by Tami Mittan – “You do want to consider water levels when taking a family white water rafting”, counseled the Echo Canyon Rafting Expeditions manager. We had asked him about our 7 year old going on the intermediate rapids half-day trip in Colorado’s Royal Gorge. “Too low can be a bit boring, too high can be pretty intense. But right now… it’s perfect. Just pure fun!”
The stage was set, and we were all in for trying our first white water rafting adventure with my two kids, ages 7 and 13. The Arkansas River winds through this corner of Colorado, offering some of the state’s best white water rafting opportunities. Located near Canon City, the stunning Royal Gorge Bridge and Park enhances your visit to the area even further.
Family Adventure in Royal Gorge Colorado
Here’s what you’ll want to know, to plan a terrific family adventure trip to Colorado’s Royal Gorge.
Echo Canyon River Expeditions – White Water Rafting
Echo Canyon River Expeditions is one of the largest white water rafting companies in the Royal Gorge area, and we were very impressed with their operations. They operate a large fleet of well maintained white water rafting boats and gear, and offer extra amenities like wet suit rentals for that chilly river water and an overflowing abundance of family adventure.
My favorite perk of rafting with Echo Canyon? Go-Pro footage from your own raft, with videos recorded during the white water rafting stretches of your trip. Best souvenir ever! A flash drive with all your videos and still shots is made available by the time you return to rafting headquarters. Echo Canyon River Expeditions is are the currently the only rating company in the area who offers videos of your rafting excursion.
If you’ve got kids along, the guides at Echo Canyon will give you the best recommendation based on their age/sizes and the current river flow. At the time, my son was age 7 and the river flow was moderate (i.e. perfect). We chose the Big Horn Sheep Canyon half-day trip. This route included Class II and III rapids. The minimum child age and weight was 4 years old, 50 pounds.
You can check out some additional tips at 5 Tips for Selecting a White Water Rafting Guide.
Where to Stay: Royal Gorge Cabins
The Royal Gorge Cabins are gorgeous new accommodations located conveniently right across the street from Echo Canyon River Expeditions. Don’t bother traveling into nearby Canon City, Colorado, in search of a hotel. Stay right here in the heart of the mountains, with breathtaking vistas right outside your door.
Opened just one year ago, my family stayed in a two story Royal Gorge Cabin. We loved the modern design and comfortable touches. A small kitchen is provisioned with essentials. The two-way glass fireplace adds cozy ambiance both inside the living room, and for those sitting outside on the patio.
Or you could try the latest rage, “Glamping”! Royal Gorge Cabins also offers 8 glamping tents on this same property, in either double or single occupancy. Each comes with an evaporative cooler for those hot summer days, and a private posh fire pit just outside your door. These luxurious tents are very alluring!
What to See: Royal Gorge Bridge (and Zip Line!)
If it’s been more than 4 years since you visited the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. After a wildfire in 2014 completely decimated both sides of the gorge, nearly every structure of this facility was destroyed. Thankfully the suspension bridge, originally built in the 1920’s, was deemed structurally sound after the blaze.
Hence, a huge rebuilding project was swiftly undertaken. Nine busy months later, this fantastic attraction is now back in business with more than ever to offer families.
Be prepared to actually cross the Royal Gorge, because this adventure park offers fun on both sides. Methods include:
- Gondola ride, with nearly glass-bottomed views
- Walking across the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge (not as scary as we anticipated… it’s at least 15 feet wide)
- Zip Line!
I proudly watched my 13 year old daughter tackle the Cloudscraper “America’s highest zip line”, and witnessed her glow of empowerment afterwards. A kids sized amusement park featuring a playground, carousel, and mining for gems assures all ages will have a good time.
Where to Climb: Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience
Right in this same vicinity is a highly family friendly dinosaur attraction that is well worth checking out. Numerous dinosaur fossils in the Canon City, Colorado, area serve as the inspiration behind the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience.
Although the museum portion is not huge, the knowledgeable staff and unique exhibits make it an enjoyable walk through. Outside you’ll find two versions of a high ropes course: a mini version for toddlers, and a daunting two story version… overseen by an Apatosaurus. Take your pick!
Don’t leave without strolling along the nature walk, with animatronic dinosaurs greeting you along the path. The natural surrounding terrain adds to the realism. My dino-loving son got a real kick out of this entire place.
What to Ride: Royal Gorge Railroad
An exciting locomotive trip on the Royal Gorge Railroad offers views of the gorge from an exciting ground-level perspective, as the train winds along the Arkansas river at the bottom of the canyon. It’s a relaxing 2 hour round trip. Assigned cushioned seating indoors is complemented nicely with the option to walk out to the open air viewing car.
A full menu is available for dinner trips, or even just a snack or beverage during your journey. We enjoyed hearing a narration of everything from details on sighted rock formations, to colorful gun-slinging history of the area.
This white water rafting stretch of the river delivers Class 4 and 5 level rapids, and we spotted a few boats coming through during our ride on the Royal Gorge Railroad. Echo Canyon Rafting Expeditions requires rafters to be age 16 in order to tackle this Echo Canyon route.
The highlight is definitely when the Royal Gorge suspension bridge comes into view, high above. Suspended nearly 1000 feet from the bottom of the gorge, it appears tiny from this vantage point. You’ll get to journey completely under the bridge and park above, before reversing and returning to your same starting destination.
Note: Echo Canyon Rafting provided complimentary accommodations, activities, and dining for the purposes of this article.
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Tami Mittan is a Colorado mother of two who loves travel, the outdoors, staying active, photography, reading books, and eating desserts. You can follow along with her family’s mountain adventures (and maybe pick up some Disney World travel tips!) at Colorado Mountain Mom.