Adrenaline Rush: Some of the Best Whitewater Rafting Spots in the U.S.

Discover why a whitewater rafting trip is sure to be an adventure to remember.

Now that the warmer weather and the longer days associated with summertime are upon us, it’s the perfect time to round up your family and friends and get out and enjoy the great outdoors. And the best way to beat the heat and commune with nature is to go whitewater rafting. Whether you’re a longtime whitewater warrior or someone who is just getting their feet wet in the activity, now’s the perfect time of year to hit the water for some fun in the sun!

Whitewater rafting is a recreational activity that requires the use of an inflatable raft to navigate a whitewater river or other body of rough water, usually containing rapids. According to the website, Whitewater Rafting, this recreational activity can be traced back to 1811 when the first recorded attempt to navigate the Snake River in Wyoming was planned. With no training, experience or proper equipment, the river was found to be too difficult and dangerous (hence the nickname “Mad River”). While rubber rafts were being manufactured in the 1840s, the first commercial rafting trip didn’t take place until 1940 when Clyde Smith lead a successful trip through the Snake River Canyon. By the 1950s, a resort hotel within Grand Teton National Park started offering float trips, and over time, whitewater rafting continued to grow and began to spread from the Rocky Mountains to other parts of the country. In fact, in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, slalom canoeing, essentially whitewater canoeing on an artificial course, was introduced to the international world. Today, whitewater rafting is a growing sport among people of all ages. “Whitewater rafting allows people to reconnect with the outside world in an exciting and accessible manner without the produced effect that you get at amusement parks or water parks,” says Sky Fogal, CFO at Pocono Whitewater Rafting. “It's also a great way to stay cool on a hot day.”

Whitewater rafting can be a truly amazing experience, but safety is of the utmost importance. In order to make sure your experience is a safe and enjoyable one, it’s important to know the whitewater rating scale. The rating scale was created to inform rafters of what to expect when planning and preparing for their trip and to assist them in selecting a river, or section of a river, they would be comfortable navigating given their skill level or that of the members of their group. The rating scale consists of Class I and II rapids, which are the easiest; Class III, which are considered moderately difficult; Class IV – Advanced; Class V – Expert; and Class VI – Extreme. Many factors go into how a river is classified, including speed of the water, whether obstructions are clearly visible or hidden, wave size, size of passages and presence of drops or chutes, and the river’s predictability. In addition to using the rating scale to select your perfect trip, it’s also important to follow certain guidelines like wearing a life jacket that is fitted and buckled no matter the boat type or difficulty of water. Also, it’s imperative to wear proper shoes (no flip flops or bare feet) and climate-appropriate clothing (cooler months require the use of a wetsuit or clothing intended to keep you warm and dry). It is also critical to listen to your river guide, never go rafting alone and to always avoid standing up in moving current and the consumption of alcohol or illegal substances that can impair judgment.

Now that your appetite for some whitewater rafting fun is wet, here are a few spots in the U.S. that offer truly incredible and exhilarating whitewater rafting experiences:

Image Source: Rivers & Oceans

Arizona: Located in Grand Canyon National Park, whitewater rafting trips down the mighty Colorado River are an unparalleled way to experience the sheer size and beauty of the canyon and strength of the river that forged it. There are options available that range from day trips to month-long excursions!

Image Source: Linda Scheiber for National Park Service

West Virginia: There’s no disputing that West Virginia is a whitewater rafting paradise and three nationally protected locations really stand out in this wild and remote state: Bluestone National Scenic River, Gauley National Recreation Area and New River Gorge National River. Visitors planning a rafting trip on the Bluestone River will experience untouched wilderness in a serene and peaceful environment, while rafters opting to tackle the Gauley River will encounter “The Beast of the East”—a World Top 10 whitewater river with incredible water volume, technical runs and huge waves. Rounding out this whitewater wonderland, the New River boasts deep canyons and scenic vistas around each bend in the river.

Pennsylvania: Located in the picturesque Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania is the Lehigh River, a 109-mile tributary of the Delaware River that offers Class I, II and III rapids. In the spring and fall, rafters will experience big waves and fast (but chilly) water. Rafters looking for warmer water and easier rapids should opt for a summertime float trip. While visiting the Lehigh River area, consider stopping by Jim Thorpe, PA, the “Switzerland of America” and the burial home of the famous Native American sports legend, Jim Thorpe. This town is also the home of The Harry Packer Mansion, a bed and breakfast that served as the model for the Haunted Mansion ride at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. But don’t worry, there are no hitchhiking ghosts living in this Gothic mansion.

There’s no denying that a whitewater rafting trip with your family and friends can be a truly memorable and exciting experience. But, in order to have a fun and safe time, it’s important to consult the whitewater ratings scale and follow the rules and guidance of your river guide. When all rafters agree to be responsible, the experience can be a trip of a lifetime with friends and family. “Whitewater rafting is one of several cures to nature deficit disorder and can be a great upper-body workout,” says Fogal. “Also most rivers offer different levels of difficulty, so you and your friends or family can generally find a good fit for the whole group.”