10 Incredible Rafting Adventures for Every Level

Blast through white water or take in the scenic calm throughout the United States on these guided river trips that cater to both beginners and experts.

July 30, 2019
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Photo By: Echo Canyon River Expeditions

Photo By: Vince Ready

Photo By: Kimberly Leonard

Arkansas River through the Royal Gorge, Colorado

Whether peaceful floats or white water screamers-rafting trips are an exciting way to share time and experiences with family and friends. The United States is fortunate to have 2.9 million miles of rivers, and many of these are ideal destinations for rafting trips through dramatic landscapes. The Arkansas River tumbles through Colorado's Royal Gorge near Cañon City, where the 6-mile canyon reaches a maximum depth of 1,250 feet and measures only 50 feet across at its most narrow. Echo Canyon Rivers Expeditions offers several rafting trips for all adrenaline levels including bombing Boateater, Sledgehammer and other Class III to V rapids through the 1,000-foot-deep Royal Gorge. For a mellower family adventure, raft through Big Horn Sheep Canyon where you may spot the area’s namesake animal, or try the Gentle Family Float that’s perfect for children as young as 4.

Rogue River, Oregon

Oregon’s Rogue River is one of the United States’ eight original Wild and Scenic Rivers, and protected by Congress in 1968. It begins in the Cascade Mountains near Crater Lake National Park and meanders through the Klamath Mountains. Northwest Rafting Company offers a 38-mile, 4-day rafting and camping journey on the Rogue beginning near Galice and pulling out near Foster Bar just 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The rapids are Class II and III, with one Class IV named Blossom Bar that rafters have the option of walking around. Ospreys, bald eagles, great blue herons, river otters and bear are just some of the wildlife typically seen during the trip. Guides cook gourmet river meals throughout the 8 to 10-mile days, and lead hikes to scenic overlooks and historic sites. Camping gear is provided free of charge if needed.

Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho

The famed Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho is considered one of the best stretches of white water in the United States. The Middle Fork is a tributary of the Salmon River and has no dams to control flow, resulting in often continuous white water for its 104 miles that flow through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the largest forest wilderness in the lower 48 states. There are more than 300 rapids that range from Class III to IV+, with one Class V (Dagger Falls). Several rafting companies including Far & Away offer multi-day trips ranging from 60 to 100 miles. The river mellows somewhat after August, but still provides plenty of thrills for adventurous families. Hot springs, Native American petroglyphs and hiking add to this epic journey.

Gauley River, West Virginia

West Virginia’s Gauley River is renowned for its beauty and its white water, flowing 104 miles before joining with the New River to continue on to the Ohio River. In September, Summerville Dam releases water in preparation for winter, and Gauley Season officially begins. Rafters from across the country shoot the Gauley, thrilling to conditions normally only seen during spring runoff in the West. Adventures on the Gorge has several trips on the Gauley and New rivers, from easy-does-it to full-throttle rapid running.

Ocoee River, Tennessee

Tennessee’s Ocoee River near Ducktown boasts Class III and IV rapids along its 10-mile course and was the site of the 1996 Summer Olympics canoe and kayak whitewater slalom. Family friendly half-day and full-day trips are available from several outfitters, including Ocoee Rafting.

Green River, Utah

Explore Dinosaur National Monument, the breathtaking Gates of Lodore, ancient petroglyphs and striking landscapes as you run Utah’s Green River. Beginning below Flaming Gorge Reservoir in northern Utah near Vernal and flowing into the Colorado River south of Moab, the Green River flows through Utah’s otherworldly Colorado Plateau. Trips ranging from a few hours to weeklong epics filled with camping and hiking are available from several outfitters. Take on plenty of Class III and IV rapids, or enjoy peaceful water such as the calm 9-miles of Split Mountain Gorge within Dinosaur National Monument.

Río Grande, New Mexico

The Río Grande roars through New Mexico’s Wild Rivers Recreation Area and on through the 600-foot deep Taos Gorge in northern New Mexico before continuing south of Taos past Pílar to Santa Fe. Rafting opportunities range from Class IV white water to mellow flats through the breathtaking scenery of northern New Mexico. Several companies in the Taos and Santa Fe area provide a range of adventures, from hiking in to remote, churning white water to fun family floats.

Tuolumne River, California

California’s Tuolumne River originates in Yosemite National Park and flows 148 miles to join the San Joaquin River in the Central Valley. Located only 4-hours from San Francisco, this National Wild and Scenic River is considered some of the best white water in the lower 48 states. Several rafting companies offer excursions, including O.A.R.S., which offers 1, 2 and 3-day rafting trips featuring 18-miles of continuous Class III and IV white water, along with gourmet meals and side hikes in beautiful Stanislaus National Forest.

Nantahala River, North Carolina

Located just out of Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City, North Carolina, the Nantahala is an 8-mile stretch of crystal-clear water and family-friendly Class II rapids that bring just enough excitement to this river trip before reaching Class III Nantahala Falls for the grand finale. Nantahala Outdoor Center offers both guided trips and raft rentals, as well as ziplining, mountain biking and other outdoor adventures on its 500-acre campus.

Shoshone River, Wyoming

Follow the paths of Native Americans and mountain men such as John Colter and Buffalo Bill through Red Rock Canyon on the Wyoming's Shoshone River near Cody and Yellowstone National Park. Join a guided raft or paddle your own inflatable kayak through Class II and III rapids through the stunning Shoshone National Forest. Wyoming River Trips offer several trip options that dial up the adrenaline for both families and thrill seekers.

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