The 10 Best White Water Rafting Trips in the united states
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
– Jawaharlal Nehru
Among all of the outdoor excursions, adventurous endeavors, and adrenaline-pumping activities I’ve done throughout the years, there has been none more fun, rewarding, and soul-satisfying than white water rafting. And for me, it’s one of those activities I can never get enough of.
White water rafting is a popular adventure sport globally, with a rapid (pun intended!) rise in popularity throughout the entirety of the United States in recent years. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’ve set out on the goal to complete the 10 best white water rafting trips in the United States, so consider me on the bandwagon!
Not only does white water rafting provide an adrenaline rush like no other, but it also provides a purpose, a reason to travel to some of the most awe-inspiring destinations the world has to offer.
Not that I need the excuse, but it’s nice to have one!
So, If you’re like me and you’re eager to get out and explore the world with new eyes, in a unique way, and learn more about the best white water rafting opportunities that the United States has to offer, you’re in the right place.
Here are the top 10 white water rafting Trips in the United States.
Grand Canyon (Colorado River)
Ranked atop the list of best white water rafting trip in the United States- the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, Arizona is one for the books! After spending 11 days on these jaw-dropping, 278-mile long rapids, I can’t tell you how much it has changed my life. Not only did it allow me to see the entire Canyon with fresh eyes, but it taught me about myself, funny enough…
The epitome of what white water rafting is and should be, you may be remiss to do this one first. Why? Because, well, you’ll be spoiled, for every white water rapids experienced that follows simply won’t compare!
Unfortunately, a recent study was released suggesting that the Colorado River has dried up nearly 20% over the past 100 years. Nevertheless, boasting 1.4 trillion gallons of water across 278 miles, and with an average temperature of about 50°, the Colorado River is the ideal gold-star destination and I can’t recommend it enough.
While temperatures are fairly inconsistent and variable throughout the year, you can expect the months of June, July, and August to be some of the warmest. In contrast, with the Colorado River hitting near-freezing temperatures most of the year (and I mean freezing!), you’re going to want to combat it with the warm Arizona air.
Just be prepared to spend a pretty penny! White water rafting down the Colorado River ain’t cheap, but it’s worth every penny.
Alsek River in Alaska
Dubbed the “Wildest River in North America”, and ranked #1 by National Geographic as the best white water river destination in the world, the Alsek River is a world-renowned body of water in Alaska, surrounded by some of the most beautiful wilderness sights and mountain-peak landscapes you could imagine.
Flowing 160 miles through 2 glacier lakes and providing some of the largest rapids an adrenaline-junkie could ask for, Alsek River is another one for the books.
While I might be somewhat biased towards the Grand Canyon Excursion across the Colorado River, Alsek River is admittedly a Grand Canyon River guide’s dream especially if you love nature.
If you’ve been convinced and you’re eager to get this trip booked, consider aiming for a mid/end of June trip. With water levels beginning to rise during this time, and temperatures ideal, the summer months are peak season for a reason.
Booking through CRATE is your best bet here. But act fast, space is limited and demand is most certainly high!
Middle Fork of the Salmon, Idaho
This 104-mile river stretched across beautiful central Idaho is some of the best stretches of water, wildlife, and scenery in the world. However, it’s not for the faint of heart. If you’re visiting on a white water rapids trip, beware of the several boat-flipping sections throughout the excursion, as rapids get quite intense in some spots. Most notably, Middle Fork has a section known notoriously in the rapids community as Hell’s Half Mile and another called Devil’s Tooth. I’ll allow your creativity to decipher what you’d expect during these sections of the rapids…
Nevertheless, you’re not going to experience more authentic white water rapids in the United States as you will in Middle Fork, Idaho. With flows ranging from 1-5 feet and above, this 104 mile stretch of rapids has difficulty levels of wide-ranging magnitude.
With easy stretches in contrast with the most difficult, you’ll undoubtedly experience a rollercoaster of a trip. That’s the fun of it though, am I right?!
As for rafting season, you’re looking at May through to September. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to want to go when the weather is hottest.
For those looking for an all-inclusive package encompassing accommodations AND a rapids adventure, check out Middle Fork Lodge! For those just looking to book the excursions, check out Tributary Whitewater Tours or American Whitewater Expeditions.
High Water Cataract Canyon Utah
Not to be confused with the 278-mile Grand Canyon Colorado River excursion, this 47-mile stretch flowing through CanyonIslands National Park offers class 3-5 rapids of both low and high waters depending on the section.
At its peak, Cataract Canyon offers the largest whitewater rapids in North America.
Will you have fun? Of course. Is it absolutely terrifying? Hell ya! But that’s the draw of whitewater rafting! We’re adrenaline junkies after all, right?!
If you’re looking for the biggest rapids of the year, consider a trip during the peak season between May and June. Afraid of monstrosities and hoping for “not-as-big” waters? July to September is your best bet…To book the ultimate canyon rafting experience, checkout CRATE and curate the perfect itinerary for you!
