California Rafting with Children & Teens


Happy family whitewater rafting on the Class 2-3+ South Fork American River

California Rafting with children is something we do very well. There are many wonderful, scenic river rafting trips in California suitable for children as young as 4 years old. Tributary offers half-day rafting trips, where you can bring your own picnic lunch, as well as 2-4 day overnights that include meals and camping for a memorable family rafting vacation.

A great way to experience multi-day rafting trips is on our Special Family Rafting Trips where on specific dates, youths get 20-50% discount. Child friendly meals are provided and prepared by your river guides. We have a variety of raft trips suitable for kids in the Gold Country (near Sacramento and Lake Tahoe) from April-September. Further north in the Shasta-Trinity and Klamath National Forests (near the Redwoods) multi-day trips are also available in the summer.

On our regular rafting trips, youths and seniors from 62 years (bring the grandparents!) receive a 10% discount. Group discounts are also available for rafting groups of 6 or more. Tributary caters to many Scout groups and youth groups with larger discounts available.

Children’s capabilities vary considerably and we will be glad to discuss this to ensure the best possible family rafting experience. Our minimum age limit recommendations at normal summer flows are:

  • 4 years old on Class 2 rivers
  • 6-8 years on Class 3 rivers
  • 13 years and strong swimming abilities on Class 4 rivers

During high water due to the melting of an above average snow pack (like 2011 & 2017), then you may need to take a step down in the Class during that time frame. High water conditions normally will be over by July & August. Call us if you are unsure if those conditions exist. 

California Rafting with children – young or more timid child:

See below and also check out Easiest Rafting Options page.

Try a brief introduction on a half-day, Class 2 rafting run on the Lower Middle Fork American River. A scenic wilderness raft trip in the Gold Country. Enjoy side hikes, blackberries, and wildlife if the time is right. Add an inflatable kayak for more diverse groups.

During June high water this season, we are offering the very scenic Class 2+ Lower North Fork American. A semi-wilderness 1 day trip within the Auburn State Recreation Area. Stopping for lunch on the river with hike to Cod-Fish Falls. A memorable trip. 

For a mixed rafting group wanting more adventure, we offer the South Fork American River (Gorge Run). Youths from 4 years and the less able bodied can raft with the group in the morning on the Lotus Run, from 10:30 till lunch. Then after lunch the more adventurous rafters continue downstream for the Class 3 trip on the Gorge. This Lotus Run option probably not available until late June or July this season due to high water. 

For a mini vacation, check out the overnight Lower Middle Fork/South Fork combo Class 2 trip and the Lower Middle Fork/Lower North Fork American Combo (offered as Family Special trips on weekdays). These rafting trips include all meals and camping. Kids love the s’mores around the campfire and having other kids around to play with.

The East Fork Carson River, close to South Lake Tahoe, is another Class 2 rafting trip for 1-2 days. It offers wonderful hot springs, wilderness camping and unique High Sierra scenery. In a really good snow-pack year it can be rafted into July. 

Rafting trips on the Trinity River and Lower Klamath River in N. California both provide Class 2 and 3 river sections, so these river trips can be customized to accommodate the younger child as well. These are also available as Family Special trips on weekdays with higher discounts.  

Family Rafting and Youth Group rafting with youths from 7-8 years:

See below and also check out Easy Beginner Rafting Options page. If you have older kids who are on the timid side, then please consider the Easiest Rafting Options for their first trip. 

The South Fork American River, located in the historic Gold Country, is one of the most popular rivers in the state. It provides an excellent first time raft trip, with options from half-day to 2+ days.

Near Lake Tahoe and Reno, a fun, ½ day guided whitewater run on the Truckee River is usually available from early-May through September.

The Trinity River and Lower Klamath River  in N. California both flow throughout the summer and inflatable kayaks may be available for additional excitement. All of these can be combined with other great recreation, to make a complete family vacation.

California Rafting with adventurous teenagers:

See below and also check out Intermediate-Adventurous Rafting Options page.

A combination overnight raft trip on the American River is a great choice for those who are adventurous beginners. You get 1-2 days on the South Fork American, then finish with the excitement of Class 4 rapids on the last day. In the spring, choose the South/North Fork American River Combo, and the South/Middle American River Combo runs all summer into September.

The Middle Fork American River is a good choice for the more athletic youth and return rafters. This 17 mile river trip provides Class 3-4 rapids throughout the summer. For a great wilderness camping experience we offer 2-3 days in this canyon. Enjoy side hikes up shaded creeks, plunge pools, waterfalls, and great fishing.

The North Fork Yuba River is available in the spring and sometimes into summer for older and experienced youths. This is a very scenic, uncrowded Class 4 river trip, not far from Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. The Yuba River area also offers great scenery, hiking, mountain biking and rustic, historic towns.