Family River Paddling Ideas -

Family River Trip Ideas

After reading A Broken Blade (see Book Review) as part of our homeschool study of early explorers, I realized a great tie-in or field trip idea would be taking your family for a paddle on the river. This would be a great opportunity to introduce your family to canoeing, whitewater, and numerous other river sports. For the purpose of this post I’m sticking to family-oriented paddling only – no fishing, water-skiing, jet-skis, or speedboat suggestions here.


A nice idea for a family is canoeing. For canoeing you’ll want to find a Canoe Livery that has rentals & a shuttle service (NOPE – rivers do not run in circles!). Check on age restrictions and does the livery have life jackets in sizes needed for you children. They may even suggest other fun options like a duckie (a 1-person inflatable raft) or tubing (just float your way down the river). I would suggest smaller children stay with parents in the canoe, while older elementary/middle school & older could try tubing, etc.

  • For the James River in Virignia, I would suggest James River Runners: near Scottsville, VA. Nice stretches of water with plenty of options (tubing, etc.) including overnights for beginners & old-timers.


Next, I would suggest trying out whitewater. There are plenty of River Outfitters across America who offer guided trips. For beginners or families with smaller children, stick with Class I – Class III rapids when starting. These are wonderful introduction trips and not too overwhelming. Depending upon the season & river levels, your guide may even let you jump out and swim/float/play in the river – (Check with your guide FIRST!) Again, I would check age restrictions and if the outfitter has life jackets available in the size needed for your children.

  • For the James River in Virginia, I would suggest Riverside Outfitters: in Richmond, VA. The Upper River raft trip is perfect for ages 5 & up as an easy intro into slightly faster & rockier water.

Bigger Rapids

Next up, would be moving up to bigger whitewater rapids, like Class IVClass V. I would not do this with small children. I would suggest your child be at least 13-14 years of age before even considering this. (This also depends upon maturity.) In fact, most outfitters will have age restrictions. Do your research and see how long the outfitter has been in business and what range of rivers & rapids they run. Some outfitters offer private on-site campgrounds & even overnight trips on the river itself.

  • For the James River in Virginia, I would suggest suggest Riverside Outfitters: in Richmond, VA. The Lower/Falls of the James raft trip is perfect for ages 10 & up for a great introduction to bigger whitewater. Some rapids, depending upon water level, vary from a Class IV-V. (Again depending upon maturity, the river level, and as a “helicopter parent,” I might wait until they are 12/13-years-of-age).
  • For the more adventurous, who thought the Falls on the James was “cupcake,” it’s time for you to move on to bigger & better whitewater (or try the James at a higher level – ask your guide). May I suggest the New River up in West Virginia as your next level up with plenty of Class V rapids to keep you entertained. This is usually a full day-long trip (or overnight). Depending upon water levels, this river can get your adrenaline going. There are tons of outfitters available to choose from, some even have zip-lines & water parks.

Running the Rivers

  • To fill out your “whitewater resume,” I would suggest finding an outfitter you trust and trying all the rivers/trips that they offer. Guides come-&-go with each outfitter, so be prepared for different personalities & faces. (You can always try to ask for a certain guide to be scheduled.) Ask your guides for ideas of which rivers they like and what rivers would be similar to the trip you’re on. Each river has it’s own peculiarities & personality. You can always run the same rivers over & over at different water levels and have an entirely “new” experience.


  • Also, remember to TIP your guide at the end of your trip. Most of these outdoor people make only a small sum per trip. They will appreciate being able to buy dinner for a change!
  • Any activity can be dangerous causing injury up to and including loss of life. The commercial outfitters will require you to sign a release of liability form before you can participate.