32 Tips For Your First Multi-Day Family River Trip!

Planning a multi-day river trip is one of the best adventures you and your family can take together.  Not only is it something everyone in your family will enjoy regardless of age, it’s a chance for you to show your kids that their parents aren’t just suits — you are fun and wild and actually skilled in something outdoors.

Parenting is hard and largely thankless work, so you have to take time to showcase your human side, your fun side, and show your kids who you are with your hair down, you know?  They see the PARENT side day in and day out, why not take a vacation where you shine??

A multi-day river trip is the place to start. First, kids love water and they love camping!  This vacation is blessed from the start, everyone will have fun and it will create memories that will last a lifetime!!  One of our favorite memories of all time is our float down the Ruby Horsethief section of the Colorado River!

So where do you start in the planning process?  To help you out we’ve compiled this list of tips fully inspired by the questions we had when planning our first trip as well as those questions sent in by our readers!!

1. Rent a Raft (or hey BUY one)

Ruby Horsethief on Colorado River
Dan relaxing on our Vanguard on the Colorado Multi-Day River Trip!

If you don’t own your own raft, call your local outfitters and inquire about a rental or throw caution to the wind and buy one! 🙂  If you have zero experience, you may wish to also inquire about a lesson or two.  If you are a novice the class of water you will choose (next tip) will not require expertise, but may require a maneuver around a rock or two, which will be VERY easy with even limited skill sets.

2. Find Your River Stretch

For newbie whitewater enthusiasts, find a nice Class I or Class II stretch of river.  Class II is perfect for the novice, the “rapids” are straightforward with wide, clear channels and pose little to no danger for swimmers wearing a PFD.  Class II rapids may require you to maneuver around a rock, but are easily missed with a small amount of training.

Rapids with a Class III or higher rating have rocks or waves that are difficult to avoid and could flip your raft.  If you are a seasoned paddler, you know this, if not stick to Class II.  🙂

3. Don’t Go Crazy on Gear

It’s easy to open Outside Magazine and read the Best Gear for 2015 and desire every single piece of gear.  It’s so easy to make yourself think you need all this new shiny epic gear, but the truth is … you don’t.  You need the essentials and nothing more.

Multi-Day Family River Trip
The beautiful scenery on the Colorado River Trip!

4. PFD

Don’t skimp on the most essential piece of safety gear … a PFD (personal flotation device).  We are avid whitewater people and we insist on all of our kids wearing their PFD whenever they are on or near the water, regardless of how swift, the class or any other variable.  It’s a constant and it’s known.  No exceptions.  Check out the Kokatat Orbit … it’s comfortable and lasts forever! 

5. Cooler

You need a place for your food, and any cooler will do if you are talking about a 2-3 day trip.  If you are going for longer, you might want to upgrade to a Yeti Cooler (mega bucks, but your ice will stay frozen for 7+ days)!

6. Camp Gear

You’ll need a tent and sleeping bags, a compact stove and fuel, lanterns and headlamps, a tarp or umbrellas for shade and in the western states, you’d be wise to bring your own wood for fires.

Camping along the Colorado River
Having fun at the campsite!

7. Dry Box

We were lucky to have friends with an epically huge drybox that we could borrow, instead of buying our own.  We threw everything but the kitchen sink in it.  From our First Aid Kit to paper plates … everything we wanted to stay dry was thrown in the drybox.

8. Dry Bags

Clothing and toiletries and what-not were thrown into dry bags and easily toted into camp.  We kept blankets and sleeping bags and our tents in dry bags as well.

9. Fishing Gear

We brought everything for fishing and the kids researched what fish to expect in the river and what to use to catch them.  Kenny researched how to cook them and brought along his own spice mix and made dinner for us all one night!!  That’s a pretty amazing memory!

10. Sunscreen

Bring plenty of sunscreen, wear hats and it doesn’t hurt to throw in a few rash guards as well to cover up during the hours when the sun is beating down on you the most!  And don’t forget the bug spray and citronella sticks!

Catching fish on Multi-Day Family Raft Trip
Catfish were an easy catch with lunch meat!

11. Check Regulations for Required Gear

Often, ideal stretches of rivers for multi-day trips will have by permit only camping spots and therefore they are regulated.  We were required to have a Groover and a Fire Pan for our trip.  Be sure to check with the regulating agencies for this “special” gear.

12. The DL on the Groover

I dunno about where ya’ll live, but in Colorado on heavily trafficked stretches of river, boaters are expected to carry a lovely piece of equipment called a Groover.  The groover, I will not touch.  It’s a toilet…that you are required by law to use.  Lest you think I’m joking, rangers descended upon our campsite last August and checked that we had a groover set up … of course, you can pee in the river!

The only good news about the Groover is that you can rent one, and return it … full.  Check the regulations on the stretch of river you choose.

13. And, What’s a Fire Pan?

One last piece of equipment we had to have with us was a fire pan.  If you are looking at a floating a Colorado river, you can almost be assured you will need one too.  A fire pan is exactly what it sounds like … a pan in which to build your fire.  Dry climates encourage their use, and I doubt very much you’d ever need one on the East Coast.

Floating of the Shaboomee SUP on our multiday family raft trip.
Emmy & Elly being pulled behind the raft!

14. Bring Duckies and SUP’s

We brought 2 Duckies and 3 SUP’s for our kids to paddle on their own.  This year they hope to do a self-support trip!!

