Day Trips: Rafting along the Vermillion River

With lush green fields that seem to go on and on forever, white water rafting may not even be on your radar as an East Central Illinois resident. As a Mahomet resident with the Sangamon River running not a quarter-mile from my home, rafting is something I thought was only available in a tube down a shallow river or creek—-maybe. So finding an adventure where my kids had to wear a helmet was surprising, but I was all in.

Let’s be honest, we find things through Google…so I googled white water rafting in Illinois, thinking that Google would actually have an emoji pop up that was laughing and crying at the same time. Instead, I found Vermillion River Rafting near one of my favorite spots, Matthiessen State Park (and Starved Rock).

First things first, though. It’s about a 2/2.5 hour drive up to the Starved Rock area, so we decided to camp and hike on Saturday before our Sunday trip. Finding a camping spot in Illinois is hard, though. Because there are so few State camping grounds, they fill up quickly, and then the private sites are hard to book because you can’t make online reservations through them. Another problem that arose was that in the Starved Rock area, there were quite a few campgrounds that had reviews saying, “DO NOT STAY HERE.”

Because of this, I chose 4-Star campground. The reviews looked decent and it’s called 4-Star Campground. This facility definitely has some pluses (for being in Illinois).

  1. The office has a soft served ice cream machine.
  2. The people are nice.
  3. Campers get to use a pool.
  4. If you’re tent camping, there didn’t seem to be a lot of tent campers, so you have your choice of spots.

But there were also some downsides…

  1. If you want a bathroom, you have to walk quite a ways.
  2. The bathrooms are so/so. (I know with tent camping things are fairly primitive, but clean plumbing is important to me.)
  3. The fire pits are minimal.
  4. There are a lot of what appears to be established residents in the RV park, which makes up most of the campground.

After driving around a bit, I did realize that the 4-Star Campground was one of the better places to stay in this area.

We had reservations for six people (which equals two rafts) at Vermillion River Rafting. You are supplied with helmets for the kids (and adults if you want one), a lifejacket, rafts, and paddles. When you arrive, make sure you take your car keys, payment and license up to the front desk where you check in.

To raft you are going to need:

  1. A cooler that does not have a flap to open. We lost all our drinks, so I would suggest on that zips? But if the raft flips, you’re going to lose the zipped one anyway. You need drinks, though.
  2. Lots and lots of sunscreen. You’ll be on a three or four-hour rafting trip with no shade. Apply liberally.
  3. You need cash or a check…no cards are accepted.
  4. And, if you wear glasses you need something to make sure they don’t fly off your head.

After you get your supplies, another employee will show you the course and tell you where the rapids are. This basically scared me because I thought I was going to lose my children who are not good swimmers (15, 13 and 10). But the only one who fell out was me….

The first hour/hour-and-a-half into the river is basically like rafting down the Kickapoo River. Very small rapids, nice scenery and lots of time to chat. Having never been rafting before, I don’t know what this means, but the website said there are times when the river can have category 3 rapids.

By what the employee said, I thought the first rapid would be small and the second one would be scary. But as we approached the first rapid, we saw that we could not see past the large boulders on both sides of the river, so we waited until other people went through.

You could hear victory screams on the other side, so I knew my husband, son and middle daughter made it, then another raft made it, then another and then it was our turn. As the river calmed, we saw the massive (to me) drop we had to endure. Come in right, go left. But we hit that wave dead center and as the front of the boat went down, I flew out the back. I was caught under the boat with my foot still inside the boat, which was scary, but the water is very deep at this part, so I did not hit my head.

There were other people who fell out ahead of us, too, but everyone was okay. Honestly, it was a lot of fun.

But because that rapid was big, everyone was then scared to go over the next rapid about an hour-and-a-half down the river. We were told to stay right because of the undertow near the dam. She also told us to squat down like we are catchers at a baseball game for this one.

I’m not sure if she’s ever played baseball. You are still on your feet and elevated when you’re a catcher. We found that the best way to stay in the boat while on any of the rapids was just to sit at the bottom…not on the edges (that was my problem, I think).

Anyhow, this last rapid is fun…and if you just stay right you shouldn’t have any problem.

Would I classify the Vermillion River as “white water rafting?” Nah. But my kids had a great time learning how to paddle, being outside and doing something different. Everyone got to work together, talk and see parts of the state we didn’t even know existed and play together.

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I may do it all, but I have not done it all.

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