10 Best Rafting Destinations

Rafting Rivers

Some rivers, creeks and streams are best run solo: just you, your kayak, and the water.

The rivers listed below are just the opposite: big-time whitewater stretches that lend themselves to the more communal approach of raft trips. Here are ten rafting destinations that everyone can get behind (before they get wet).

10. ARKANSAS RIVER, COLO.

A great place to book a trip everyone’s sure to enjoy, the Arkansas is the most popular whitewater river in the world. The reason? Variety. The hundred-mile stretch between Leadville and Canon City features 10 distinct day-run sections, with Class I through Class V rapids.

9. YAMPA RIVER CANYON, COLO.

This free-flowing gem can only be run during the spring meltoff season. It passes through the stunning rock formations of Dinosaur National Monument, where you can expect to spend four or five days of raft-trippin’ before the Yampa empties into the Colorado River.

8. HULAHULA, ALASKA

Pristine water, coupled with plentiful Class III rapids, make for a great 100-mile stretch. When the ice has unlocked, the sun’s not setting for a few months, which means you can spot all kinds of Alaskan wildlife throughout. Watch for stubborn sections of river ice that can dam things up, even in the summer.

7. UPPER YOUGHIOGHENY, MARYLAND

Who says the East Coast is tame? This gorge is littered with Class IV and V rapids, as the river drops 1,000 feet in 10 miles. If you get a chance to take your eyes off the rapids, ledges, and blind chutes, the surrounding scenery ain’t bad either.

6. TUOLUMNE RIVER, CALIF.

How crazy are you feeling? The Cherry Creek day run is the toughest commercially-offered rafting trip in the U.S., with Class V rapids all the way. The Mash run picks things up downstream and is a little tamer — but around the Tuolumne, it’s all relative.

5. MIDDLE FORK SALMON, IDAHO

A little advance planning will allow you to camp next to hot springs when you’re done rafting for the day. Serious canyon action keeps things from getting predictable, and when the water level drops midsummer, the fishing quality rises off the charts.

4. GAULEY RIVER, W. VIRGINIA

A great autumn destination, the Gauley gets six weeks of world-class rapids when the Summerville Dam opens its gates. Class III-V rapids appear throughout the canyon, creating a floatin’ hootenanny that any rafter can appreciate.

3. SELWAY RIVER, IDAHO

If you love whitewater but hate sharing, this is a great run. Just one launch per day is allowed on this 50-mile stretch, creating your own private Idaho. Just remember: with greater isolation comes greater responsibility, so come prepared for any emergency.

2. ALSEK RIVER, ALASKA

You can stretch this trip into two weeks, and see more bears than people. This Alaska panhandle destination is chock-full of Class II-IV glacial runoff. Bring a few waterproof disposable cameras. A guided trip is a no-brainer for this rugged stretch of wilderness.

1. GRAND CANYON STRETCH OF THE COLORADO RIVER, ARIZ.

Talk about no-brainers. This iconic trip is one of the worst-kept secrets in rafting. Set aside at least two weeks if you’re lucky enough to bag a permit — the lottery process can take years to pan out, and there’s no trip without a permit. Want cuts? Dig deep and bribe one of the chosen few, or shell out roughly $5,000 to one of the Canyon’s guided raft expeditions for a three-week trip.

Be advised: although the Canyon draws millions of tourists, the rapids coursing through it are the real deal. Class III and IV rapids make you earn every calm stretch, where you can look up at the 5,000 foot canyon walls (carved out over the past billion years or so) or head to the bank for a quick slot canyon hike. It’s 226 miles of raftacular action — and pitying the sweaty hordes stuck in traffic on the South Rim makes it all the sweeter.

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