Top Ten Kid-Tested Rivers

Ten Kid-Tested Rivers: Big River Adventures for Families with Little People
By Buck Tilton

My son, Zachary, sits absorbed in the white sand bank of Utah's lower Green River as my wife and I prepare to paddle 115 miles downstream to where the Green River meets the Colorado.

Zach is almost nine months old, and this will be his first extended wilderness journey. We started with day trips, then overnighters, and have progressed to shoving off on a long trip.

Our shuttle driver says no parents have ever taken someone as young as Zachary on the lower Green. But we are comfortable here, and, as a result, he will be, too. If there is a risk to my son, it is that he could grow up without the experience of wilderness.

I chose the Green during the low-water month of October because of its gentle nature and mild climate. (It runs deeper and faster in spring and early summer; in later summer and early fall the heat rises to tremendous heights.)

We shove off, and the river carries us peacefully around the first bend. Leaning far over the gunwale, Zachary trails his tiny fingers in the brown water of the inappropriately named Green.

How, I wondered, would Zach take to hours in a small slim space? Would he attempt to abandon ship? Would he cry for the shoreline? It turns out he likes it just fine.

I know, as I watch his gaiety during the next 10 days, that Zach will not consciously remember the Green River. I believe, though, that something of the peace and splendor has taken up residence in his unconscious, in his spirit.

How much of who he will become was there when he was born? How much develops under the influence of how we raise him? I can't answer those questions. But I am confident that nature's way is perfect. We will allow him, as much as we are able, to follow.

The morning of the last day, after a short paddle, we wait at the meeting of waters for the prearranged ride up the Colorado River to our car. Zachary sits beside me in the shade of the umbrella, chanting "da da da da" in between nibbles off a sandy cracker. I can't honestly say it has all been easy, this first trip with Zach, but I can say it has been rich with irresistible marvels, part natural, part human. Putting a final few words in our journal, I begin plans for our next adventure.

Comfort Enhancers:

Whether you plan to paddle for a few hours or a few days, these basic tips will go a long way toward thwarting potential mutinies:

Line the bottom of the canoe with a closed cell foam pad cut and shaped to match the areas where your youngsters will sit and nap.

Kids dehydrate faster than adults, so pack plenty of cool, diluted sports drink, like Gatorade.

Tie a sippy cup by string to your child's PFD (personal flotation device).

Pack extra plastic garbage bags to handle the growing mound of dirty diapers.

Even in autumn, the sun reflecting off of water can burn. See Sun Smarts for Small Fries for specific advice on protecting kids from sun. I C-clamp a black umbrella to the bow or sides of the canoe to shade Zach when he naps. Works like a charm unless it's gusty.

A five-gallon plastic bucket serves nicely not only as camp stool and dry storage but also as bathtub for wee ones.

PFDs (aka life jackets) are required. We tether Zach to mom via a three-foot length of nylon cord.



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