While a summer coastal getaway or lake retreat makes for a nice family vacation, the Pacific Northwest has a system of rivers that offer whitewater experiences that take your family off-grid where you can create memories that last a lifetime. If you’ve been dreaming of shooting the rapids with your crew on a multi-day rafting adventure into the backcountry, but aren’t sure where to begin with planning and prep, you don’t have to go it alone. The OARS White Water Adventure team offers an array of guided river voyages that make for an unforgettable family experience—and all you need to do on your end is show up. Read on to find out more.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

The OARS Team

Founded in 1969 by river pioneer George Wendt, OARS is a family-owned river adventure business that takes every-day people on guided experiences into some of the most beautiful and rugged wilderness areas in the United States. OARS provides their clients with everything they need to have a stress-free, exciting, and transformative experience. From the rafts to the tents to meals to the most experienced and knowledgeable guides—they’ve thought of everything so you don’t have to. In fact, the biggest decision you have to make is which destination to pick.

OARS has guided river trips both in the United States and abroad. While they do provide single-day trips, their multi-day treks allow families to truly escape the hustle of the daily grind and disconnect from the digital world that sometimes dictates everyday life. Families looking to brave the rapids, merely need to pick their trip, reserve their spot, and follow the very minimal packing list to prepare for their trip. There’s no easier way to plan for an extended outdoor experience.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Pacific Northwest Destinations

You can book guided river trips with OARS in states like Alaska, California, Colorado, and Utah. But if you are looking for a true Pacific Northwest experience, Oregon and Idaho will give your family a good taste of the Wild West. Oregon trips take place on the Rogue and Owyhee Rivers. Idaho Oars takes travelers down the Snake River through Hells Canyon, and all over the gorgeous Salmon River. The trips can last from as few as three to as many as 17 days and include all meals, camping supplies, and water and land-play equipment.

The guides are skilled at reading the river’s currents and navigating big rapids, but they are also knowledgeable educators. Your trip includes not only thrills and squeals, but also plenty of history and geography lessons.

photo: by Annette Benedetti


As mentioned above, prep for the trip includes watching a couple of videos about your trip and what to pack. You are provided with a packing list with every item you need to bring (there’s not a whole lot). OARS Idaho reserves a block of rooms at The Red Lion in Lewiston Idaho so that you don’t have to find a place to stay the night before or after your trip. You just call in your reservation and enjoy a nice group discount.

The evening before your trip, you meet with your guides. They tell you all about your impending adventure and give you your waterproof travel bags and set a meeting time in the morning. You spend the night before your trip packing and relaxing.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Your River Adventure

Excitement builds as your OARS guides load your family and luggage into their vans where you spend an hour or so meeting new friends and adventure buddies. The drive to your put-in spot is scenic and relaxing. Once you arrive at your rafting start-point, your guides introduce you to all of the staff that will be accompanying you and then you are given a brief lesson on white-water rafting and safety.

The OARS Idaho trip down the lower Salmon includes access to kayaks that can be used to navigate the rapids. SUP paddle boards are also available to use on calmer waters. If you prefer a more relaxed whitewater experience, you can sit back on a large raft and let the guide do all of the work while you enjoy cooling off with each splash. The adrenaline junkies in your crew can hop in the smaller raft and get in on the action with oars in hands and a guide to direct your crew.

Your day may take you any number of miles downriver, but 10 is an average day’s trek down the lower Salmon. You stop mid-day for a cold lunch (prepared and provided by your guides) and a quick swim, geography lesson or hike. When evening rolls around, your guides find a sandy beach camp spot and the kids play games like volleyball and spike ball, while parents enjoy a nice cold adult beverage if they please.

photo: by Annette Benedetti


Whitewater rafting builds an appetite. The OARS guides aren’t just experts at navigating the river—they are pretty amazing cooks too. Examples of meals include cooked and seasoned salmon, omelets, and steak! Each day you enjoy a hot breakfast, cold lunch, and borderline gourmet dinner. Your guides make sure to keep filling snacks on them throughout the day so that they don’t end up with hangery passengers. Everyone is reminded to keep water on hand and stops are made to refill water bottles when needed.

Tip: guides accommodate most dietary restrictions. Don’t be shy about sharing you or your child’s dietary wants or needs.

photo: by Annette Benedetti

Girl Power

If you are looking for some strong female mentors for your kiddos, OARS Idaho has a big team of exceptional female guides that drop jaws with their mad skills, endless knowledge, and non-stop ability to have fun. Our trip down the Lower Salmon had seven guides—five (including the lead guide) were women. Your summer experience comes with the cool reminder that girls can do anything!

Plan Ahead

Rafting adventures book fast. Trips have space for approximately 20 people. If you want to book space for your whole family, making reservations well in advance is recommended. Secure your early summer adventure six months in advance during the fall if possible.

If you decide on a last minute adventure, call to see which trips have the number of openings you need. Before you book, be sure to check which adventures are age appropriate. Depending on the intensity of the rapids, you may want to adjust your reservations.

Cost: Price varies according to your destination and the length of your trip. 3 to 5-day trips start as low as $1199.


Phone: 209-736-4677
online: oars.com

—Annette Benedetti

This trip was paid for by OARS, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.


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