So Ya Wanna Go On A River Trip With Your Kids

Welcome guest blogger, Born to Adventure Mom, Leanne.

Some of our best family memories have been made with our canoes. We are big-time advocates of family river time!

1 Born to Adventure Elk River
Born to Adventure – Elk River, BC


We are a large family; a mom, dad, and 5 kids, so finding a boat that worked for us was a big challenge.  After much research, we settled on the Esquif Miramichi.  It’s like the family station wagon at 20ft long and with a carrying capacity of 1600lbs.  For 5 years it fit all seven of us and gear for a week-long trip.

2 Born to Adventure Green River
Born to Adventure – Green River, UT

Kids have a habit of growing though.  Their bodies were taking up more room and things were getting squishier.  The older kids were also becoming more competent paddlers so we decided to invest in a second boat;  the Esquif Prospecteur 17.  We have come to love this boat as much as our Miramichi!

3 Born to Adventure Flathead River
Born to Adventure – Flathead River, MT


There are a lot of great lightweight Kevlar and fiberglass boats on the market but our jam is running rivers, and more specifically river tripping.  Our boats needed to be able to handle whitewater and be tough enough to take a bit of a beating on rocks, as well as take us into the wilderness with all our kids and our gear.  Our Esquif boats have opened up a whole world of travel and adventure that is priceless to us.

Currently, the way we roll is with Mom and the second oldest child in the Prospecteur, and Dad and the other 4 kids in the Miramichi.

4 Born to Adventure Flathead River
Born to Adventure – Flathead River, MT


When you have children, sensitivity to risk sky-rockets.  And rightly so.  Kids, in their innocence, rely on us to keep them safe, and it’s a task we take very seriously.

Unfortunately, rivers are one area where people unknowingly take risks. Just in the last week alone, I have heard two stories of families on rivers getting caught up in life-threatening situations.  They weren’t trying to get into trouble but were ignorant about how a river works, the hazards involved, or how to fix it when it all turned to custard.


  1. Who’s the boss?

The person in the stern.  This should be the most competent canoeist and they get to call the strokes and steer the boat.  The bow person provides the power and helps with maneuvering when called upon.

5 Born to Adventure Flathead River
Born to Adventure – Flathead River, BC
  1. What strokes do you need to know?

If you switching sides to try and keep the boat going the direction you want, then a river is not the place for you.  Paddling is done from opposite sides of the canoe. Learn your strokes really well and hone them on a lake.  A stern person should know forwards, backwards, forward sweep, reverse sweep, J-stroke, draw and pry.  If the stern person is a competent paddler, the bow person can probably get away with knowing just forwards, backwards, draw and pry.  Other useful strokes for a bow person might be forward and reverse sweeps and cross bow draw.

6 Born to Adventure Flathead River
Born to Adventure – Flathead River, MT
  1. Learn about river dynamics and moves

Eddies, eddy lines, downstream V, outside and inside bends, and hydraulics are all things that you need to know about before going onto a river.  Reading a river is a valuable skill that is learned with time and practice. It can feel scary to go into an eddy because the eddy line can cause the boat to feel unstable, but eddies are the safe havens on a river.  They are a place to stop and scout downstream and just generally regroup and take a pause.  There are eddies on the sides of rivers, and behind large rocks.  Necessary skills are eddying in and out, and ferry gliding.

Choose a river that you have adequate info for and is within your skill level as a parent leading children. The river should be easier than what you are capable of paddling personally.

7 Born to Adventure Flathead River
Born to Adventure – Flathead River, MT
  1. What are the hazards?

Many near misses that I have heard about on easy rivers involve wood.  Drifting into a logjam, snag, bridge pillars, or sweepers,  and then becoming wrapped or pinned or even going for a long cold swim.  These hazards are usually avoidable so it makes me cringe every time I hear one of these scary stories.

STAY AWAY from wood and make that decision EARLY.  If wood is coming up, eddy out and scout. If it’s easy to avoid start paddling away from it right away.  Be proactive about looking where you WANT to go and make it happen.  Scary stories involve people being surprised that they couldn’t get away from the hazard in time, and then the power of the water being MUCH stronger than they anticipated. When a body or boat is pressed against an obstruction the water forces it down.  It is very difficult to push up against this force. Don’t wait until the last minute to put in a few strong paddle strokes. It’s usually too late by then.

  1. Have a crisis plan

What if ‘that’ scary thing actually happened to you?  Do you know how to self-rescue yourself and your kids?  Do you have the equipment to do that?  Do your kids know what to do?  Often we don’t want to talk about that stuff but its so important.  If you were going for a day on the river with a commercial rafting company they would give you a safety brief beforehand and let you know what to do if you get into trouble.

It is also a great idea to take the canoe to a warm lake and play around with it.  Capsize it with the kids and make a game out of it.  Paddle it around half full of water.  See if they can stand up on it.  It helps everyone get comfortable with how to manage a capsized or swamped boat, and will highlight any weak skill areas to work on.

  1. What safety equipment should be carried?

Everyone needs a PFD that fits them well and is rated for their weight range. Each canoe needs a painter on the bow and stern (a rope that is coiled and attached to the carry handles) that is about 10 ft long. This can be grabbed to pull the boat to shore in a rescue or to line a rapid.  You also need 2 bailers that are tied to a thwart (no good if they float away).  We also carry a throw bag or two.

8 Born to Adventure Kootenay River
Born to Adventure – Kootenay River, BC

And the fun part?! Where should you go?

One of our favorite family river trips is the Green River in Utah.  We spent 6 days on the river and it has all the ingredients for a great adventure with kids.  It is moving water and at certain flows may have a couple of grade 1 rapids but is pretty do-able for a family transitioning from lake to river paddling.  You can read our blog post about it here

9 Born to Adventure Green River
Born to Adventure – Green River, UT
10 Born to Adventure Green River
Born to Adventure – Green River, UT

Have fun and stay safe out there!

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