Whitewater rafting with young children? We had always wanted to take the kids out on a rafting excursion but assumed we would have to wait a few years until High Five (age 4) and Five Ball (age 6) were a bit older. However, as we started researching our trip to several of Colorado’s national parks, we came across the Animas River’s stellar reputation as an extremely family-friendly river. We looked into the rafting companies in Durango and were thrilled to come across Mountain Waters Rafting, who had great reviews, a half-day rafting trip designed especially for families, and could accommodate any child 30 pounds or more regardless of age.
The kids had been excitedly talking about our trip for over a week by the time the day arrived. We dressed them warmly in layers as we wanted to ensure they stayed comfortable out on the water. However, upon checking in we realized we weren’t the only ones focused on the kids’ comfort, and we were really impressed with the time the friendly staff took to make sure the kids had all the gear they needed and that it all fit properly. In the end, we only opted for the neoprene boots for the kids as they each had a rain jacket and pants to keep the rest of them dry.
Soon our guide (and co-owner) James arrived to greet us and escort us to the van. As we were the only ones out on this particular trip, he asked if we would like one more companion in the raft, his famous rafting dog Atlas. As the Younger Fives love dogs (and can’t have one of their own due to our travel lifestyle), the response was a resounding “YES!” We soon picked up Atlas and were on our way to the boat launch.
The kids were excited enough just being next to the river, but getting to play with Atlas as James fitted them with their life jackets was a real treat. He then engaged the kids to review all the safety procedures, and then we pushed off down the river. After a few minutes downstream, the Younger Fives eagerly asked if they could help paddle, and once they got the paddles in their hands they didn’t let go for the rest of the trip. James added a wonderful dimension to our trip with his extensive knowledge of the river, its history, and its wildlife, and we never went more than a few minutes without him pointing out goslings with their mother, bald eagles, mergansers, or other birds.
Soon we were getting closer to Durango’s Whitewater Park, especially engineered by the city to provide rafters and kayakers with some solid whitewater in town. James asked if we felt comfortable giving it a try and explained we were welcome to walk a short path around the rapids if we preferred. We had no hesitations about running the rapids, and they were certainly quite the thrill. They’re nothing that a seasoned paddler would find unnerving, but for us they were the perfect balance between feeling completely secure in the raft and getting bounced around a little on the whitewater.
After the excitement of the rapids we were more than ready for a snack, and James guided us onto shore for snacks and a restroom break. The kids probably couldn’t have made it the whole trip without either, so this was just what we all needed. We had a good 20 minute break on shore snacking on some complementary chips and salsa and playing with Atlas. From there, we put the life jackets back on to complete our trip down the river.
Past the Whitewater Park the river had a more relaxed and peaceful feel, and as we floated past the city limits we had the river to ourselves. From here both Five Spice and Five String had the chance to pilot the raft and both managed to successfully avoid the obstacles in the way (though admittedly Five Spice did so with a bit more calm and composure). As we drifted past tree-covered banks and islands, some migratory swallows splashed and dove around us, and we were right in the middle of the flock for quite a while.
When we finally reached the final landing and got back into the van, we couldn’t have been more pleased with our trip. The half-day trip was definitely designed with the whole family in mind, and the smiles on the Younger Fives’ faces were proof that this trip was a perfect match for our family. It’s a rare day when you get to experience and learn so many new things, and we all not only got a better hands-on feel for what makes Durango’s Animas River so special but also a better appreciation for its past, present, and future. We were thoroughly impressed with the enthusiasm and commitment we found from everyone at Mountain Waters (for both their customers and for the river itself), and we weren’t surprised to find out they make giving back to the community and the environment a high priority. Looking back, our initial reservations about whitewater rafting as a family seem silly, and we cannot wait to take our wonderful introduction to whitewater rafting to the next level on a future rafting trip!