- 1. Top 25 Whitewater Rafting Places in The US
- 1.1. 1. Ohiopyle, PA
- 1.2. 2. Hartford, TN
- 1.3. 3. Knights Ferry, CA
- 1.4. 4. Taos, NM
- 1.5. 5. Buena Vista, CO
- 1.6. 6. Gardiner, MT
- 1.7. 7. Leavenworth, WA
- 1.8. 8. Maupin, OR
- 1.9. 9. Jackson, WY
- 1.10. 10. Stanley, ID
- 1.11. 11. Green River, UT
- 1.12. 12. The Forks, ME
- 1.13. 13. Lansing, WV
- 1.14. 14. Denali, AK
- 1.15. 15. Clayton, GA
- 1.16. 16. Colorado River, AZ
- 1.17. 17. Rogue River, OR
- 1.18. 18. Deerfield River, MA
- 1.19. 19. Cherry Creek River, CA
- 1.20. 20. Cumberland Falls, KY
- 1.21. 21. Cossatot Falls, AR
- 1.22. 22. Chattahoochee National Forest, GA
- 1.23. 23. Lehigh River, PA
- 1.24. 24. Nantahala River, NC
- 1.25. 25. Athelstane, WI
- 2. Tips for Whitewater Rafting in The US
- 3. Final Thoughts
- 4. FAQs
- 4.1. What are the most famous whitewater rafting rapids?
- 4.2. What is the best month to go whitewater rafting?
- 4.3. What is the hardest river to raft in the US?
- 4.4. Where is the world's highest rafting point?
- 4.5. What is the biggest whitewater rafting drop?
- 4.6. What do whitewater rafting people wear?
Best Whitewater Rafting Trips in The US - KÜHL’s Top Picks
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Whitewater rafting is a thrilling outdoor activity that offers a unique blend of adventure, scenic beauty and a powerful connection to the majesty of nature. The United States, with its diverse landscapes and numerous rivers, is home to some of the best places to go whitewater rafting. From the roaring rapids of the Colorado River in Arizona to the gentle flows of the Nantahala River in North Carolina, the best whitewater rafting in the US is waiting for you to discover.
Whether you're an adrenaline junkie seeking the thrill of Class V rapids, a beginner looking for a gentle float, or a family embarking on a peaceful vacation, summer is the best time to get out on the river. Whitewater rafting challenges your coordination, balance, and strength, while also providing the experience of a lifetime. It offers unique perspectives you can't see from land and takes you to awe-inspiring places of respite and dynamic places to explore and conquer.
This guide will navigate you through the top spots for whitewater rafting in the USA, showcasing the diversity and thrill each location offers. From the heart-pumping rapids on the east coast to the breathtaking scenic routes in the west, this guide covers the best rafting in the US.
So, if you're planning your next adventure and wondering where to go whitewater rafting, continue reading to discover the most exciting and memorable whitewater rafting experiences in the country.
Top 25 Whitewater Rafting Places in The US
Let's dive into some of the best places for whitewater rafting in the US. Each location offers a unique rafting experience, with varying levels of difficulty, incredible scenery, and unique features.
1. Ohiopyle, PA
Ohiopyle State Park is a gorgeous, 19,052-acre forest in southwest Pennsylvania that features the Youghiogheny River. Known to locals as the Yough, this river provides some of the best whitewater rafting in the country. The Yough boasts Class II, Class III, and Class IV rapids. Tours are available for all levels of expertise, from beginner to advanced. The middle to lower Yough is ideal for beginners. Half-day to full-day trips are common here, with some lasting up to 4-5 hours.
2. Hartford, TN
Hartford is a place to mark on your map when planning a trip to the breathtaking scenery of the Smoky Mountains. Located on the Pigeon River, Hartford offers a variety of adventures, especially when it comes to whitewater rafting. Beginners will find smooth rapids on the lower section of the river, while experienced rafters find a thrilling ride on the upper Pigeon River with some intense rapids and serious drops. Rafting trips typically last between 1.5 to 3 hours.
3. Knights Ferry, CA
The town of Knights Ferry sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The scenic Stanislaus River flows nearby and offers endless fun for whitewater rafting adventurers. It's a great place for families to cruise on a self-guided tour along beginner-friendly class II rapids on a self-guided tour. Expect to spend about 2-3 hours on the river, with additional time for preparation and instruction. The historic town of Knights Ferry is also a great spot for beautiful forest scenery, hiking and camping.
