As the weather around the country heats up, take advantage of spring and summer temperatures and local geography with white water rafting! Whether you’ve never held a paddle or consider yourself a rafting expert, these following rivers in the U.S. will give you a killer workout, a set of unforgettable photos and perhaps a brush with danger. Though the trips listed are all one-day as a point of comparison, most companies offer longer adventures. Reviews are everything—make sure you’re in good hands before jumping in a raft!
Top Whitewater Rafting Destinations in the U.S.
1. Indian River/Hudson River - Indian Lake, NY (Moderate)
Two hours north of Albany and deep into Adirondack Park, the span of river in the Hudson Gorge owes its enjoyable ferocity to dam releases from Lake Abanakee. Spend a couple hours out on the Hudson River with the Adirondack Rafting Company, which offers a 17-mile adventure along steep cliffs and coniferous forest, along with a scenic lunch break. The company only does tours from April to late September on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and the individual price jumps from $85 to $89 halfway during the summer. For a great deal, schedule your trip on Memorial Day for $70 tickets. Bring a bathing suit and bug spray; make note that as the months progress, the river’s difficulty decreases. Following your day trip, eat gourmet tapas and indulge in Italian wine at barVino in North Creek. If you dig this establishment’s gnocchi and green curry mussels, the area transforms into a bustling ski town during the winter.
2. Colorado River in Arches National Park - Hittle Bottom Campground, UT (Moderate to Difficult)
Take in the red rock beauty of the Moab Desert while battling rapids on the Colorado River—specifically in its 17-mile-long Westwater Canyon, chock-full of Class IV bumps and turns. With the help of a guide and lots of team effort, you and a group can power through the challenging, scenic course, lined with millennia of sandstone rock. Of the dozens of outdoor companies active in Moab, think about touring the river with NAVTEC Expeditions, a reputable and affordable setup that runs one-day Westwater Canyon tours for $170 a person, along with myriad other ways to see Arches National Park and its surrounding areas. NAVTEC’s journey includes lunch and concludes in a Utah ghost town; rafting season is between mid-March and late October. For a bite to eat after an exhausting day, roll into Desert Bistro in Moab for upscale entreés like duck and elk tenderloin.
3. Umpqua River - east of Roseburg, OR (Moderate to Difficult)
Oregon maintains a long-standing legacy for excellent outdoor opportunities, and with multiple waterways in the Cascades, there’s no shortage of whitewater action in the Beaver State.
Umpqua River is an exciting option for Northwest rafters, snaking through farmland, towering forests and volcanic columns. Those with experience—Umpqua trumps other Oregon rivers in its intensity—might enjoy a one-day excursion with Oregon Whitewater Adventures, which operates from April to September and takes guests on a Class III/IV paddle through the woods. As should be expected, the company feeds you lunch and provides all equipment for $125 per adult and $105 per child (10 and over). Since the trip begins at 10 a.m., expect to get back to your accommodation later than expected. While not a huge city, Roseburg has eclectic food options like Salud Restaurant and Brewery, a tapas restaurant with tacos, burgers and a 10-margarita menu.
4. Youghiogheny River - Ohiopyle, PA (Moderate)
Known as “the Yough” (pronounced “Yuk”), the Youghiogheny River flows from West Virginia into Maryland and empties into the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania. Perfect for beginners, novices and experts alike, the journey offered by Wilderness Voyagers in Ohiopyle goes for nearly eight miles and has flexible start times (in case you prefer sleeping in, guests may choose 9 a.m., 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. to meet with a group). A guide will navigate unsure folks around troublesome territory, although joint participation is always mandatory when whitewater rafting. Wilderness Voyagers includes a deli lunch and dessert in its $49.50 per person fee, as well as a brief dip into a natural pool to recharge mid-trip. If you choose to grab food in nearby Farmington, pay a visit to Fort Necessity National Battlefield, where in 1754 an early battle escalated the French and Indian War. For $5 admission, view the famous battlefield, a highly informative Interpretive and Education Center and a tavern built on land once owned by George Washington (he purchased the tract after fighting his first battle at Fort Necessity).
5. Dead River - The Forks, ME (Moderate)
Take in the splendor of the Bigelow Mountain Range on this remote Maine river, which winds through miles of forest near the Canadian border. Knowledgable raft guides from Crab Apple Whitewater lead the intermediate, Class II-III trip on the Dead River; it’s a stretch of water kind enough for inexperienced guests but with plenty of excitement and enough action to count as a workout. Following the four-hour jaunt, Crab Apple provides a yummy cookout with vegetarian options. At $87 per adult and $67 for children under 16, this trip is definitely affordable—keep in mind that reservations fill up quickly for the very specific trip dates laid out on Crab Apple’s website. Craving some lager? Stay within The Forks for Kennebec River Pub & Brewery, which has an unrivaled selection of beer and foot-long hot dogs.
