Best US Rivers for Whitewater Rafting

Adventure enthusiasts travel all over the country in search of the wildest river ride.

Many plan an entire vacation around the scheduled release of a river or the issuing of a river permit. These customers know that even on the same stretch of river, every guide runs different lines, every rapid flows a bit differently each day and each new trip is a completely new and exciting experience.

The hardest part of deciding where to go rafting is sorting through the multitude of possibilities. There are rivers all over the U.S.A. and you can go river rafting abroad in New Zealand, Chile, and Zimbabwe.

For big thrills no one can deny that the Upper Gauley River in West Virginia tops the charts.

Every fall, action junkies from all over the country flock to the Gauley to experience the river’s quintessential class V rapids. Insignificant, Pillow, Iron Ring, Lost Paddle and Sweets Falls are known to all as the big five: five class V rapids that keep the adrenaline pumping all day. With majestic scenery on every corner and a handful of highly experienced rafting outfitters, a trip to the Gauley River is sure to be an unforgettable one.

Veteran raft guide Drew Austell puts the Upper Gauley at the top of his favorite rivers. He comments that the Gauley is the “best single day you can have in rubber in the world.” He, along with many other raft guides all over the nation, venture here every year just to play.

The Gauley River also boasts multiple stretches of river, for different days of rafting excitement.

Other east coast favorites include the Cheat River Canyon in northern West Virginia. This river is housed in one of the steepest canyons east of the Mississippi and river features you will never forget.

For a steep, tight and technical rafting experience, nothing compares to the Upper Youghiogheny in Maryland. Also operating on a release schedule, rafters flock to the town of Friendsville to descend the Upper Yough’s continuous class IV/V rapids.

The Upper Youghiogheny is also a more intimate rafting experience than anywhere else. Since the lines are so tight, only small, four-person rafts are used. You, two friends and a guide become a paddling team, making quick moves and flying over big drops.

The western United States possesses even more classic river stretches to add to your list.

Many people claim to simply enjoy rafting trips until they experience the Grand Canyon via a multi-day raft trip down the Colorado River for the first time. At this point, they are fully hooked.

The Grand Canyon river trip is unlike any other in the world. Floating down America’s most treasured natural feature induces a connection to nature many have never experienced. For six to sixteen days, the river and the high canyon walls that surround it become home. Every river bend presents a view more magnificent than the last and every night a sky filled with more shining stars.

Rafting jobs on the Grand Canyon are one of the most coveted positions in the industry. For this reason, you will never find a staff more knowledgeable and skilled. They educate their guests on the natural history of the surrounding area, prepare gourmet meals three times a day and encourage you to push your limits while also having a great time.

Idaho offers loads of unforgettable rafting options. The six day trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon tops many rafters’ list of must-see river valleys. Designated as a National Wild and Scenic River, this stretch flows through pristine wilderness in the country’s third deepest canyon. The trip serves up exhilarating whitewater rafting, high country forests, granite canyons and more hot springs than one can remember.

Other western classics include the White Salmon River and Skykomish River in Washington, the American in California or the Snake in Wyoming. How about the Deschutes River in central Oregon? The vast and open landscapes of the west humble any individual traveling along the river. In one day rivers may present views of immense volcanic peaks, sharp glacial valleys and looming canyon walls. And the river is often the only way to see it all.

Rafting is everywhere. Where there are mountains and valleys, there are rivers. The character and the experience of each river changes drastically, making for an infinite number of river rafting options.

Sign up for our newsletter!