags for your personal items. Make sure you have easy access to these on the boats and at camp. The dry bags are for stashing clothes as you peel off layers, sunscreen, chapstick, small first aid kit, and any ‘secret weapons’ you might bring.
These can be clipped into your boat with a carabiner or strapped down. If you are on a guided trip, they may provide small dry bags for you. It’s something to ask them about as you prepare for your trip.
Bring a small cooler packed with the snacks you know your kids will eat and drink, and keep it easily accessible. Pack just what you need for the day and restock each day. Don’t let this cooler get buried under other gear!
On a guided trip, the outfitter may have a small cooler available for you, but I personally like to take care of it myself so I’m not wasting time transferring stuff from my cooler to theirs.
Keep those kids hydrated! Make sure you bring lots of ways to keep the kids hydrated- powdered gatorade and lemonade are easy and lightweight.
Tips and Tricks
- Let your kids pee over the side of the boat by holding them over the front bow. Make it funny and fun and special just for rafting, joking about “bums in the breeze” or some such thing. They love it and think it is super fun and it will save you from making 100 stops throughout the day. You will never get to camp if you have to pull over every time someone has to pee.
- Secret Weapons- It can be handy to pack a few small toys or games for your kids that you can dole out when you really need to. For instance a small sand toy or hot wheels car for camp can give you a few precious interruption-free minutes.
- Canned whipped cream given to an impatient little rafter can get you through that last 20 minutes ’til camp.
- Canned whipped cream and sprinkles can also magically turn plain cookies or fruit into a special river dessert! When setting up/breaking camp, create an activity to keep them occupied while the adults are working – try an “Easter Egg” hunt, or nature scavenger hunt, or bust out a new nature journal and let them draw things they observe.
Camping Along the River is the big payoff for the hours of rafting. I absolutely love the rafting part of the trip, but I have to admit, what I like most about the rafting is where it takes me- to amazing and remote campsites that you can’t reach any other way.
Here’s some things to think about before your trip, and some tips for making your camping with the kiddos easy breezy.
Test out those tents and camp stoves before you go!!! It’s so obvious and yet for some reason it’s so easy to overlook. If it’s a new tent, or it’s been packed away for a while, make sure all the parts are there and that you know how to set it up with the rain fly.
With your camp stove, make sure you know how to connect the fuel and that it’s in working order. A broken stove and or missing tent pole are the kinds of scenarios that can cause some real tension between the adults. Make a day of testing out your gear and get everyone excited about the trip!
Something to think about: Layover day or nay? For guided trips the itinerary is already set in place and your guides will keep you on schedule, but if you are guiding your own trip you’ll want to spend some time thinking about your family’s goals, your time frame, and how long you’ll be on the river.
I hate breaking camp so I will always vote for a layover day, even if that means we do a couple longer days on the river. However, if you have younger kids, you may not be able to do a long day(s), so breaking up your trip into shorter days on the water may work better for you.
Tips and Tricks
- Put diaper wipes or personal hygiene wipes on your packing list! They are great for a quick face wash or to freshen up those sensitive areas.
- At camp, assign an adult to supervise the kids while playing near the river. Require the kids to wear their life jackets whenever they are in or near the water’s edge. They might find them uncomfortable for the first bit of your trip, but after wearing it all day on the raft it will become second nature to have it on.
- Some kitchen prep at home will save you lots of time and dishes at camp. Pre-cook your pasta. Bring your breakfast potatoes pre-boiled and diced. Pre-cook and shred chicken for easy to reheat meals. These steps will halve your cooking times and allow you to spend more time enjoying the view or mercilessly beating your loved ones at Uno.
Something to think about: Screen time
This is a tough one, right? On the one hand you are out in nature to, well, get out into nature! That being said, for some kids, the outdoors can be overstimulating. Your routine has been turned on its head and this can really stress out some kids. It can take time to figure out how to relax in nature. Having some “down time” to let their little brains relax for a bit might be good for everyone.
For me, it’s essential to have some screen time available at the end of the trip. We make sure to have their devices downloaded with a movie so that they can be out of the way while we unload the gear and pack up the car. By the end of the trip they are exhausted and honestly, I don’t have the energy to patiently teach them anything or politely tell them to go away.
Things will not go perfectly! The wind will blow sand into your food. There will be insects. Someone is going to get splashed and a little cold. But you know what- it’s ok. This is a great opportunity to show your kids how to roll with the punches! A little adversity is not a bad thing. Make do. Make memories of challenges and perseverance, of laughter and singing silly songs, and starry nights and whipped cream with sprinkles. These are the times that will bring you closer as a family.
All Star Rafting provides exceptional family friendly guided overnight rafting trips on the Lower Deschutes River in central Oregon, the Rogue River in southern Oregon and the Grande Ronde River in eastern Oregon. Families with kids as young as 6 years old will have a blast running the rapids, taking in the breathtaking scenery, and exploring their campsites. And yes, we always pack whipped cream. To discover more about guided multi-day rafting with All Star, please go to our Deschutes, Rogue or Grande Ronde pages.
For the experienced rafter, All Star rents rafts and rafting equipment, camp and kitchen gear for your multi-day rafting adventure. For a full list of rental items please visit our rentals page.