The Roaringest, Frothiest, and Best Whitewater Kayak Events in North America!

Neilson River Race 2016 St Raymond Quebec Best Whitewater Kayak Race Kayaker taking the famed Double Drop Rapid, the last one before the finish line - Image taken by: Gilles Baribeau Photo

This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

As the snow covered mountains begin to melt this spring/summer, the creeks are transforming into rushing whitewater rapids. A perfect way to cool off with summer fun in the mountains. These spots become a hotbed of fast-paced kayaking and rafting all over North America. Here are the 7 best whitewater kayak races in a ski-town near you.

The Best Whitewater Kayak Races In North America (in order of appearance):

Don’t watch all the excitement on TV or YouTube this season. Get out there and enjoy the best whitewater kayak events in person!

Neilson River Race 2016 St Raymond Quebec Best Whitewater Kayak Race
Paddler about to drop-in his kayak before the Nielson River Race – Image taken by: Gilles Baribeau Photo

Little White Salmon Race – White Salmon, Washington

March 26th, 2022

Little White Salmon Race Best Whitewater Races In North America
Image appears courtesy: Little White Salmon Race

In kayaking circles around North America, the Little White Salmon River is the stuff of legends. A tributary of the mighty Columbia, it’s considered one of the most difficult regular run rivers on the West Coast. It makes sense that the Little White Salmon race, named after this river, is thought to be the Pacific Northwest’s marquee extreme race due to its challenge.

Reno River Festival – Reno, Nevada

May 7-8, 2022

Reno River Festival 2011 best whitewater kayak races Lake Tahoe Nevada Truckee River
From the women’s freestyle finals – 2011 Reno River Festival – Image taken by: Ken Drozd

Located smack dab in the center of Reno, this isn’t just a whitewater kayak event. It’s a full-on festival filled with music, drinks, and all kinds of fun! Don’t worry – kayaking is still the main headliner with over 60 professionals from France, Great Britain, and Austria competing for over $10,000 in prize money. Don’t miss out on the Reno River Festival!

Neilson River Race – Saint Raymond, Quebec

May 21, 2022

Neilson River Race 2016 St Raymond Quebec Best Whitewater Kayak Race
Kayaker taking the famed Double Drop Rapid, the last one before the finish line – Image taken by: Gilles Baribeau Photo

Another home grown grass roots kayak event, this race is located off a dirt road 30 minutes outside of Saint Raymond, Quebec. It starts at the Big Eyes Rapid and follows the river for approximately 6 km. Filled with class IV and V rapids, the race finishes up at the famed Double Drop. A little different from the other races mentioned, teams consist of two racers and the time trial ends when BOTH members cross the finish line.

Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival – Estacada, Oregon

Mid-May, 2022

Started in 1984, this shindig is a fun and exciting way to enjoy all whitewater related activities including SUP endurance events, inflatable kayaking, and head to head races! There’s a smorgasbord of contests to watch. But that’s not all. They also demo equipment and host advanced rowing clinics to bring your skills up to the next level.

Bigfork Whitewater Festival – Bigfork, Montana

May 27-29, 2022

Bigfork Whitewater Festival Vintage Sign Best Whitewater Kayak Race Montana Northern Rockies
Graphic and Photos Courtesy of the Bigfork Eagle

In its 47th year, the Bigfork Whitewater Festival is the oldest running whitewater race on our list. Located in Flathead Valley, not far from Whitefish Ski resort, this last mile of the Swan River is all class IV rapids! Nicknamed the “Wild Mile”, this segment of river flows through the town of Bigfork which has a nature trail following the river, giving spectators the perfect venue to watch from. Over the years, this event has even been part of professional circuits such as the Kayaking Pro Circuit and the Western Whitewater Championship series.

North Fork Championship – Banks, Idaho

June 16-18, 2022

North Fork Championship best whitewater kayak races Banks Idaho Pacific Northwest
North Fork Kayak Championship – Image taken by: Kevin Rank

When we visited McCall, ID, we heard rumors about the North Fork River. Little did we know this river is home to an extreme kayak race called the North Fork Championship. Halfway between McCall and Boise is a place named Banks, Idaho. With three races and a whitewater kayak film event called the Melt Awards, this is a true breeding ground for serious kayakers.

The Green Race

November 5, 2022

Green River Race
Image appears courtesy: Green River Race

Compared to the rest of these frothy kayak events that are fed by snowmelt, this southern bell is surprisingly held in Fall. Located just outside of Asheville North Carolina on the Green River narrows, more than 2,000 spectators hike into the Gorge. With a 170+ racers battling it out at the end of the North American season, it’s no wonder they call themselves the “Super Bowl of Kayaking.” 

Out of all the whitewater kayak events, these are our favorites. Is there another event that belongs on this list?

5 thoughts on “The Roaringest, Frothiest, and Best Whitewater Kayak Events in North America!

  1. I guess I dont understand how THE GREEN RACE isnt on this list. Other than the North fork and the Little White race it is easily the most sought after prize in North America.

    1. Hey Todd,

      Good point! It wasn’t technically next to a ski town so we didn’t include it but like you said it’s one of the biggest races of the year so it’s not a bad idea to include it. Good lookin’ out!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.