The snowpack continues to recede with the summer melt. It’s okay though… it will be back this winter and there’s a positive. It means the rivers start to rise and whitewater rafting season begins! Here’s a list of some of the best whitewater rafting rivers in US near a ski town.
How Whitewater Rafting Started
But first, a quick history lesson. This outdoor activity started as a way to explore unknown rivers and the areas that surround them. The first rafting trip happened in 1811 on the Snake River through Wyoming and Idaho. The equipment at the time made it too difficult to navigate the entire river. In 1840, the Rubber Raft was invented by Lt. John Fremont and Horace H. Day. With their new invention, on June 9th, 1840, a successful scientific exploration of the Snake River was led by Clyde Smith.
Whitewater Rafting Destinations
Nowadays, it’s not about exploration. It’s all about fun! Rafting has become another fun way to experience the mountains. All adventure seekers must give this a try! Here are some of the best whitewater rafting rivers in the US.
Snake River – Idaho
Class III & Class IV
Nothing compares to rafting Hells Canyon in Idaho. This is the home of the mighty Snake River and the deepest gorge in North America. The river marks the border between Idaho and Oregon. The canyon plunges to depths of nearly 8,000 feet between the Seven Devils range to the east and Oregon’s rim country to the west.
Through this tremendous gorge, the Snake River’s warm, clear waters yield some of the best big waves and whitewater rapids in the Northwest. There are also great fishing opportunities in calmer sections. The Snake River serves up one of the best river experiences in the country!
Weber River – Utah
Class I & Class II Rapids
The Weber River, located in the same mountain range as Sundance Ski Resort, is full of historical structures showing off locomotive history. In addition, you’ll see several famous canyons in Northern Utah, some of which have ended up on postcards.
Highlights of this river includes a snug pass beneath the Croydon Bridge, Devil’s Slide, an unusual geologic rock formation consisting of two parallel bands of limestone running down a steep mountainside and Slalom Rapid, which passes a series of concrete pillars supporting the freeway above.
Deschutes River – Oregon
Class III Rapids
One of the most popular river rafting journeys in North America is the Deschutes River. Named by French fur traders for their rapids, these are a sure bet to be a blast! Known for its consistent water flows, sunshine and amazing scenery, it’s perfect for anyone looking for some adventure.
Dowd Chute – Colorado
Class IV Rapids
Besides having amazing dry snow, Colorado is also home to great whitewater rafting. The Dowd Chute, located on the Eagle River, is a perfect option that doesn’t require a full day but offers some intense action. The water levels are not dam controlled and fluctuate according to weather conditions and spring runoff levels. For this reason, it is critical to go with a guide. The best part though… it’s only minutes from Vail meaning you get to sample a little bit of the town as well.
American River – California
Class III & Class IV Rapids
The American River isn’t just one ribbon of watery fun but rather three. It consists of The North, Middle & South Forks. The South Fork’s action-packed Class III rapids are rollicking good fun for the entire family. The Middle Fork of the American combines challenging Class IV rapids with miles of beautiful wilderness scenery. It’s also home to the “Tunnel Chute.” The exciting rapid drops through a steep chute into frothy, churning water, after which it passes through a 90-ft long tunnel. Last but not least, the North Fork sparkles with Class IV spring run-off thrills and pristine beauty. So, pick the river depending on the level of fun you want.
Salmon River – Idaho
Class II – Class IV Rapids
Idaho is the land of plenty when it comes to whitewater rafting so it should come as no surprise that another ribbon of water would make our list. Nicknamed the “river of no return” since it flows into the largest expanse of continuous wilderness in the country — The Frank Church Wilderness. Depending on how much time you have, you can either enjoy a 5 day camping adventure or just a one day sojourn from Idaho’s whitewater capital of Riggins. The Salmon River includes legendary Class III rapids such as Split Rock, Salmon Falls, Big Mallard, Chittum, and Elk Bar. And if you head there during spring run-off, the normal Class II Ruby Rapid becomes a monstrous Class IV. The entrance contains laterals nicknamed “the pencil sharpener” you must conquer before working your boat to the right as you crest ocean-sized rollers. Miss this move and you’ll end up in the “pancake wave” that will flip you like a breakfast hotcake from the McCall Pancake House just down the road.
Rogue River – Oregon
The Cascade Mountains get pummeled every winter with A LOT of snow. This means that in the summer all that snow transforms the rivers into torrents including the mighty Rogue River in southern Oregon. Not just a fun river for rafters, it also boasts some of the best scenery and wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a good chance you’ll see a bald eagle. You might spot a bear or two. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see a few newts in any of the side creeks. There’s no shortage in wildlife to be enjoyed. The upper half of the river is a bit more mellow except for the Rainey Falls. Luckily, this gauntlet provides three options. You can go right over the main falls, down the “mid-chute,” or the fish ladder. The most popular is the fish ladder toward the right bank. The mid-chute is possible but takes precision rafting to get into it as well as the right amount of flow.
Kennebec River – Maine
Class III & IV
When you think of a whitewater rafting destination, they don’t only exist on the West Coast. A great example of this is the scenic Kennebec River in Maine. For those that really want to test their mettle and all this river has to offer, we recommend scheduling your trip along with the release of the water from the Harris Station Dam. While still providing access to Class III & IV rapids any time of year, during one of these four scheduled releases the rapids become even bigger. For example, the Big Mama rapid goes from a Class III to a IV and produces a 12-FOOT WAVE! Even if you do miss these windows, expect a lot of fun and still some intense rapid action. You may even see a moose!