Summer in the Berkshires: Zoar Outdoor river rafting

The largest of three area river rafting outfitters, Zoar Outdoor offers all levels of tours down the scenic Deerfield River, from family float trips to advanced whitewater day trips. Located in beautiful Charlemont in the heart of Massachusetts’ Berkshires, Zoar is one part family resort (tent cabins and lodge rooms are available), one part adventure center (guests can try their skill on the climbing wall, bike, hike, and zip line while visiting), and one part rafting outfit.

family float trip

During a time when many vacations are not possible, outdoor activities offer the ability to safely social distance, especially if families road trip or are visiting locally. Hotels.com asked me to share my favorite activities and tips for exploring the Berkshires, so start here as you plan a safe and responsible vacation.

Where to stay in the Berkshires: Lodging is available throughout the Berkshires and I would have loved to experience a night or two in this beautiful location! The town of Lenox has the most options available, which puts families close to Jiminy Peak ski area, which offers up fun in all seasons.

We visited Zoar on a late June afternoon for their Family Float Trip, which departed at 3:15 pm and ended at approximately 7 pm, and included a picnic dinner on the river, provided by Zoar. Depending on how many guests have reserved space on the trip, tours may depart with several rafts in the party or just one; on the afternoon of our trip, we were a solitary raft seating six guests and one guide.

zoar-outdoor-deerfield-river

Our guide, Matt, was a natural on the river, having grown up on the Deerfield, floating and rafting from an early age. One of over 50 well-trained Zoar guides, Matt was a wealth of information about the local natural landscape and wildlife (as well as what to do with kids in the area). Clearly skilled at his job, it was a pleasure to spend our hours on the river with him. The kids agreed; they loved the ways in which he kept what could have been a sleepy river float an adventure. Matt made sure we found all the ‘white water’ we could, stopped in the deeper pools for swimming opportunities, and taught the kids a great game that involved balancing on the edge of the raft while he spun it in circles. (Oh, and he knew to hide the cookies at dinner until everyone had eaten their sandwiches and salad.)

zoar-outdoor-family-float

The family float trip covers over eight and a half miles of river, stopping for a dinner of sandwiches (which guests can fix for themselves from an array of cold cuts, veggies, and condiments), pasta salad and salsa and chips (made fresh daily), cookies, lemonade, and water. The entire experience was very peaceful; I don’t know whether it was the time of evening our trip departed or just luck, but we were the only raft on the water through miles of quiet twists and turns, lovely green river banks, and great views. It was the perfect length and rafting level for families with young kids in tow (minimum age is five), and yet was still entertaining for my 12 and nine year olds. If everyone in your party is over age six, the Zoar Gap tour, with a minimum age of seven, might be an even better fit. It covers a different section of the same river, and adds more white water elements.

There’s no need to bring anything with you; Zoar suggests locking valuables in your car, then holds your keys for you in a lock box to prevent losing them to the river. I brought my water-resistant camera with me (at my own risk), and in hindsight, would have dressed the kids in long-sleeved shirts or sweatshirts under their floatation devices (which they could have taken off if needed), because after swimming in the Deerfield, they did get a bit chilled. Other than that, we needed nothing but sunglasses, sunscreen, and swimming attire or shorts and t-shirts.

Calvin-zoar-outdoor

Directions: Zoar Outdoor is located at 7 Main Street, Charlemont, MA. From I-91, take the Greenfield exit (26), then exit onto MA-2 Mohawk Trail. Follow MA-2 approximately 17 miles to Zoar.

As I disclose whenever applicable, we experienced the Deerfield River as guests of Zoar Outdoor. While we appreciate their hospitality, this compensation came with no expectation of a positive review. We have a partnership with Hotels.com, which allows us to keep our activity reviews front and center.

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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  1. wow!! we love whitewater rafting. this sounds like an ideal time!!

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