Top 15 Whitewater Rafting Trips to Put on Your Bucket List

Adventure Paddling By Emily Leikam

We're naturally drawn to water. In nature, water can offer peaceful, awe-inspiring places of respite, as well as powerful, dynamic places to explore and conquer. There's no better way to explore this majestic and sometimes daunting form of nature than to embark on exciting whitewater rafting trips!

Whitewater rafting is an exhilarating activity that gives unique perspectives you can't see from land. This sport challenges your coordination, balance, and strength, while also providing the experience of a lifetime. Whether you're going for an adrenaline-packed, multi-day rafting trip or a peaceful family vacation, summer is the best time to get out on the river.

Here are some of the best spots in the country where you can enjoy white water rafting.

1. Ohiopyle, PA

Ohiopyle State Park is a gorgeous, 19,052-acre forest in southwest Pennsylvania that features the Youghiogheny River. Known to locals at the Yough, this river 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.

people in raft on blue body of water
Ohiopyle whitewater rafting by Herve Villard.

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. 

people whitewater rafting in yellow boat
White water rafting on the Pigeon River in Browns, Tennessee (next to Hartford). Photo by Razvan Orendovici.

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. Knights Ferry is also a great spot for beautiful forest scenery, hiking and camping.

yellow boat rafting next to rocky cliff
Cruising down a mellow section of the Stanislaus River. Photo by snickclunk.

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 plenty of whitewater rafting adventures for all levels. There are multiple tributary rivers that course into the Rio Grande, providing multiple options from breathtaking canyons.

red rafts on the river
Río Grande del Norte National Monument, near Taos, is where the river rafting adventure begins! Photo by Bob Wick, BLM.

5. Buena Vista, CO

Colorado is known for some of most exhilarating whitewater rafting in the United States. Every year from May to September, legendary rivers treats thousands of visitors to beautiful scenery and second-to-none white water 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 floating tours, you can rent an inflatable kayak and paddle down the rapids.

rafters and kayakers on the river
Arkansas River in Brown's Canyon is a top place for white water rafting in Colorado. Photo by BLM -Colorado.

6. Gardiner, MT

Visit Gardiner for a rafting tour on the famous Yellowstone River through the Rocky Mountains. Enjoy paddling down the river, and keep your eyes open for eagles flying above. Pro tip: don't forget to try top-notch fly fishing while you're there!

river between two coasts during daytime
Yellowstone River in Gardiner is a great choice if you like rafting trips, fly fishing, and camping. Photo by Dustin Commer.

7. Leavenworth, WA

Leavenworth is a quaint, Bavarian-styled village in the Cascade Mountains. Explore great food, entertainment, and epic whitewater rafting.

The Wenatchee River runs through this small town and provides exciting rafting adventures for beginners and beyond. If you’re in search of something more exhilarating, check out the “Triple Shot” and “Tinley Falls” rapids.

river between pine trees in fall
Wenatchee River - Leavenworth, Washington by Gallant's Photography.

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 guided rafting tours in the state. This section of the river is termed the “Lower Deschutes” and is perfect for families, bigger kids, and long-time whitewater enthusiasts alike. When you’re done with wild adventures, check out the excellent restaurants and bars.

whitewater rafting on the river
Whitewater rafting on Deschutes River. Photo by Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington.

9. Jackson, WY

Make your way down the Snake River, and enjoy spectacular views of the Grand Teton Mountains. Rafting is a great way to experience Wyoming and take in all the scenery around you. The Snake River offers opportunities for relaxed floats on calm waters to more high-energy trips on challenging water. 

rafts on body of water
Paddle rafts on Snake River in Jackson, WY by Robert Cutts.

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-time paddlers.

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 opportunities on the Middle Fork in the month of June.

whitewater rafting in red raft on the river
Located in the continental United States, Salmon River offers many whitewater rafting trips - one of the best is the Middle Fork trip with natural hot springs! Photo by Brent.

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. 

rafts on the water next to the coast in the canyon
A scenic outdoor experience awaits on the Green River that takes you all the way from Colorado to Utah! Desolation Canyon Area - photo by Bureau of Land Management.

12. The Forks, ME

Maine offers three unique rivers to for whitewater rafting adventures.

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.

yellow raft on whitewater
Everyone can find themselves adventure on the three rivers of the Fork. Whitewater rafting on the Penobscot River by Ken Curtis.

13. Lansing, WV

Enjoy some fun in the sun while you travel down the Gauley River in West Virginia. Considered one of the best whitewater rafting locations 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. The Fall Lower Gauley is a good place for beginners that will still challenge your technical skills in a fun and exciting way.

people rafting in whitewater
Take a rafting trip to Lansing in West Virginia for some serious rafting on the Gauley River. Photo by Michael Blow.

14. Denali, AK

One of the most exciting ways to explore Alaska is on the ice-cold, glacier-fed rivers. A great place to begin, the Nenana River guides you through beautiful Denali National Park and Alaska wilderness. From the taiga forest to towering peaks, a trip on any of the Nenana runs will be an experience to remember.

whitewater rafting on the nenana river
Rafters on the Nenana River by Dan.

15. Clayton, GA

Running along the state line of South Carolina and Georgia is the beloved, untamed Chattooga River. Great for rafting, canoeing, and kayaking, this river is perfect for beginners or anybody looking for an adventure amongst the fragrant pine trees.

man in kayak paddling through the whitewater
Whitewater canoeing on the Chattooga River. Photo by MJPlante1, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Get on the Water

Whitewater rafting is an exciting experience that you can enjoy with family and friends. If you’re a first-time or inexperienced rafter, it’s important: 

  • To choose a professional and licensed rafting outfitter to guide you on a tour.
  • Always wear a life jacket and helmet.
  • Be prepared to get wet

Some areas have a minimum age requirement. Contact your outfitter or raft guide to make sure everyone in your group is able to join. 

Check out Whitewater Rafting 101 for everything to know before you embark on a rafting trip. To take your adventure to the next level, check out Beginner’s Guide to Packrafting (Basics, Gear, Top Spots).

As long as you're equipped with the proper gear, you'll be set for a fun rafting adventure sure to bring you tremendous joy. Get out on the water, have fun, and keep paddling!

Featured Image - New River Gorge, WV by Jackalope West.

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people riding orange kayak in whitewater
Emily Leikam
Emily is an avid traveler and has been all around the world from Alaska and Iceland to Peru and Bali. Her home base is Nashville, TN and when not traveling you can find her hiking, practicing yoga or cooking/baking!