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Five days camping and rafting on Idaho’s legendary Salmon River sounded like a perfect family vacation to me.  But when I pitched the idea to my family of five (Kathleen my wife, Annika my oldest daughter and Olivia and Elsa my identical twin daughters) the approval rating was about 50/50.  The main concern was the whitewater.

Of course for parents, the overriding worry was the safety of our children in the whitewater rapids.  Having been on several rafting trips with very safe and professional rafting guides, I felt there was no significant danger for my family.  Kathleen and Annika took a little more convincing.

Riverside accommodations.

From our very first meeting, the guides for ROW Adventures were all about safety and spent plenty of time teaching everyone about the best way to enjoy the river safely.  As a mother, Kathleen felt a strong need to be in the same raft as our kids, or at least one nearby so that she could be sure of their security.  This only lasted about half of the first day though; seeing how the guides were so great with the kids and professionally trained, quickly put her anxieties to rest.

Kids playing on an inflatable kayak
Let the fun begin!

When we take a family vacation on our own,  there is the usual sibling bickering and parental antics that go along with the trip.  We often call our family vacations “family adventures” because “vacation” implies an element of some sort of relaxation which isn’t always achieved.  On this particular trip, we joined families from California, Texas and New Jersey, and everyone got along great – kids and adults! Traveling with other families made a huge difference because the kids were all able to hang out and play together, giving us adults a chance to relax.

adults sitting along river
A little parent downtime along the river.

The Lower Salmon Canyon stretch of the Salmon River is the ideal setting for a family trip.  There are plenty of calm stretches to jump in and at 64 degrees Fahrenheit, the water is cool enough for a leisurely swim, but not enough to take your breath away.  The giant white sand beaches we camped at were just as beautiful and exotic as a white sand beach in Mexico. And, no bugs!  The guides set up tents for us, but we didn’t use them once; the girls and I slept outside under the stars every night.  Lying there with my daughters staring up at a giant sky of stars, pointing out satellites and shooting stars was a high point of my trip.  It still brings warmth to my heart looking back to those sweet quiet moments we had gazing at the sky and falling asleep together.

Fall asleep under the stars along the Salmon River.

Despite all of the initial fret over the whitewater, all I heard as we rode over every rapid were whoohoos of joy. Smiling faces bobbed in and out of view as they were splashed over and over by the waves. And, her anxiety completely gone, Kathleen’s smile and laughs were the biggest. As a dad and a husband, I couldn’t have been happier to see all my girls having an awesome time.

The last morning of the trip my daughter Elsa crawled out of her sleeping bag and walked down the beach to me, rubbing her tired eyes as the sun was just hitting the mountain peaks on the opposite side of the canyon.  She said “Daddy I saw a shooting star last night and made a wish that we could spend five more days on the river.  Can we?”

All images, including feature image, are credited to Chad Case.

Chad Case is an award-winning professional photographer and videographer. His travel images have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, National Geographic Adventure, The New York Times, Outside, Sunset Backpacker and numerous other publications. Chad also operates Idaho Stock Images representing over 100 photographers with more than 40,000 images online. His work can be seen online at

Published on May 16, 2017