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Taking the Kids: Getting unplugged in a super fun way

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Get ready to thread the needle! In whitewater rafting parlance, that means aiming your raft between obstacles in a rushing river.

No biggie for our experienced OARS raft guide, Lindsey Mersereau, 30, as she steers our yellow, inflatable raft down the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument, which traverses Colorado and Utah. As we glide by, soaring multi-colored cliffs loom on either side of us.

"Once I discovered rafting, I gave up backpacking," said Mersereau, a ski school supervisor in Telluride, Colorado, during the winter. "Why carry all that gear on your back? Rafting has the experience of backpacking in the wilderness with the luxury of car camping."

But it's more than that. For busy parents, it's the luxury of not having to organize anything for a camping trip. Someone else has shopped for the food on this five-day trip and the always cheery guides cook everything from lasagna to steaks and mashed potatoes, quinoa salad one day for lunch, even a birthday cake for one of the rafters one night. They also offer special options for vegetarians, vegans, etc. The easy-to-put-up tents and sleeping bags (and mattress pads) have been provided. So have the waterproof bags for our gear.

For those seeking to get unplugged, there is no cell service or Wi-Fi and the kids are guaranteed to have too much fun to care. When is the last time they took a shower in a waterfall? Paddled through rapids? Ridden a stand-up paddleboard down a moving river? (The experts say a trip like this is suitable for kids as young as 7. At night, the guitars and ukuleles come out around the campfire.

Because of abundant snowfall this past winter, this is expected to be one of the best seasons for whitewater rafting in the West with opportunities for day trips, as well as multi-day adventures. In California, for example, the high water means extended rafting on the North Fork of the American River near Sacramento and North Lake Tahoe and on the Merced River near Yosemite, which is a great one-day trip and add-on to those visiting Yosemite National Park.

 

This at a time when more families are camping, even teens, who say they appreciate the chance to get outdoors and unplugged, according to the 2019 American Camping Report.

That includes outdoors-loving grandparents. OARS reports that 20 percent of those on their 1,000 trips are baby boomers enjoying and sharing the wilderness with grandchildren. "Excellent," said Jennifer Sims, from Vancouver, Washington, back for another trip after rafting with her grandkids last year on the Salmon River. "Quality gear, exquisite meals and attention to all the things that matter -- like safety and health."

That's no small thing on an active adventure where it's not unusual for rafters to go into the water, especially from stand-up paddleboards and inflatable kayaks called duckies. We wear helmets; get lessons on buckling our safety vests tightly and also on getting back in a raft and helping someone else in. There is as much focus on hand-washing as on a big cruise ship.

Don't be afraid to try this," said Susan Shaler, an attorney in her early 60s from San Diego. "It's accessible and you don't need to be in the best shape and the scenery is so beautiful!"

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