8 Thrilling White Water Rafting Destinations in North America

By: Lindsay MacNevin
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

Adrenaline rushes, your heart pounds and as you look up, the last thing you see is white water rushing at your boat; this is the ultimate white water rafting experience. North America is home to some of the biggest and most thrilling rivers for the adrenaline seeker. Rafting any rapids over a Class 3 is sure to get your heart pumping but these 8 destinations all feature exhilarating Class 5 rapids. From glacier rafting in the mountains of British Columbia to multi-day trips through the Salmon River; these 8 thrilling white water rafting destinations are the best in North America.


8. Kipawa River, Quebec

The Kipawa River is a thrilling 16 km run, from Lake Kipawa down to Lake Temiscaming with 18 big rapids and a 90 foot waterfall that is sure to keep your heart pumping. It has been rated as one of Eastern Canada’s best intermediate whitewater rivers and once you feel the power of this river, you will understand why. Currently it is an endangered waterway and thus by rafting this river you are actually helping to preserve it. If you want to raft this river with a guide you need to attend the Kipawa River Festival where Esprit Whitewater will take you down this epic portion of the river, feed you snacks and get you mighty wet. It is sadly only a matter of time before this river is dammed and the time is now to explore the incredible rapids in Quebec.

Photo by: All About Whitewater
Photo by: All About Whitewater

7. Nahatlatch River, British Columbia

This river boasts the most continuous Class 3 plus rapids in all of Canada, with over 37 of them.  This demanding river promises non-stop action, especially in the early spring when water levels are at their highest. The trade-off in the late summer is the chance to try and run the narrow Nahatlatch Canyon, a Class 4-5 mind-altering experience. This river happens to be located in the middle of nowhere, which explains the varied terrain as rafters move from the mountains into rugged canyon walls. Most companies like to run this river twice for the thrill seekers and guests will enjoy amazing accommodations, food and fun when they sign up with one of the guided companies. Although other rivers in the region get talked about more, it is the non-stop action and challenges that make this river stand out as one of the most thrilling in North America.

Tupungato / Shutterstock.com
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

6. Gauley River, West Virginia

Although you can raft this river almost anytime of the year, it is at its finest for 6 weeks during September and October when the water is released from the Dam and floods the river bed. It makes for the best single day rafting trip in all of America. Rafters can expect Class 4 and 5 rapids as they wind their way down this wild river. The scenery is just as epic as the rapids, with autumn descending on the surrounding forests, changing their leaves into brightly colored works of art. The towering canyon walls, the waterfalls and the scenic bridges make it hard to look away. The complete Gauley River is 26 miles and 100 rapids of intense whitewater rafting excitement that can be experienced in just one day or over two days; an epic adventure that you will never forget.

Photo by: River Expeditions - West Virginia
Photo by: River Expeditions – West Virginia

5. Arkansas River, Colorado

Whether you want to raft for just ½ a day or over multiple days, the Arkansas River is the perfect place to experience some serious thrills. It is the most popular spot to raft in the Rockies due to its varied nature of rapids. For thrill seekers there are plenty of Class 4 and 5 rapids in the Royal Gorge Canyon, a canyon that is often called the “Grand Canyon of the Arkansas.”. This narrow canyon features rapids such as ‘sledgehammer’, ‘wallslammer’ and ‘boateater’. Rafters here may be so concentrated on these awesome rapids they may miss the amazing scenery that surrounds them, including the world famous Royal Gorge Bridge that sits 1,053 feet above the river. This actual Royal Gorge section is only 10 miles so most companies choose to run it twice for a full day of rafting, or combine it with many of the other sections of river that are nearly as exciting.

Arkansas River, Colorado


4. Kicking Horse River, British Columbia

The Kicking Horse River is renowned for being an exciting river packed with mighty rapids and plenty of thrills and offers a single raft day unlike any other in Canada. This is alpine glacier rafting at its best with over 35km of upper, middle and lower canyon rafting. Experience breathtaking scenery as you start off in the calm waters learning how to work as a team and perfect your paddling skills, but as soon the canyon walls become deep, the rapids become mighty. This river also happens to be glacial fed and snow melt fed, which means it has great water levels all summer long. If you want extremely high water levels though it is best to go in early spring. An array of companies offer exciting trips down this river and it’s guaranteed to be packed full of thrills no matter what time of year you visit.

Kicking Horse River, British Columbia

3. Salmon River, Idaho

Although Idaho is known for its potatoes, any adventurer knows that Idaho is actually known for its mighty and wild Salmon River. This river boasts more options for trip length and more pristine and unbroken wilderness than any other river in America. It also happens to be the home of The Middle Fork, a section of river that boasts enough Class 5 rapids to keep your heart pumping over the five-to-six day adventure that awaits you. Starting off on a rushing alpine river and ending in a majestic desert canyon, this section of the river runs over 105 miles and drops a total of 3,000 feet in elevation along the way. The other two sections of the river feature Class 3 rapids and offer a bigger variety of day trips, multi-day trips and ½ day trips. If you want thrills and unprecedented scenery, the Salmon River in Idaho is a good place to start.

Salmon River, Idaho

2. Colorado River, Arizona

When the Colorado River passes through the Grand Canyon in Arizona, rafters can expect 226 miles of excitement and thrills. The geological beauty of the Grand Canyon surrounds rafters as they fight rapids anywhere from Class I to Class 5. Millions of years ago the river carved its path and it’s full of twists and turns, ever changing from dramatic walls to towering waterfalls. Rafting this river means also exploring the land; full of sparkling streams, waterfalls, luscious green forests and ancient ruins. A multi-day trip is the best choice to truly get the most out of your white water rafting trip down the Colorado and there are endless companies offering a number of different options. This remains one of the most popular rafting trips in North America and therefore spots fill up fast, therefore it is best to book your trip at least one year in advance.

Colorado River, Arizona

1. Chattooga River, South Carolina

Thankfully this amazing river was protected back in 1974 by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, forever preserving its rugged river gorge from development. In turn, the Chattooga River now delivers breathtaking scenery and prized whitewater in an unmatched wilderness setting. Section IV of this river is where thrill seekers will want to head as it features the steepest section of river, dropping more than 75 feet through the Seven-foot Falls and then onto the infamous Five Falls, appropriately named Entrance, Corkscrew, Crack-In-the-Rock, Jawbone, and Sock’em Dog. Although this section of the river only runs about 7 miles, it is the quick succession of so many Class 5 rapids that makes it such an intense experience. Rafting this river is something not only every Southerner should do, but something everyone in North America should try at least once.

Chattooga River, South Carolina