The Best Beginner Multi-Day Family River Trip – Ruby Horsethief, Colorado River

Water is life. This is true in health as much as it is in adventure. As such the river is our sanctuary, while wild whitewater is our goto, we also learned to enjoy the slower calm floats while our kids were little. If you are looking for a family friendly, low key river trip Ruby Horsethief has everything you could ever want.

A few of our traveling companions.

Table of Contents


We feel super blessed in that we created an environment of joy for our kids to grow in and thrive. We learned a long long time ago that the company we keep affects us in the most profound way. When we surround ourselves with love and positivity, then we find gratitude in all tasks. The company you keep, the people you surround yourself with really make a difference in how your perceive life.  As Colin Powell once said, “Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.”

And boy do we play hard!

Ruby Horsethief Specs

River trip

Location: Loma, Colorado to Westwater, Utah

Distance: 25.3 miles

Days: 2 days

Average gradient: 3.8 ft/mile

Best season: May-October (But year-round!)

Permits/Fees: Only for campsites

Difficulty: Class I/II (mostly I, I put II in here because maybe in early season there are some ripples)

Recommended Max Flow: 30,000 CFS

Recommended Min Flow: 2,500 CFS

Recommended For: Families, First ever overnight river trip, Bachelor(ette) party, romantic getaway for two, beginner rafters, cliff jump enthusiasts

At the Loma put-in for our Ruby Horsethief Multi-Day trip!
At the Loma put-in for our Ruby Horsethief Multi-Day trip!

River Trip Fun

River Trip Hikes

Ruby Horsethief is the perfect overnight river trip. It is stunningly beautiful. I mean, not even a few miles in and you let go of the world and the warmth of the red rocks, the cool water, the wildlife, the clear blue skies, the slow flow creeps in and you are completely overtaken. The tranquilizing oranges and reds of Vishnu Schist, incidentally, the same rock that graces the walls of the Grand Canyon) rises high above water, while side hikes and sandy beaches beckon around the campsites

The is nothing more inviting to the senses than a river trip that is equal in both fun and relaxation. And, it’s becoming an even more anticipated event now that the kids are getting older. It’s a time for us all to let go and just be a bunch of wild kids, wrestling on SUPs, pushing each other in, napping on the raft, jumping cliffs, fishing … no care in the world.

Our Gear

Mode of Transport:

Raft: We have a big one … 16′! Love it, never had any issues! $3,695

Raft Paddles: Lightweight carbon great for flat water and insane whitewater, these do it all! $227.95

SUP Board: Ours, we don’t endorse. We do endorse Hala Gear. Great People, Great SUP boards!

SUP Paddle: One of my favorite pieces of gear to endorse. No, not sponsored by these guys either, just love their product & customer service! $239

Ducky (inflatable kayak): We have two of these. It’s the Aire Tributary Strike 2, as in 2-seater. $1100

Essential Gear:

Cooler: This is a whopper of a cooler, but keep in mind we have 14 plus people on every trip, so we have a lot of food! $749.95

Dry Food Box:You might notice we love — no sponsored, unfortunately. Great Gear. Not cheap. $500

Everything Bag: This bag keeps things in one placce, essential with as many people as we paddle with. Not a drybag. $294

Dry Bag: We use these exact bags! Comes in a set of 3! $33.71

Groover: Absolutely mandators for many river trips, per the state. $229.95

Grill: Our fave grill yet. It’s small and powerful and we take it everywhere! $190

Camp Table: Super light table that can go anywhere we can go! $45.50

Tent: Any tent works. Note, these are not our insanely pricey backpacking tents. These are the durable family camping tents you see at campgrounds! 🙂

Sleeping Bag: Any bag works. Our sleeping bags are rated 20 degree because we don’t camp in the winter. Also, these are not our pricey backpacking bags.

Hammock: You can get an ENO for double the price, or you can get this one. Several of the kids prefer hammocks to tents. $34.97

Camp Chairs: Doesn’t matter. We have some from Walmart, and a few backpacking chairs that were given as gifts. Our motto, cheap is best. $7.47

5-gallon water jugs: We bring 6 of these on our river trip, along with beer. 🙂

Fire Pan: Mandatory on Ruby, yet never used it. Legit fire pans are $100+ so we bought this drip pan which meets all the requirements. $18.36

River Gear:

We take this section much more seriously than the previous, so the gear here is pricey.

PFD (Life Jacket): Little Kids; Big Peeps; Other Big Peeps — The most important piece of gear on the river! Choose wisely!

Dog PFD: We have 3 of these. I love how bright they are! $59.95

The Beginning of the Raft Trip

River Trip Water Fights

We have done this trip 6 out of the past 7 years! We load up our truck and head to the put-in at Loma, CO. We unload everything and then run shuttle. Two cars drive to the Westwater put-in where we take out. The road to this spot is long and windy, the whole thing takes about 1 hr. We drop off a car and then head back. Ideally the raft is loaded with all our gear and food and the SUPs and duckies are pumped when we return. However, more often than not, there is still work to be done when we return.

This summer’s trip, there was a ranger at the put-in, he didn’t ask for any paperwork, but years past we have been visited by a ranger who actually came into our camp to check EVERYTHING! That was bizarre, but I guess no totally uncommon, so just be prepared.

Fire Ban

Kenny fishing!!

As this is Colorado, know that every single year, regardless of the time of year, we have been under a strict fire ban. This means no campfires, not even in a fire pit. Rangers are known to run up and down the river and will cite anyone who is burning.

Also, it is mandatory that you carry a fire pan. Even when there is a fire ban, bizarre, eh? And these are insanely $$ for what they are. We found that a cheap deep metal drip pan hits all the requirements and costs pennies (see above). I suppose the logic behind this prerequistie is to lessen the impact on the environment. With a pan the ashes go into the river, with a fire pit they stay on land … which is better?

Permits and Camping

Dan schooling Coby on the techniques of rowing!

While a river permit is not required for this section, you will need to reserve your camping sites ahead of time.  It’s important to not that reservations can be reserved only two months in advance and if you don’t make the reservation 2 months out, early in the am, you probably won’t get your dates or the campsite you want. The camping reservation needs to be carried with you on the river. River rangers are common on this section and they will ask to see your reservation. Your maximum group size is 25 and dogs count toward your numbers though there is a limit of two dogs per group. 

Ruby Horsethief River Trip

River Trip

A multi-day river trip offers a reprieve, a rare opportunity to just be.  It’s one of the many reasons we live on the river.  It’s a state of peace it’s a heightened sense of being, a reset button on your perspective.

Best Things About Ruby

  1. Beautiful Sandy Beaches
  2. Cliff Jumps
  3. Gorgeous Scenery
  4. Hikes
  5. Great Fishing
  6. Bald Eagles
  7. Little to No Cell Service

Worst Things About Ruby

  1. Mosquitoes
  2. Horse Flies
  3. Super Busy/Crowded Take Out at Westwater
  4. If There’s an Emergency, It Would Be Difficult to Get Help
  5. Trains at night
Maddy, Eddy and Coby enjoying the Shaboomee SUP!
Maddy, Eddy and Coby enjoying the Shaboomee SUP!

Family Takeaways

Your kids will surprise you, you will lean in and learn so much about them  These days it’s so easy for ALL of us to get caught up in getting all our shiot done, that what matters most becomes a nuisance. Distractions rule all our lives, I cannot express enough what a gift it is to get away from it all and just focus on the only thing in the world that matters … your family.

This summer, this month, maybe even this week, make a plan.  Get it done.

What’s your favorite family getaway?  Be sure to share with us in the comments below!


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