4. Taos, NM
Enter the vortex of Taos, New Mexico, and become enchanted with the flowing waters of the Rio Grande. Situated at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this magical city offers the best whitewater rafting adventures for all levels. There are multiple tributary rivers that course into the Rio Grande, providing multiple options from breathtaking canyons. Rafting trips can range from a few hours to a full day, depending on the chosen route.
5. Buena Vista, CO
Colorado is known for some of the most exhilarating whitewater rafting in the United States. Every year, from May to September, legendary rivers treat thousands of visitors to beautiful scenery and second-to-none whitewater rafting trips.
Buena Vista is at the top of the list of the best places for rafting trips in Colorado. The mighty Arkansas River is the most rafted river in the state, and it offers amazing scenery of the surrounding giant peaks. From action-packed Brown's Canyon to family-friendly floating tours, you can rent an inflatable kayak and paddle down the rapids. Half-day, full-day, and multi-day trips are available, with half-day trips typically lasting 3-4 hours. The surrounding Rocky Mountains provide a stunning backdrop for this whitewater rafting adventure.
6. Gardiner, MT
Gardiner serves as the gateway to Yellowstone National Park and offers exciting rafting trips on the Yellowstone River. The river features Class II and III rapids, making it a fun choice for families and beginners. Plus, you'll have the chance to see some of Yellowstone's wildlife from the river. Rafting trips on the Yellowstone River typically last between 2 to 3 hours.
7. Leavenworth, WA
Leavenworth offers rafting trips on the Wenatchee River, known for its Class III rapids and beautiful scenery. The river flows through the stunning Tumwater Canyon, providing plenty of photo opportunities. If you’re searching for something more exhilarating, check out the “Triple Shot” and “Tinley Falls” rapids.
The Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth also offers plenty of charm and fun activities. Depending on the route you choose, rafting trips on the Wenatchee River can last anywhere from 2 to 5 hours.
8. Maupin, OR
Maupin is a truly amazing place for a whitewater rafting trip. Located directly on the Deschutes River, Maupin offers some of the best whitewater rafting in the US. This section of the river is termed the “Lower Deschutes” and is perfect for both families and long-time whitewater enthusiasts alike. You can expect to spend about 3-5 hours on a rafting trip on the Deschutes River. When you’re done with your wild adventures, check out Maupin’s excellent selection of restaurants and bars.
9. Jackson, WY
Jackson is known for its rafting trips on the Snake River. The river features Class III rapids, making it one of the best places to whitewater raft for families and beginners. Plus, you'll have the chance to take in the stunning scenery of the Grand Tetons. Rafting trips on the Snake River typically last between 3 to 4 hours.
10. Stanley, ID
Flowing through the heart of Idaho is the Salmon River, known to many as the “River of No Return.” Don’t be intimidated by the name because this section of the river is perfect for first timers and is one of the best places to go whitewater rafting.
Rafts or kayaks take you down Class II and Class III rapids while passing through some of Idaho's most rugged wilderness scenery. Expect to find big rapids all summer on the Salmon River, and some of the best rafting in the US on the Middle Fork in the month of June. Rafting trips on the Salmon River can range from half-day to multi-day expeditions.
11. Green River, UT
Utah is a majestic location steeped in rich geological history. The Green River provides one of the best opportunities in the state for whitewater rafting. Travel through Desolation Canyon and observe the dramatic desert landscape where dinosaurs roamed millions of years ago. Or take a rafting trip on the Gates of Lodore, a section of the Green River that begins in northwestern Colorado and takes you through the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. This is truly one of the best places to whitewater raft.
12. The Forks, ME
Maine offers three unique rivers for whitewater rafting adventurers of all skill levels. The Kennebec River is a great place to begin, giving you a mix of splashing waves and relaxing floats. With its continuous flow of Class II-IV rapids, the Dead River is great for those looking to move more quickly. Finally, the Penobscot River is waiting for challenge seekers.
Dotted with Class IV-V rapids, it travels through Ripogenous Gorge, with astonishing views of Mount Katahdin. Rafting trips in The Forks typically last between 3 to 4 hours, but full-day and multi-day trips are also available.
