20 amazing white water rafting trips in the USA
From high-energy rapids to laid-back river floats, we’re on a mission to find the white water rafting trips you'll love in the USA. This is choose-your-own-adventure, whether you want to perfect your river surfing skills, or just hit the water for sun and swimming. Not that summertime’s the only time to head to the river. America’s best white water rafting is powered by melting snow, dam releases, and year-round rivers, so you can find the perfect white water adventure for any month. Ready, set, paddle.
Kick off from the riverbank and dive into a world of swirling eddies, standing waves, and rippling white water. We’re showcasing 20 white water rafting trips that are among some of the best in America, from California gold country to deep Appalachia—lining up enough white water adventures for a lifetime on the river. Why white water rafting? It’s not just splashing through rapids and riverside picnics (though we think that sounds pretty nice). White water rafting gives a whole different perspective on some of the United States’ wildest places, with the chance to spot wildlife and gorgeous scenery that’s far from any road. That’s why some of America’s best white water can be found in these small towns and mountain wildernesses—it’s a taste of the country at its most pristine.
Go white water rafting on the Yellowstone River to float through the gorgeous Gallatin Range of the Rocky Mountains, with the chance to spot ospreys and Montana’s other native wildlife. Try out your paddling skills on a rafting trip, or go for the full wilderness experience, paddling a longer section of the Yellowstone River and spending the night at the edge of the water.
Taos, New Mexico
Head to Taos for a white water rafting trip on the Rio Grande, then paddle the Narrows, Big Rock, and Souse Hole. Even if you endure the spinning whirlpools and eddies, leaving Taos might not be so easy—the entire town is said to be an “energy vortex” that’s rumored to exert a powerful pull on visitors.
Canon City, Colorado
There are more than 100 miles of rapids on the mighty Arkansas River, a river rafting hotspot that flows right past the mountain town of Canon City. With that much white water, there’s a lot to choose from while booking a river trip, and options range from the laid-back Bighorn Sheep Canyon to the more challenging Royal Gorge, whose towering canyon walls contain some hair-raising Class V rapids.
With access to the best white water rafting in the Smoky Mountains, Hartford is a great home base for Tennessee white water adventures. Choose the lower section of the Pigeon River for a beginner-friendly float through Class I and Class II rapids, or opt for the upper Pidgeon River to tackle Class III and Class IV rapids that include big waves and some serious drops.
Buena Vista, Colorado
Surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks, Buena Vista is a top destination for Colorado white water adventures. You can paddle Brown’s Canyon National Monument, take on the serious white water that surges through Royal Gorge, or use Buena Vista as a base camp for paddling “The Numbers,” a legendary stretch of the Arkansas River that’s steep, rocky, and powerful.
Flowing through the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Toccoa River is great for white water rafting trips at a laid-back pace. Families with smaller kids can try white water rafting for the first time, and you can float the Toccoa River in a kayak, canoe, stand-up paddle board, or inner tube (floating beer cooler optional).
Bryson City, North Carolina
White water rapids alternate with stretches of flat water on the Nantahala River outside of Bryson City, a picturesque home base for exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A daily, scheduled dam release powers the Nantahala River’s Class II and Class II rapids, sending cool water down a watercourse that’s fringed with lush, North Carolina forest.
Lotus & Coloma, California
Paddle the south fork of the American River on a white water rafting trip from Lotus or Coloma in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is California gold country: watch for shining flecks in the water as you learn to navigate churning rapids and waves, or bring your gold pan along for an adventurous overnight rafting trip and an evening beneath the California stars.
Ohiopyle State Park contains a high-energy stretch of Class II, Class III, and Class IV rapids packed into seven and a half miles of the Youghiogheny River—locals just call it the Yough. White water rafting on the lower Yough River is a great first-time white water rafting adventure, but experienced white water kayakers will love surfing standing waves and holes.
Charlemont, Berkshires, Massachusetts
Deerfield River white water rating conditions range from inner tube-friendly ripples to Class IV rapids boosted by dam releases from April through October. And since the Deerfield River follows the scenic Mohawk Trail byway into the Berkshire Mountains, getting to the white water rafting spots is half the fun.
Paddle with gorgeous views of the Grand Teton Mountains on a white water rafting trip on the Snake River. Jackson Hole white water rafting ranges from relaxed floats perfect for spotting wildlife to high-energy rafting trips that take on more challenging rapids; you can even mix rafting with a taste of Wyoming’s legendary fly fishing.
Idaho Springs, Colorado
White water rafting in Idaho Springs means paddling scenic Clear Creek, which features both easy sections of fun, rolling rapids and sustained stretches of Class III and Class IV rapids that will keep you focused (and wet). Idaho Springtime’s white water rafting starts when the river warms up in May, and flows right through the sunny Colorado summer.
Tiny Merlin, Oregon is the perfect adventure base camp for a white water rafting trip on the Rogue River, among the most legendary rafting destinations in the West. The name sounds intimidating, but Hellgate Canyon’s a great place for first-time paddlers, while Class IV falls and surfable waves make the Nugget Falls section ideal for stepping up your skills.
The Forks, Maine
Deep in western Maine, The Forks is a white water rafting destination with a backwoods soul. This is where the Dead River and the Kennebec River come together, and there’s great white water rafting on each of the two waterways. The Dead River boasts the East’s longest stretch of continuous whitewater, while the Kennebec takes a powerful dive through the remote Kennebec River Gorge, where dam releases churn the water into Class IV rapids.
Shoot the white water on the Menominee River, whose river banks are hemmed in with soaring cliffs. White water rafting trips from Athelstane navigate Piers Gorge, on the dividing line between Michigan and Wisconsin. When the water peaks in the spring, Class IV and Class V rapids offer a challenging white water adventure for more experienced paddlers.
The Lehigh River once powered mills and foundries, but now it’s a great spot for white water rafting trips in the Pocono Mountains. Book a weekend rafting adventure that’s timed to the dam release, and your white water experience will be powered by energetic rapids. On other days, Class I and Class II white water make for family-family rafting.
Rafting the Grand Canyon is one of the world’s best white water rafting adventures, with unmatched views of the canyon from water level, and Flagstaff makes the perfect rafting base camp. Take on the Colorado River in a wooden dory like John Wesley Powell, or opt for the comfort of a white water raft as you splash your way down the most iconic river in the American west.
Lansing, West Virginia
Paddle the spectacular New River Gorge on a river rafting trip in the heart of West Virginia, and you’ll be white water rafting one of the oldest rivers in the world. More experienced rafters can head to the nearby Gauley River, with challenging, technical rapids that hit their peak between early September and mid-October.
Flowing through the heart of an untouched wilderness, the Salmon River may be called the “River of No Return,” but even beginning paddlers can experience Stanley’s best white water rafting. Rafting trips bounce over Class II and Class III rapids in rafts and white water kayaks, passing some of northern Idaho’s most rugged wilderness scenery.
Take on challenging Class III and Class IV rapids on the Ocoee River, one of the best white water rafting destinations in Tennessee, and you’ll splash through the heart of the southern Appalachian mountains. Warm river water makes it even more fun to paddle through roller coaster waves and churning drops, with a long season that stretches all the way from March through October.
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