The Most Adventurous White-water Rafting Destinations In The US

By Steph Wright on May 17 2020 in Travel

White water rafting is an extreme adventure sport that attracts many to America's raging whitewaters. Image credit: Ammit Jack/Shutterstock.com
  • Rafting was introduced to the Olympic Games in 1972 in Munich.
  • White water rafting is one of the fastest growing outdoor activities in the world.
  • Whirlpool Rapids Gorge, Niagara River, New York is one of the most dangerous white-water rafting destinations in the world.

White-water rafting is a popular outdoor activity that involves groups of people navigating rough waters on an inflatable raft. The activity has been popular since the 1950s and is sometimes regarded as an extreme sport due to the risk of injury caused by large waves and continuous rapids. White-water rafting is popular because of the adrenaline and team spirit that is created. The United States offers an array of adventurous white-water rafting destinations, read below to uncover the country's best.

10. Colorado River, Arizona

Rafting on The Colorado River in the Gran Canyon at sunrise. Image credit: Jim Mallouk/Shutterstock.com
Rafting on The Colorado River in the Gran Canyon at sunrise. Image credit: Jim Mallouk/Shutterstock.com

The Colorado River is one of the best white water rafting destinations in the United States and it is home to some of the largest rapids in North America. The river begins in the Rocky Mountains and cuts through the Grand Canyon, providing a stunning backdrop to the white-water adventure. You can choose from a variety of trips that range from a couple of hours to multi-day excursions. There is never a bad time to go rafting on the Colorado as water levels are consistent all year round.

9. Tuolumne River, California

Clavey Falls on the Tuolumne River. Image credit: Zachary Collier/Flickr.com
Clavey Falls on the Tuolumne River. Image credit: Zachary Collier/Flickr.com

Another one of the best white-water rafting destinations in the United States, the Tuolumne River is sure to leave you thrilled. The river is home to spectacular views of the Yosemite National Park and has some of the most exhilarating rapids on earth. As there are steep gradients, big drops, and high-pressure areas it is common for rafts to flip so it is best to be a strong swimmer. Top off the experience with a trek around the Park.

8. Rogue River, Oregon

Rogue River Rafting. Image credit: Flickr.com
Rogue River Rafting. Image credit: Flickr.com

Located in Oregon, the Rogue River is a firm favorite among rafters. The river flows from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and offers stunning views of untouched wilderness from start to finish. Beginners can practice their paddling skills on the still waters while adventure seekers will love the thrill of the numerous class III and one class V rapids. Multi-day itineraries are available, with some offering trail walks that give way to spectacular views of the river.

7. Deerfield River, Massachusetts

Rafting in the Deerfield River, Massachusetts. Image credit: Mott/Flickr.com
Rafting in the Deerfield River, Massachusetts. Image credit: Mott/Flickr.com

The Deerfield River runs through Vermont, Massachusetts, and into the Connecticut River. Visit the Deerfield River in Massachusetts to embark on a white-water adventure. You will pass by vibrant forests on impossibly clear waters and wind through narrow canyons. The river offers a range of rapids, making it an ideal destination for both families and experts. The class of the rapids ranges from II to IV and there is a range of itineraries available to make the most out of your time at the Deerfield River.  

6. Youghiogheny River, Pennsylvania

Whitewater Rafting the lower Youghiogheny river. Image credit: Sk/Flickr.com
Whitewater Rafting the lower Youghiogheny river. Image credit: Sk/Flickr.com

The Yough River, as it is known to locals, traverses West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. But it is the Pennsylvania portion that offers the best white-water rafting opportunities. The river is split into three sections: Upper, Middle and Lower. Seasoned professionals should head to the Upper Yough where you will encounter 22 continuous rapids that will get your adrenaline rushing. Families will enjoy the Middle of the Yough. The 10 class I to II rapids are enough to excite without raising your blood pressure.

5. Arkansas River, Colorado and Arkansas

Rafting on the Arkansas River in Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Image credit: Traveller70/Shutterstock.com
Rafting on the Arkansas River in Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Image credit: Traveller70/Shutterstock.com

The Arkansas River is a tributary of the Mississippi River and flows through the states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Thanks to more than 100 miles of white-water, it is the most popular rafting destination in the West of the U.S. The famous Browns Canyon section is home to exhilarating class III and IV rapids; those who want a challenge should tackle the Royal Gorge or Pine Creek section where the difficulty exceeds class IV.

4. Nenana River, Alaska

 Tourists rafting on the Nenana river, near Denali Park, Alaska. Image credit: Rosamar/Shutterstock.com
Tourists rafting on the Nenana river, near Denali Park, Alaska. Image credit: Rosamar/Shutterstock.com

Situated in the White Mountains, the Nenana River is the most picturesque of all the white-water rafting destinations. Surrounded by towering snow-capped mountains, the river satisfies all rafters. The upper section of the river is great for families and beginners; the rapids are a class II to III here.  For those who want something a little more electrifying, take to the Nenana Gorge where the rapids range from class III to V. Multi-day tours are available here and camping in the nearby Denali National Park is highly recommended.

3. Salmon River, Idaho

Rafting on the Salmon River. Image credit: NumenaStudios/Shutterstock.com
Rafting on the Salmon River. Image credit: NumenaStudios/Shutterstock.com

The Salmon River in Idaho is the longest un-dammed river in the United States. It is a popular rafting spot thanks to its variety: multiple rapids, calm floats, and swimming opportunities are dotted along the length of the river. The Salmon River caters to beginners and experts; the class of the rapids ranges from III to IV. The crystal clear waters and verdant forest backdrops add to the exhilarating experience, and you can choose to take a multi-day tour to experience the river’s full potential.

2. Gauley River, West Virginia

Gauley River rafting. Image credit: Michael Blow/Flickr.com
Gauley River rafting. Image credit: Michael Blow/Flickr.com

The Gauley River is a 105-mile-long river in West Virginia. The river snakes through forests and valleys, past tumbling waterfalls and into the town of Gauley Bridge. Your adrenaline will be pumping thanks to its 35-mile stretch of class V rapids. Beginners should choose to take a day trip on the Upper New River portion of the Gauley where the rapids are calmer.

1. Kennebec River, Maine

Kennebec River. Image credit: www.explore-share.com
Kennebec River. Image credit: www.explore-share.com

The Kennebec River in Maine is a 170-mile long river that starts at Moosehead Lake and winds south to Augusta. The river boasts numerous class III and IV level rapids, including “White Washer”, “Big Mama”, and “Magic Falls”. As you make your way down the river, you will encounter spectacular forest views and an abundance of wildlife, including crocodiles. Kennebec River’s rafting season runs from May to October; the river is controlled by a dam that guarantees ideal rafting conditions every day of the week.

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