This is about personal comfort level, competency, and family life style. It's not for everyone and if you don't want to do it...don't. If it feels wrong to you, trust that instinct and don't ask someone else if it should feel right.
Some people get off on going to the zoo every weekend...us, not so much. One trip to the zoo was plenty. I definitely prefer that Riley sees nature as it is, rather than explain why the hippos look so sad in their giant cement "cell". We recently saw some baby otters playing on our Middle Fork trip; it was the cutest thing I've seen in a long time and I'm so glad he got to see that.
Our family activities aren't based around the selfish fact that we don't want to miss a day on the river; we spend plenty of weekends at soccer games, in the garden, or driving to EBF for BMX races. That being said, when Riley has friends over, and the raft is sitting on the trailer in the driveway, they get in and go on an adventure. I love hearing him yell "Hit the hole!" "Watch out for the rocks!" "Everybody high side!" I'm not forcing him to play river runner, that's his choice.
Dave recently spent an hour or more with Riley and an 8 year old girl on our trip, doing pseudo throw bag rescues in the current at camp. They loved it and got a taste of a necessary river skill. That is real adventure and real life. When he's older and feels as though he missed out on having a season pass at Elitch Gardens, he can buy his own.
His last few birthdays have been celebrated on the Colorado (Pumphouse). Last week, as we were taking off the MF, he asked "Can I have my birthday on the MF this year?" Not "Can I have my birthday at Pump-it-Up or Chuck E Cheese?" I'm not saying that he doesn't enjoy going to those parties, they are simply not the experiences we want to show him.
The closest call for us, that is still clear in my mind, is a trailer incident. I think parking lots and boat ramps are more dangerous than class II. Or III for that matter.
Proper clothes, gear, food, sunscreen, your attention, and teaching them lessons are most important. If the intended trip isn't flat water, and we haven't done it pre-child, Dave will kayak it first to evaluate the whitewater. Also, surrounding yourself with friends who enjoy your kids and have an unspoken "eye out" for them is great. I'm thankful for the amazing friends we have.
Sitting in the back yard with milk and cookies just sets them up for adult-onset diabetes. Though...I suppose roasting 9 marshmallows in one evening is worse!
And GOOD GRIEF! Don't strap your kid into anything but an appropriate PFD. Put them in your lap or sit next to them. Don't tether them to yourself. Keep the car seat in the car.