The Gauley River in West Virginia
For some of the best white water rafting in the United States, The Gauley River in West Virginia is a must-add to the bucket list. As one of the top-ranked rivers in the world, rookies and vets alike will experience a technical course of rapids surrounded by scenic beauty throughout.
Featuring over 100 rapids throughout its 105-mile stretch of river, the Gauley River Rapids experience is nothing short of electrifying.
Admittedly, I’m jealous of those who have experienced the Gauley River in all of its glory. As a class V rapids, it sits atop my bucket list for sure.
For those wondering, peak season, like most rapids’ adventures, land between September and October. Looking to upgrade your experience? Consider booking through River Expeditions for great rates and convenient service. Want to make it an all-inclusive holiday? Then check out ACE Adventure Resort.
This is no lazy river, folks. Be prepared for an experience of a lifetime.
Royal Gorge in Colorado
You may know the Royal Gorge for holding the title of the world’s highest suspension bridge (until China caught wind of the record and had to break it). However, it also happens to be one of the best white water rafting trips in the United States! Ranked as a class IV-V, these Colorado Rivers are some of the most advanced.
Which means you gotta ask yourself- are you up for the challenge?!
Perched between massive (and I mean massive) 14,000-foot canyon walls, this Arkansas River rapids adventure is a great way to experience the awe-inspiring scenery and wildlife landscapes of Colorado.
Late May to early July is peak season here at the Royal Gorge. I recommend going with, AVA, Colorado’s premier adventure guide to facilitate your trip.
American River, California
Dubbed California’s favorite whitewater river, the American River is ideal for fun & recreation for everyone. Offering quiet floats for young children and the non-thrill seekers of the bunch, and class V rapids for us adrenaline junkies, the American River is one of the most accommodating rivers which is why it makes our list of the best white water rafting trips in the United States.
If you’ve ever visited California, there’s really no bad time of the year to go white river rafting. The weather just always seems to be impeccable. With that said, springtime seems to be the consensus for the best time to go rafting along the American River. With more water from the melted winter ice and stronger rapids to boot, not to mention great weather and warmer water, you truly can’t go wrong during the spring months.
If you’re anything like me, though, any time is a good time to be on the water!
Book now, plan later is my motto!
Nevertheless, California is an amazing destination for a lot of things, and it just so happens that it offers one of the best white water rafting trips in the United States, too!
Yampa River Colorado
As you’re likely starting to realize, Colorado is a haven for white water rapids and is arguably the state that offers the most options if you’re looking for the best white water rafting trip in the United States or even the world. Yampa River is a major extension of the Colorado River, encompassing 250 of the 278-mile stretch of rapids.
If you’re always on the hunt for the most authentic experience possible, the Yampa River is ideal for those seeking a true whitewater river experience. With tight corners, massive mountain drops, and impressive rapids unobstructed by dams, you can expect the most free-flowing, intense and liberating experience out there.
To make the most of the Yampa experience, make sure you book your trip at an ideal time of the year. Depending on river flow that year, May to June is typically the best time to visit. As for the water levels, you can expect some pretty generous Class II-IV rapids throughout.
The Arkansas River in Colorado offers some of the best white water rafting in the United States and the world. Sitting at Class III waters, this natural river is great for the whole family (that is if you’re up for a challenge).
A great first rapids experience, the Arkansas River has several entry points and difficulty levels, yet all offer the same natural beauty and wildlife landscapes throughout.
Remember, though, that the water in the Arkansas River is freakin’ freezing, getting as low as 30 degrees. Now you know why it’s important to visit during peak season. Sure, you’ll get hit with crowds and inflated prices, but trust me when I say, you want all the warm weather and water you can get while rafting. The last thing you want is to be so cold you can’t enjoy the experience.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Colorado offers the best white river rafting in the United States, and arguably the world. If you haven’t yet experienced this adventure sport, Colorado is a great place to start.
Animas River Durango, Colorado
Last but certainly not least, Animas River, a top-quality whitewater river flowing from San Juan through to Durango offering class III-V+ on any given day. The highlight of the experience at Animas River is that its season happens to extend longer than most.
Divided into several sections, the Animas River offers difficulty levels suitable for everyone from the beginner to the ultimate thrill-seeker.
So, if you’re into adventurous activities and you’ve yet to try white river rafting, know that some of the best white river rafting is in your backyard (that is if you live in the United States).
Sure, it’s scary, and yes, it may be out of your comfort zone. But I’ve never experienced true growth unless I’ve tested the boundaries of my capabilities. White river rafting is an incredibly liberating experience, and it’s something I highly recommend you try!
About Todd Smidt
Todd is a man of simple tastes: traveling, words, whiskey, & dad jokes. He enjoys first-rate banter, long walks along the coast, High West, and Vonnegut. He spends his free time traveling the world, drinking whiskey, and writing about it.
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