13. Lansing, WV
Enjoy some fun in the sun while you travel down the Gauley River in West Virginia. Considered one of the best places for whitewater rafting in the east, this river attracts experienced rafters from all over the world. The Fall Upper Gauley boasts the wildest rapids on this river and is recommended for experienced rafters only. The Fall Lower Gauley is a good place for beginners that will still challenge your technical skills in a fun and exciting way. Trips on the Gauley River can last anywhere from half a day to a full day.
14. Denali, AK
One of the most exciting ways to explore Alaska is on the ice-cold, glacier-fed rivers. The Nenana River, a great place to begin, guides you through beautiful Denali National Park and Alaska wilderness. From the taiga forest to towering peaks, a trip on any part of the Nenana runs will be an experience to remember. Rafting trips on the Nenana River typically last between 2 to 3 hours.
15. Clayton, GA
Clayton offers rafting trips on the wild and scenic Chattooga River. The river features Class II to Class V rapids, making it a great choice for rafters of all skill levels. Rafting trips on the Chattooga River can range from half-day to full-day trips. The surrounding wilderness provides plenty of beauty and opportunities for hiking and camping.
16. Colorado River, AZ
The Colorado River in Arizona is definitely a top rafting destination in the US. Known for its breathtaking Grand Canyon scenery and challenging rapids, it's a must-visit for any serious rafter. The river features a range of rapids, from Class I to Class V, making it suitable for rafters of all skill levels. Trips on the Colorado River can range from a few days to over a week depending on your adventure needs.
17. Rogue River, OR
The Rogue River in Oregon is a popular destination for whitewater rafting in the United States. The river features Class II to IV rapids, providing a thrilling ride. Rafting trips can range from a few hours to several days, depending on the chosen route. The surrounding wilderness, part of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, offers stunning scenery and abundant wildlife for an unforgettable journey.
18. Deerfield River, MA
The Deerfield River in Massachusetts is a great place for whitewater rafting on the East Coast. The river features Class I to Class III rapids, making it a fun choice for families and beginners. Plus, you'll have the chance to take in the beautiful scenery of the Berkshire Mountains. Rafting trips on the Deerfield River typically last between 2 to 3 hours.
19. Cherry Creek River, CA
The Cherry Creek River in California boasts some of the most challenging whitewater in the US. With Class V rapids and a steep gradient, it's a favorite among experienced rafters. The river's location in the Sierra Nevada provides a beautiful backdrop for this thrilling adventure. Rafting trips typically last a full day, and this river is not meant for beginners.
20. Cumberland Falls, KY
Cumberland Falls in Kentucky, also known as the "Niagara of the South," offers a unique whitewater rafting experience on the Cumberland River. With Class III and IV rapids, it's a thrilling choice for more experienced rafters. You can expect to spend around 2-3 hours on this trip. The surrounding Cumberland Falls State Resort Park also offers plenty of opportunities for hiking and wildlife viewing.
21. Cossatot Falls, AR
Cossatot Falls in Arkansas offers a challenging whitewater rafting experience on the Cossatot River. Known for its "Cossatot Falls/Cascades," the river features Class III to Class V rapids, making it a favorite among those with more experience in the rapids. The river's location in the Ouachita Mountains provides a beautiful backdrop for this thrilling adventure. Rafting trips typically last a full day.
22. Chattahoochee National Forest, GA
The Chattahoochee River in Georgia offers a variety of rafting experiences. With Class I to IV rapids, it caters to rafters of all skill levels. The river's location in the Chattahoochee National Forest makes it a beautiful place to explore, with plenty of opportunities for hiking and wildlife viewing. Rafting trips typically last between 2 to 3 hours.
23. Lehigh River, PA
The Lehigh River in Pennsylvania is a popular spot for whitewater rafting. Known as one of the best whitewater rafting spots on the east coast, it offers Class I to Class III rapids, providing a fun and exciting experience for rafters of all skill levels. The river's location in the Pocono Mountains provides a beautiful and scenic backdrop for your rafting adventure. You can expect to spend around 3-4 hours on the Lehigh River.
24. Nantahala River, NC
The Nantahala River is a favorite among families and beginner rafters. With Class II and III rapids, it offers a fun and manageable whitewater rafting experience. When considering where to go whitewater rafting in North Carolina, choose the Nantahala River. Its location in the Nantahala National Forest provides a beautiful and serene setting for your adventure. Rafting trips typically last between 2 to 3 hours.
