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

As the snow covered mountains begin to melt this spring/summer, the creeks are transforming into rushing whitewater rapids. These spots become a hotbed of fast-paced kayaking and rafting all over North America. Here are the 6 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

Reno River Festival – Reno, Nevada

May 12-13, 2018

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. With record setting snow in the Sierra Nevadas, the translation is some of the biggest flows in years on the Truckee River meaning the excitement will be historical. Don’t miss out on the Reno River Festival!

Neilson River Race – Saint Raymond, Quebec

May 12, 2018

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 competition, 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.

Little White Salmon Race – White Salmon, Washington

May 19-20, 2018

Little White Salmon Race 2016 from Darby McAdams on Vimeo.

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.

Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival – Estacada, Oregon

May 19-20, 2018

2015 Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival from Pup N’ Suds Productions on Vimeo.

Started in 1984, this shin dig 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 25-27, 2018

Bigfork Whitewater Festival Vintage Sign Best Whitewater Kayak Race Montana Northern Rockies

Graphic and Photos Courtesy of the Bigfork Eagle

Bigfork Whitewater Festival Vintage Sign Best Whitewater Kayak Race Montana Northern Rockies

Image taken by: Robin Wiesneth

In its 42nd 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 Western Whitewater Championship series.

North Fork Championship – Banks, Idaho

June 14-17, 2018

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 this last winter, 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.

Out of all the whitewater kayak events, these are our favorites. Is there another event that should be on this list that we’re missing?


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