Want to take off on an amazing getaway and do some white water rafting this summer? The U.S. has some stunning destinations for all levels of rafting, so you won’t have any problem finding somewhere to go. The hard part will be choosing which one! Before you start packing and practicing those paddling skills, take a look at these awesome white water rafting rivers that we think are some of the best in the U.S.
Colorado River—Southern Utah
Flowing through Utah, Arizona, and Colorado, the Colorado River is a must for any river-rafter enthusiast! Not only does it offer unparalleled white waters that range in intensity from tranquil to exhilarating, but you’ll be awe-struck by the unbelievable canyon scenery. The Westwater and Cataract canyons in southern Utah are perfect for Intermediate-level rafting. Starting in the quiet waters of Ruby Canyon, the Westwater Canyon trip will delight you with contrasting canyon hues before the rapids ramp up within the receding and deepening canyon walls. At a point where the inner walls reach 200 feet in the air, you’ll come to Skull Rapid, a Class IV. Be ready for water-parting cliffs and boulders the size of small homes. Along the way you’ll get to enjoy native wildlife like bald eagles and snowy egrets and you can also tour abandoned cabins and hideouts of settlers from long ago.
If the Westwater Canyon is too tame for your liking, give Cataract Canyon a try. Known as being “feisty,” this stretch of the Colorado River rushes through Canyonlands National Park and offers scenery that includes petroglyphs and waterfalls. Once it starts raging, it includes a Class II+ Mile Long Rapid that’s followed by Class III-IV drops known as Big Drop. Be prepared to drop 80 feet in just four miles!
Head to the No Return Wilderness Area in Idaho for a great family rafting experience as well as more challenging rafting with Class III-IV rapids. The Lower Salmon River is where you want to head with your family for rafting runs on the Main Salmon River. You’ll enjoy Class II-III white waters, white sand beaches, beautiful scenery, and amazing wildlife. However the Middle Fork of the Salmon River offers more than 100 Class II-IV rapids over a span of 100 miles. This stretch of the river is considered to be on the best river trips in the world with its stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, and great solitude.
No trip to Denali National Park is complete without boarding a raft and heading down the Nenana River. Located in between Fairbanks and Anchorage, it’s easily accessible for a day-long rafting trip and is a popular stop for many Alaska visitors every year. As a wide and powerful river, you’ll find Class II-V rapids on this river that flows in the shadow of Mt. McKinley. Families will appreciate the more gentle rapids, and rafting enthusiasts will love the challenge of Roostertail’s technical entrance and the thunderous hydraulics of Boxcar. Along the way you’ll enjoy spectacular wildlife viewing of animals that are native to Denali, including caribou, wild sheep, and bears!
Kennebec River & Dead River—Maine
Maine offers excellent white water rafting that ranges from Class III-IV, both great levels for engaging and thrilling rafting. The Dead River provides more continuous white water than any other east-coast river. Starting below the Grand Falls, a 30-ft. horseshoe waterfall, you ease your way from gentle waters into a steeper gradient where you pick up the Class III and IV rapids. These include Spencer Rips, The Minefield, Humpty Dumpty, Elephant Rock, Mile Long Rapid, and Poplar Hill Falls. In The Forks, the Dead River and Kennebec River meet up where you can continue onto more Class IV rafting. For four miles it rushes through a deep gorge and offers amazing remoteness and roller coaster-style waves. The source of the river is Moosehead Lake, Maine’s largest inland body of water. Kennebec River offers four well-known rapids: Rock Garden, Three Sisters, the Alleyway, and Class V Magic Falls.
New River—West Virginia
Whether you want to stay dry or get drenched by waves, the New River in Fayetteville, West Virginia, has what you’re looking for! Head to the Upper New River for family-friendly or beginner-style Class I-III rapids. Here you’ll find long chutes that drop gently over ledges and calm water that gives way to occasional wave action. At 15 miles long, a trip down the river can take 6-8 hours, but luckily you can stretch your legs with swimming and hiking opportunities along the way. For Class IV+ action, the Lower New River drops 250 feet in 16 miles and is known for its big waves. You’ll rush through The Keeneys, Double Z, and the Greyhound Bus Stopper before reaching the majestic New River Gorge Bridge, the Northern hemisphere’s longest single-span steel arch bridge. No matter the route you take, the New River provides beautiful scenery as you pass by abandoned mining towns and through lush canyon walls that rise 1,400 feet.
Chattooga River—S. Carolina/Georgia
Flowing along the border of Georgia and South Carolina, the Chattooga River is a popular east-coast white water rafting destination! Bring your family for an adventurous trip down Class II rapids or come with your frat-house buddies for some crazy Class IV+ fun! This river’s got it all! The moderate Section II portions of the river are great for wildlife viewing as it drops slowly at 12 feet per mile for a seven-mile span. This mild float is rich in Native American history and meanders through beautiful wilderness. Up for more of a challenge? Head to the Section III portion where you’ll get more than a dozen rapids that range from Intermediate to Advanced rafting. This popular stretch of river includes Dicks Creek Ledge, the Narrows, Second Ledge, Eye of the Needle, Painted Rock, and the infamous Bull Sluice to finish it off. If death-defying rapids are more your thing, head to Section IV where in just a quarter of a mile, the river drops more than 75 feet! Gulp! This section of the river is the most difficult and steepest section of river currently rafted in the Southeast. When (or if) you make it to the bottom, you’ll be able to say you rafted through these infamous falls: Entrance, Corkscrew, Crack-in-the-Rock, Jawbone, and Sock-Em Dog.
It’s common knowledge that the Arkansas River offers the best white water rafting in all of Colorado, a state known for its rapids! At 1,469 miles long, it’s the 6th longest river in the U.S. and flows south and southeast through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. At its headwaters in Colorado, more specifically the Arkansas River Valley, it flows swiftly through the narrow valley of the Rockies, creating spectacular rapids for rafting. In 120 miles it drops 4,600 feet! Some of the most popular Arkansas River rafting is in Brown’s Canyon, Royal Gorge, The Gauntlet, and The Numbers near Granite, CO.
Offering rafting for all levels of experience, from beginners and families to thrill-seeking junkies, the Arkansas River is an excellent choice for rafting. Lean toward Brown’s Canyon for mild family rafting trips, as this stretch of the river near Buena Vista is very accessible for rafters and it offers the breathtaking scenery that Colorado is known for. If you’re looking for more of an adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding ride, head to The Numbers or The Gauntlet. Located at the upper section of the river, The Numbers offers non-stop rapids action, one after another, so be ready for uninterrupted thrills. Only head here if you’re in good shape and want a workout! Pine Creek in The Gauntlet is the only true Class V section of rapids on the Arkansas River, giving true white water enthusiasts the thrill they’re looking for.
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