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Rafting with Children - A Mom's Perspective!

Rafting for young children is a wonderful experience. When my son was younger he and I went on the Class II Tom Sawyer Float section of the South Fork of the American with about 5 other river-guide parents and their children. The parent who was guiding kept the boat in the current and we simply floated along while the little ones squealed as they were splashed by small waves, watched the mommy Merganser ducks with their babies dodge in and out of the mini rapids along the shore, and gazed at the butterflies dancing on the waves. The kids had a lot of fun and we parents had a wonderful time just watching our children soak it all in.

rafting with kidsMy son is older now and I’ve learned that young children are scientists at their core. On any given day they can be the most engrossed botanist you have ever met. Taking an agonizingly long time to move from the front door to the car door, examining every blade of grass, flower--and in my case dandelion --there is on the front walkway. My son likes noting to my chagrin that “the dandelions are growing the biggest, mommy!” Later the chemist appears when he takes his snack of blueberries, cheese, and wheat crackers, mashes them together to see what it becomes, and then determines that it doesn’t taste like he had hypothesized it would and may he “please have a new snack.” And a day is just not complete without the physicist setting up his lab. One slide, three trucks, and a stack of rocks later you have a test site for how mass affects acceleration. I love letting the “scientists” in my child run free and I try to give him every opportunity I can to observe and interact with his natural world. Rafting is a wonderful way for him to be in the natural environment of the river--and it’s also fun for me.

Even before I had a child of my own, I can vividly remember when I first noticed how young children, really are so amazingly observant. I had been working as a river guide for two seasons and had had many different guests in my boat: CEO’s, contractors, computer gurus, mechanics, police officers, doctors, and many other very competent people. These guests were all very engaging, asking questions, telling stories, and basically just good groups of people to spend the day with. One day was different though; I had a young boy, about seven years old, on my boat with his family. We were in a calm section of water, just simply floating with the current and enjoying the sun and the views. This little boy was looking over the side of the raft, watching the water when he quietly asked me, “why is some of the water going slower than the other water?”

family rafting tripsI was stunned. This may seem like a very simple question but in reality it is the key to running a river. In guiding language it is called “reading water”. As a guide you need to be able to see the different currents in a rapid. When looking at a rapid, it may appear that the water is running extremely fast, but that’s not the whole story. In any given rapid there are places where the water truly is running fast but in that same rapid there might be a place where the water is running very slow or in even going upstream. If you can see these places you can read where your boat will go fast, slow down, turn, or even stop. Being able to “read the water” allows the guide to navigate a rapid. No adult in my boat had ever made this simple observation about water before, but the child saw it as clear as day. I was truly amazed.

Experiences like these are what make river trips great for me personally as a guide—and it’s also what makes them perfect for families. They provide endless opportunities for kids to learn and engage with the world around them while at the same time providing a fantastic way to enjoy time as a family together.

--Stephanie P.
Senior Guide for AO, and mother of Wyatt

To learn more about rafting with children visit our Tom Sawyer Float Trip section of the website where you can find all the information you need to plan your family river trip.

About Stephanie P.
Veteran All-Outdoors guide Stephanie is one of our crown jewels. She has guided for us since the early 1990’s, and is living proof that women make great river guides. Steph has also followed closely in the AO family tradition, meeting her husband while working on the river, and taking her son Wyatt out on the South Fork as soon as he was big enough to wear a life jacket.

Although she no longer guides full-time (motherhood seems to be keeping her quite busy enough, thank you very much!), we still see her out on the river or helping out in the office. With a pedigree like this, we fully expect young Wyatt to be at the top of his guide school class in 2020!

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