The great outdoors provides plenty of fun opportunities to get exercise, have an adventure, get some fresh air, and get connected with nature. Are you looking for a new outdoor activity that gets you excited, challenges you a bit, and is fun for young and old? Whitewater rafting may be the perfect activity to add to your list of “must try” things.

We will discuss some of the basics of rafting as well as some of the best whitewater rafting locations, so you can decide whether or not it’s the right outdoor adventure for you.

What Is Whitewater Rafting?

Most people are familiar with rafting and often categorize it as an outdoor activity that’s just for thrill seekers. While rafting has a large following among outdoor enthusiasts, it wasn’t always meant to be a hobby but rather for travel on rivers with heavy and fast currents.

The first rubber raft is believed to have been made sometime in the 1840s, but it wasn’t until a century later that rafting trips became a hit for tourists in areas like the Grand Teton National Park. Whitewater rafting also made its appearance in the Olympic games for the first time in 1972. Today, rafting is a hobby and sport that people of all ages and expertise levels can enjoy.

white water rafting

Image via O.A.R.S.

If you are unfamiliar with rafting, it’s a lot like canoeing but rather than paddling on a calm body of water like a lake or a slow river; you take an inflatable flat boat (the raft) on a river with rapids or on whitewater.

Multiple people, typically four to six, will share a raft and each person has a single blade paddle to help navigate the raft through the rapids. Depending on where you whitewater raft and your level of expertise, there may be a guide present to help you along.

Whitewater rivers are easy to identify because the body of water runs fast, has a lot of rapids, and the turbulence in the water makes the rapids appear almost frothy and white. Some people may describe a whitewater river as “raging.”

Places To Whitewater Raft

Many people assume that they have to travel to the Grand Canyon to go white water rafting, but there are rivers all throughout the United States that are perfect for rafting. While a lot of people go white water rafting in Colorado, there are just as many who can enjoy white water rafting in Maine.

You might be wondering, “ Are there are places for white water rafting near me?” The easiest way to find out is to check out the National whitewater river database and click on your state to see if there are rivers that are suitable for rafting.

When looking at the various rivers throughout the U.S., you will notice that there’s a Class category with numerals I through VI; these are the rapids classification or level of difficulty. A class I rapid is the easiest to navigate and is the best type of whitewater for beginners. Class VI is considered “extremely dangerous” and is unsafe for even expert rafters.

It’s important to take the rapid classification seriously. Even though rafting enthusiasts work hard to keep the river database up-to-date, conditions on a river can change, or there may be sections of a river that are undocumented.

While you might have a few great rivers not too far from your home, here are some whitewater rivers worth rafting down at least once in your life:

Potomac River, Maryland

If you’re planning a trip to DC, why not take a break from the monuments and museums to make a little time to check out the Potomac? The Potomac has a variety of class rapids, but if you go with a guide from the area, it’s an excellent option for beginners.

places to white water raft

Image via Atlanta Parent

Gauley River, West Virginia

Another spot worth checking out when you’re out East is the Gauley River in West Virginia. Where other rivers in the U.S. have specific rafting seasons, the rapids are consistent virtually all year round. While the river is controlled by a dam, many of the sections are best suited for intermediate and advanced rafters.

Nantahala River, North Carolina

Located in Western North Carolina, the Nantahala River is another great option for beginners. Since the river is controlled by a dam, the whitewater is more consistent and predictable (which is essential for anyone getting started). The nearby Nantahala Outdoor Center offers whitewater tours that are suitable for families with children.

Tuolumne River, California

Planning a trip to Yosemite National Park? Make plans to raft on the Tuolumne River. In the past few years, the California drought has affected the depth and speed of the river, but snow and rain have helped replenish the river and help it return to its “fast and furious” state.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with rafting in whitewater, you may want to look for a calmer river or at least get some months of practice before heading out on the Tuolumne.

Green River, Utah

The Green River in Utah is known for being an excellent option for families and rafters of all expertise levels. While the certain parts of the river have more intense rapids during the mid-summer months, late season is the best time for beginners and more family-friendly rafting.

Kennebec River and Dead River, Maine

Remember when we said that you can whitewater raft in nearly every state? The Kennebec and Dead rivers in Main are some of the hot spots for experienced rafters. Kennebec has Class IV rapids while Dead is a little more versatile with Class II-IV rapids.

Arkansas River, Colorado

While many rafting enthusiasts flock to the West Coast for a rafting adventure, the Arkansas River in Colorado is the spot to check out if you have a little experience, but you don’t have to be an expert. Before you head out, just make sure you know which sections are suited to your experience level as there are some Class V rapids on the river.

Some Things To Consider Before You Go Whitewater Rafting

Now that we’ve given you some places to check out the next time you’re planning a vacation, there are some things you should consider before you go rafting.

Use A Guide

Rafting on whitewater is exhilarating, and it can also be very dangerous. Like any sport or hobby that occurs on a body of water, it’s always important to exercise caution and be mindful of your expertise level.

If you’re a beginner, avoid going in areas on a river that have high class rapids. Guide services are in business to help people of all expertise levels enjoy rafting and to navigate a river safely. A guide can also help you from getting lost, especially if you’re rafting on an unfamiliar river.

Always Wear A Life Jacket and Helmet

Even if you’re a strong swimmer, you should always wear a life jacket when rafting. Most guide services provide life jackets and helmets and will not let you use your own. Why is a helmet necessary? A stray paddle stroke from another rafter may give you a head injury or fall out and hit your head on a rock is always a possibility.

What To Wear

If you’re wondering what to wear when white water rafting, the key is to avoid cotton clothing as it stays wet the longest. Depending on the weather and the time of year that you go rafting, most people will wear a bathing suit and some shorts. Fast drying materials like wool, polypro, and waterproof jackets are also great.

While you might want to raft while barefoot or wearing a shoe that’s easy to slip on and off, many experts encourage rafters to wear tennis shoes or sandals that stay secured to the foot.

Be Prepared To Listen and Work Together

Rafting can be fast-paced, stressful, fun, and a little scary all at once. Even if you have some experience with rafting, you should always listen to your guide. Be open and willing to receive commands from a stranger and don’t take it personally if someone tries to correct you quickly.

Since rafting is a group activity, navigating down a river becomes a group effort. Depending on how many people you are traveling with, you may be partnered up with people you don’t know. Again, listen, be patient, and work hard to be cooperative and supportive. While rafting can be a relaxing experience, don’t expect to sit back and do nothing.

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