6. American River - Coloma, CA (Easy to Moderate)
The area surrounding Sacramento might not come to mind as a premier location for whitewater rafting, yet the 119-mile American River adds a bit of natural wonder to California’s capital city. Travel about an hour east of “Sac” for a day out with Whitewater Excitement, a company with a slew of different trip lengths, locations and discounts for kids. The best-valued excursion is a 21-mile “Whole River Run” that passes through an important Gold Rush-era site—your guide will gladly talk about its history—and concludes at Folsom Lake. You should anticipate not only bouncy fun, but a dip in a swimming hole and a buffet-style lunch. Prices fluctuate depending on the day of the week; expect to pay between $135 to $165 in addition to a land access fee. Those spending more time around the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park should finish off their visit in Coloma at the Argonaut Farm to Fork, where you can order locally-made gelato after eating top-notch vegetarian and gluten-free plates.
7. Lower Gauley River - Lansing, WV (Moderate)
This unrivaled, verdant river in West Virginia has a stellar reputation for whitewater rafting, with some of its sections dropping hundreds of feet in just a few miles. However, you don’t need to be an expert to tackle this waterway, as New and Gauley River Adventures regularly embarks on the moderate Lower Gauley trip: a 13-mile voyage along cliffs and canyons for adults 13 and up. Many customers prefer this company over other more corporate enterprises formed with the rising popularity of whitewater rafting, and with $99 per person on Fridays and Mondays and $140 on weekends, this team keeps matters affordable. Get a taste of Southern comfort food with a stop at Tudor’s Biscuit World in Fayetteville, a counter-order joint with biscuits of all shapes and sizes, formed into delicious breakfast sandwiches.
8. Upper Nenana River - Denali National Park, AK (Easy)
Two hours from Fairbanks and straddling Denali National Park, the Nenana River attracts rafters from far and wide, as its adjacent, ecologically diverse park pulls in hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. When taking in so much beauty, perhaps you and your family would rather focus on the gorgeous surroundings than become exhausted and tired, or someone isn’t as physically fit as the rest of the group. Thankfully, Raft Denali has a paddle-free option (the guide does all the work) that takes about four hours and allows younger children (five and older) to join. It’s still whitewater rafting, albeit with a little extra help, and in lucky circumstances you might spot a bear or moose in the wilderness. The company’s flexible times are 8 a.m., 2 p.m. and even 6 p.m.; tours happen between May and September and cost $95 per adult and $65 for kids nine and under. If you venture further into Denali National Park along Highway 3, be sure to get a table at 229 Parks, an incredibly gourmet restaurant with hard-to-beat king crab, oysters and other Alaskan seafood.
9. Royal Gorge, Arkansas River - Cañon City, CO (Somewhat Difficult)
At the bottom of a seriously deep granite canyon, splash and paddle through the beloved Royal Gorge, where fierce rapids tumble through Colorado’s narrow Arkansas River. During the trek, you’ll pass underneath what was, until 2001, the world’s highest bridge; nowadays the bridge is home to an amusement park with ziplining, a free-fall sky coaster and an elaborate play structure for youngsters. Grab a reservation with Royal Gorge Rafting for a 20-mile run, full of speedy river flow and interesting rock formations. Don’t worry about taking pictures—this rafting company utilizes professional photographers to immortalize your experience. Its in-house restaurant provides the food for trip lunches, so look forward to some above-average picnic dining. Altogether, the trip costs $129 a person (children 13 and above are welcome to join) and rafting season runs from April to September. Finally, have some greasy and rich food at Chicago Bob’s, a hole-in-the-wall BBQ spot with a meat-centric menu.
10. Upper Salmon River - Stanley, ID (Difficult)
Dubbed the “River of No Return,” this un-dammed and rugged waterway takes rafters on an unforgettable tour of Idaho’s unfettered splendor. From Sawtooth Adventure Company’s base in Stanley, guides will take you on a high-intensity romp through mountainous territory. The Salmon River is known for its abundant fish, so keep your eyes peeled for critters in the water. Prior to Father’s Day, this Class IV trip doesn’t provide lunch, but every other full-day excursion comes with healthy, delicious picnic food. The minimum and maximum(!) age here is 13 and 75, stressing how challenging the “River of No Return” gets at times. At $98 per person, this bargain opportunity can’t be overlooked. Congratulate yourself with rustic all-day breakfast at Stanley Baking Company, known for its lovely service and oatmeal pancakes.
11. Nantahala River - Bryson City, NC (Easy)
Families with kids, elderly relatives or disabled folks might have extra misgivings about tackling rapids and choppy rivers, but these fears can be alleviated with a beginner-friendly rafting experience. Professionals at Nantahala Outdoor Center in Western North Carolina teach all guests the basics of paddling before taking groups through eight miles of Class II bumps and bends. The fully-guided tour culminates in some Class III rapids at Nantahala Falls, and by that point the initially skittish rafters should enjoy this spectacular ending. NOC gives guests the option to purchase a CD of photos from the trip ahead of time ($35 with a 10% discount); otherwise, the three-hour trip costs a highly affordable $50 per person. If you’re turned off by the tourist-oriented complex outside of NOC, chow down on some unexpectedly (for NC, that is) wonderful Mexican food at Rancho Viejo in the neighboring town of Whittier.
This article was written by Juliana Cohen.