15. Leave Electronics at Home

A river trip is probably the one and only vacation you can take where you can guarantee that electronics will not be used.  There will be no service and there will be water … your family will be forced to interact and enjoy each other without distractions!!  Truly, that’s the best gift you can give your family!!

16. Pack Enough Food

The cool thing about a river trip is that you basically plan all your meals before hand and freeze them if you will be on the river for more than 3 or 4 days.  This means that meals are totally taken care of so when you reach camp, you have to heat the meals up.  For lunch, we typically bring bread and lunch meat as we paddle right through the lunch hour.  Breakfast and dinner can then be as elaborate or as simple as you want! There are tons of sites on the web that talk about river food!!  Check them out!  We have brought seasoning for the fish we hoped to catch and made that one of our dinners …

17. Pack Snacks

Being on the water makes you hungry, so be sure to pack more snacks than you think you could ever possibly need.  Pack healthy foods, like apples and plums and trail mix as well as fun foods like chips and cookies .. don’t worry about your diet, it’s vacation and you are being active!

Mulitday Family River Trip

18. Bring TONS of Water

Trust me when I say, you will drink more water than you ever would anywhere else.  Bring tons and tons of 5-gallon jugs and simply toss them in the boat.  We bring about 1 gallon per person per day.  I’d rather have too much than not enough.  Make it easy to drink by filling up water bottles as needed.

19. Beer & Soda

Cheap canned beer and soda for the kids is essential as well!  Don’t bring glass!  We bring a separate cooler for the beverages so that our food stays cool and isn’t affected by the constant opening of the cooler for drinks!!

20. Take a Ton of Photos

Bring a waterproof camera that also takes video. and be sure to take a ton of both.  Some of the best photos we have are from our Ruby Horsethief multi-day trip.  Cliff jumping, fishing, dinner, rafting, swimming, camping, campfire … you name it the photos are epic.

21. Take Video

And, if you take video and don’t have the skill set or the equipment to turn your raw footage into an epic vacation video, check out 14k Studios … Grady’s company.  They are inexpensive and do amazing work!!  Trust me!  🙂

Multi-Day River Trip
Eddy loves the Shaboomee SUP!

22. Bring BIG Trash Bags

You need to be a good steward and leave your campsite and river cleaner than when you arrived.  Pack out all your trash and anything extra you find along the way.

23. Be Prepared for Weather

Check the forecast for the days of your trip and then re-check and check again.  Weather is unpredictable, so pack some extra clothing … like rain jackets (we use our dry tops), extra layers, fleece, etc.

24. Carry a First Aid Kit

This goes without saying.  Your boat should have a complete first aid kit and if anyone in your family has allergies, bring along an epi-pen; if anyone has asthma, obviously bring their inhaler. This is simple common sense!

25. Check Sites for Info on the River

It’s a great idea to check out sites like BoaterTalk and MountainBuzz and others like it to ask questions and gleam information about the river and the various campsites that are at your disposal.  For sure some are better than others and it’s great to have that 411 before you book your site.

Multi Day Family River Trip
Fun for all ages … 2 year old Coby takes a break on the inflatable duckie!

26. River Soap

There are quite a few environmentally friendly soaps to wash your hands, body and even your hair with … Dr Bronner’s being a favorite amongst our river peeps.  Dr Bronner’s is sold in many different scents and can make you feel a little more human after a few days on the river!

27. Explore

After setting up camp, it’s fun to go off exploring with the family.  Climb some cliffs to catch a beautiful sunset, paddle around some rocks to find a great fishing spot, and, of course, cliff jump.  ut before you take that plunge it’s best to check the depth with your paddles and we always do a little research so we know where the safest spots are!

28. Campfire Bonding

Instead of your family retiring to their rooms to watch TV or stare at their phones and/or laptops, campfires are the ultimate time to bond with your kids, catch up on what’s going on in their lives, or tell stories. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to connect with your kids under the beautiful night sky after a day of being on the water.  It’s bonding at it’s best.

Multi-Day Family River Trip
Dally jumping off the cliff into the Colorado River!

29. Personal Hygiene

You will want everyone to keep brushing their teeth, their hair and keeping up with their personal hygiene, and so our older kids bring their own toiletry bag while I just keep all the things for the younger kids in my bag.

30. Book Early

The best sites go early, so plan ahead and get your river permit in advance.  For less crowded waters and more private camping, make your plans for weekdays.

31. Be Smart

Make good choices and talk to your kids about expectations and safety issues ahead of the trip.  Typically, river trips are in remote areas and getting to help in the case of an emergency can be a long, and often times difficult, endeavor.  It’s much better to play it safe and talk to your kids about what dangers they may encounter, like snakes, scorpions, other wildlife, as well as hiking safety, climbing safety, water safety, etc!

32. Have Fun

Let your hair down and have fun yourself.  We’ve paddled all over the continent, run Class V rapids, and let me tell you, our multi-day trips are the most fun!  Just be present in the moment and enjoy it all … it will assuredly be one of the absolute best trips/vacations you will ever take in your life!!

Multi-Day River Trip


2 thoughts on “32 Tips For Your First Multi-Day Family River Trip!”

  1. My family and I are going on a rafting trip next month. This will be our first time, so we’re looking for tips on how to make it a success. I didn’t realize how important it is to leave electronics at home to ensure there are not distractions to the great sights and interactions. I’ll be sure to share this info with my family.


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