Top 3 Family Rafting Trips in Colorado

Written by Ben Sack, 12.20.2023

It’s no stretch to say that Colorado boasts some of North America’s finest whitewater. Given the state’s spectacular elevational range—stretching from the very highest peaks in the entire Rocky Mountain chain down to deep desert canyons—it’s no surprise there’s such an abundance of gorgeous, fast-tumbling rivers here. And we’re talking high-quality and varied whitewater, too: in terms of scenery and difficulty level, with great options for everything from high-adrenaline river-running to low-effort family rafting trips.

And it’s those family rafting trips—pretty much guaranteed to mint lifelong memories—we’re focusing on here. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing float trip, or you’re keen on mixing in a few easy thrills on beginner-grade rapids, the Rocky Mountain State has you covered!

Best Whitewater Rafting in Colorado for Families

If you’re planning a family rafting trip in Colorado, you’re spoiled for choices. From the Animas to the Roaring Rock, some internationally renowned whitewater—and plenty of beginner to intermediate routes—await here. Few streams, though, are quite so fabled as the Arkansas River, which drops 5,000-odd feet over its first 125 miles, flowing through some spectacular chasms as it does.

At Echo Canyon River Expeditions, we lead family-friendly rafting on some stunning stretches of the Arkansas River, not least the sublime Royal Gorge right at our doorstep. Here are our picks for the best family rafting trips in Colorado, all of them among our itineraries!

Upper Bighorn Sheep Canyon—Cañon City

Upper Bighorn Sheep Canyon makes a wonderful go-to choice for a mellow rafting trip with kids, suitable for ages four and up. This laidback float is ideal for soaking up the world-class scenery and locking into the relaxing rhythm of the current, which along this stretch includes some easy Class I to Class III rapids.

You will love gazing up at the soaring canyon shoulders, admiring the riverside cottonwoods and ponderosa pines and keeping your eyes peeled for mule deer, raptors, and the gorge’s namesake: Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

Learn more about our half-day Upper Bighorn Sheep Canyon float, which involves 1.5 hours of on-the-water time, right here

Choose between 1-day or half-day trips on your next Colorado rafting adventure.

Bighorn Sheep Canyon—Cañon City

The run through Bighorn Sheep Canyon, which we lead as both a half-day and a full-day option, is our most popular trip here at Echo Canyon, and for good reason. We call this the “sweet spot” of whitewater rafting, given the route blends a bit of rapid-running excitement with plenty of relaxing cruising, it’s a great choice for families with slightly older kids (ages 6 and up). Under typical flow, most of the Bighorn Sheep Canyon rapids are Class I to Class III, but you’ll also get a little taste for bigger water via one Class IV rapid.

Again, Bighorn Sheep Canyon comes by its name honestly, as sightings of bighorns are frequent, especially in the morning. Just as magnificent are the golden eagles and peregrine falcons that regularly soar overhead.

Learn more about this classic river trip of ours here.

Find the top family rafting trips in Colorado, perfect for all ages and skill levels.

The Royal Gorge—Cañon City

If it’s a shared adventure on wild water surrounded by showstopper scenery you’re after, look no further than the Royal Gorge route. This 10-mile-long, 1,000-plus-foot-deep strike promises a high-thrills whitewater run suitable for families with teenagers. (The minimum age cutoff of 13 to 18 years old varies with river flow, and everyone in your party should be in good physical condition and know how to swim.)

Here, the Arkansas River churns and roars through Class II-IV rapids with names such as Sledgehammer and Boat Eater, while the sheer walls of the Royal Gorge—and passage under the much-photographed Royal Gorge Bridge some 955 feet above your heads—simply dazzle.

While the standard half-day Royal Gorge trip is fabulous, we recommend our full-day trip, which preludes the unforgettable whitewater ride through the Royal Gorge with a “warmup” of sorts in the Bighorn Sheep Canyon upriver for a 20-mile odyssey. Learn more about both options here.

Check out these top must-try class IV whitewater rafting destinations in Colorado.

Are Class 3 Rapids OK for Kids?

Class III rapids are the crowd-pleasing middle ground of the whitewater spectrum, with big—but not too big—waves providing an intermediate-level kind of ride. Generally speaking, kids under 12 can handle guided Class III rafting just fine. That said, families with very young children – think 4-5 years of age – ought to stick to routes with primarily Class I to II whitewater (such as the Upper Bighorn Sheep Creek Canyon).

Book an Unforgettable Rafting Trip With Echo Canyon

Here at Echo Canyon River Expeditions, we’ve been guiding families down the Arkansas River for more than 45 years. Given our exhaustively trained river guides and top-of-the-line rafting equipment, you’re assured a fun and safe experience in the Royal Gorge region, which truly offers some of the best kid-friendly whitewater rafting in Colorado.

If you’ve got any questions about the family whitewater rafting trips we’ve outlined above—or any of our other packages—don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Echo Canyon team today!

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About the Author

Ben Sack is the General Manager of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, Colorado's largest white water rafting outfitter. He's also a raft guide, a photographer, and he loves exploring Colorado and beyond with his wife and two boys.
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