25. Athelstane, WI
Athelstane offers a unique whitewater rafting experience on the Peshtigo River. Known for its "Roaring Rapids" section, the river features Class II to Class IV rapids, making it a thrilling choice for more experienced rafters. The surrounding wilderness also offers plenty of opportunities for camping and exploring. Adventures on the Peshtigo River typically last between 2 to 3 hours.
Tips for Whitewater Rafting in The US
Whitewater rafting is a thrilling and rewarding activity, but it's important to be prepared. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your rafting adventure:
- Choose the Right Trip for Your Skill Level: Whitewater rapids are classified from Class I (easy) to Class V (extremely difficult). Beginners should start with Class I or II rapids, while more experienced rafters can tackle Class III and higher.
- Wear the Right Gear: Wear quick-drying clothes and sturdy water shoes. Don't forget your life jacket, helmet, and paddle! Check out our men’s outdoor wear and women’s hiking clothing for suitable attire.
- Follow Safety Guidelines: Listen to your guide's safety instructions and always stay in the raft unless told otherwise. It's also a good idea to have a first aid checklist handy.
- Stay Hydrated and Use Sun Protection: Rafting can be physically demanding, and you'll often be out in the sun for several hours. Drink plenty of water and use sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat for sun protection.
- Have Fun!: Whitewater rafting is all about having a great time. Enjoy the thrill of the rapids, the beauty of the scenery, and the camaraderie of your fellow rafters!
- Prepare for the Unexpected: Whitewater rafting can be unpredictable. You might fall out of the raft, or the weather might change suddenly. Stay calm, listen to your guide, and remember your safety training.
Get a Good Night's Sleep: Rafting requires energy and focus. Make sure to get a good night's sleep before your trip so you can be at your best.
Whitewater rafting offers an unforgettable adventure. It combines physical activity, teamwork, and the chance to enjoy some of the most beautiful rivers and scenery in the US. Whether you're a seasoned rafter or a complete beginner, there's a rafting trip that's perfect for you. So why wait? Start planning your whitewater rafting adventure today!
If you're new to rafting, check out our guide on whitewater rafting for beginners. And if you’re not new to this sport and want to take your adventure to the next level, you may be interested in packrafting!
As long as you're equipped with the proper gear, you'll be set for an exhilarating rafting adventure. Get out on the water, have fun, and keep paddling!
What are the most famous whitewater rafting rapids?
The most famous whitewater rafting rapids in the US are undoubtedly the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The Gauley River in West Virginia, often referred to as the "Beast of the East," is renowned for its intense whitewater, especially during the fall dam releases. Lastly, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, located in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, offers a unique blend of thrilling rapids and untouched wilderness.
What is the best month to go whitewater rafting?
The best month for whitewater rafting varies by location and river. Generally, summer months (June-August) are popular in the US due to warm weather and high water levels from snowmelt. However, rivers like West Virginia's Gauley River are best in fall due to dam releases. Always check locally for optimal times.
What is the hardest river to raft in the US?
The Colorado River, particularly the section that winds through the Grand Canyon, is often considered one of the hardest rivers to raft in the US. This river is renowned for its numerous Class IV and V rapids, which require advanced skills to navigate. The river's remote location, length of trip (often 12-18 days), and the need for self-sufficiency add to the challenge and allure of this iconic whitewater journey.
Where is the world's highest rafting point?
The world's highest rafting point is located on the Apurimac River in Peru. This river originates from the glacial runoff in the Andes Mountains, starting at an impressive elevation of over 16,000 feet. The Apurimac River, considered the true source of the Amazon River, offers challenging rapids and stunning high-altitude landscapes, making for a unique and thrilling whitewater rafting destination.
What is the biggest whitewater rafting drop?
The most significant whitewater rafting drop in the United States is found on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The infamous Lava Falls, often referred to as the "Superbowl of Rafting," presents rafters with a thrilling drop of up to 37 feet. This rapid is renowned for its intensity and technical difficulty, offering a heart-pounding experience amidst the awe-inspiring grandeur of the Grand Canyon.
What do whitewater rafting people wear?
Whitewater rafting enthusiasts typically dress for the occasion in quick-drying clothes and sturdy water shoes to maintain grip on slippery surfaces. Essential safety gear includes a life jacket and a helmet to protect against unexpected bumps. In colder climates, rafters often opt for wetsuits or drysuits for additional warmth. For suitable attire options, you can explore our men’s outdoor wear and women’s hiking clothing.
Featured Image - New River Gorge, WV by Jackalope West.