Over the past decade or so, surfing has transitioned from the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific into the interior, deep in the mountains. How come? First thing, snowboarding is closely related to the lifestyle of surfing. Both cultures chase storms to find the best “wave”. So, it was only a matter of time before snowboarders would seek out places to get their summer “board” on, surfing the water instead of the mountains.
9 River Surfing Spots in US & Canada + 1 Amazing Lake to Slash
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The Snake River may be where whitewater rafting was born, but it’s also in a class of its own when it comes to river surfing spots. The “Lunch Counter” rapid is one of the few natural phenomena on the list making it a white buffalo of river surfing. Conditions must be just right! The perfect combination of snow-melt and release of water from the Jackson Lake Dam is needed to create this wonder. When nature aligns and nearly 8,000 – 12,000 cubic feet/second of water is flowing, an epic mountain surfing spot is born.
Halfway between the city of Calgary and the beautiful hamlet of Banff lies a “break” that river surfers have begun shredding. Known as the “Mountain Wave”, it was built by the pioneers “Surf Anywhere”, an organization dedicated to building river waves around the world. Located on the Lower Kananaskis River in Kananaskis Provincial Park, it’s adjacent to the Barrier Lake Visitor Information Centre. The best part? The river is controlled by a dam meaning that the flow is pretty consistent allowing for fairly dependable surfing all season long. And if you’re in Calgary, don’t forget to check out their other creation – the 10th street wave.
Trail, British Columbia
We have to give a nod to our Canadian brethren especially that this monster is another natural hit. Located deep in the heart of the Powder Highway not far from Red Mountain (Rossland, BC) is what they call the “Industrial Hole”. To catch this wave, you literally need the perfect storm. One part massive snow year and one part quick warm up will lead to the wave’s formation. With massive whirlpools and a long paddle out, this water-wonder is no joke.
Not just one surfing break to catch but multiple options, this place isn’t becoming a hotbed… it already is for river surfing! Big snows happen all winter long in the peaks just west of town which translates in the spring and summer to big-volume rivers. LOTS of them. No matter how you look at it, this is the “mecca” of river surfing in North America. Here’s just a small sampling of some of the more legendary spots to catch a barrel.
Alberton Gorge Triple Bridges
A great example of a spot that provides a slew of choices like a buffet is the Alberton Gorge Triple Bridges on the Clark Fork River. Its features have fun names like the Ice Box, Comp Hole, Fang, and Ralph’s Take Out just to name a few. The main break does well when the flow is above 3,000 cfs and the rest above 6,000 cfs. And once you’re done figuring out these play spots, consider heading a little further west to the Historic town of Wallace & grab a bite to eat.
The indigenous Nez Pearce tribe got the name of this river spot-on when they called it “Lochsa.” Pronounced “Lock-saw”, it means rough water, and that’s exactly what it is. Not a single bit of this untamed river has a dam and its flow is unregulated. That’s why it’s considered the world’s best for continuous whitewater. With that being said, if the flow is big, get ready for one of the most ocean-like monsters to catch for river surfing. A big glassy left face with a breaking peak, you’ll swear you’re in the ocean… until you take in the surroundings.
Compared to the others on this list of Missoula’s tasty treats, this is the easiest, and it’s still challenging. Near the Higgins street bridge next to the Wilma Theatre in downtown Missoula, it’s also one of the easier ones to get to. Constructed in memory of world class kayaker Brennan Guth who died while paddling in Chile in 2001. The man-made wave transformed a dangerous water diversion weir into a safe place for river play. There’s even talks for another whitewater playground called the Max Wave to reconfigure the Flynn-Lowney Diversion next to the Ogren-Allegiance Park.
If this is your first time hopping onto a surf board or even a river break, we recommend stopping by Zoo Town Surfers in downtown Missoula. At a minimum, they’ll make sure they give you the beta to stay safe and have fun. They can also gear you up, or better yet, go for a river safari or just get a lesson.
In our past articles we’ve called Bend the Disneyland of Outdoor Recreation. And, this is yet another example of why you should visit if you love adventure. Open since 2015, with the support of a bond measure & the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, the Deschutes River, crossing through the center of town, created the Bend Whitewater Park. With something for everyone’s river adventure, the park includes three different channels: one for floating, one for whitewater, and one for natural “surf” habitat. So, the next time you’re in Bend, you might want to bring ALL your toys including your surfboard.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Since 2008, the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park has been home to the very popular “G-Wave”. The FIRST-ever manmade whitewater feature, it’s built across the ENTIRE length of the Colorado River. Within the park are two waves called “The Glove” and “The Right”. When the water levels are high, these transform like Voltron into one massive wave to slash. And the best part? After a long day surfing the mighty Colorado, you can head to the world famous Glenwood Hot Springs and soak those aches & pains away.
If you haven’t noticed, this list contains A LOT of river park waves in the center of towns. Missoula has one. Calgary another. Of course, you can’t forget about Bend’s beauty. So, when we call Boise River Park’s one-of-a kind, there better be a good reason. Instead of just building a static feature, they went above and beyond expectations by adding a wave shaper. Depending on the day and the volume of the flow, you might see a relatively green face while on other days, it’ll look like a hole. This is all dependent on how the park folks are shaping it. Fortunately, there’s a set schedule. On Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, it’s all about shapes that surfers will like. On Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays, it’s setup for kayakers. In reality, no matter which day you come, you’ll see everyone enjoying both of the waves available.
Lake Tahoe, California
Yup, Lake Tahoe has a group of diehard surfers. Compared to others on this list, this isn’t on a river but rather the lake. How? Well, surfing needs one major thing for “surf” to pop up… and that’s wind! Fortunately, the Sierra Nevada range has a TON of wind. Being the first natural barrier, storms slam into the peaks creating winds of 60-80+ mph while generating waves up to 6 feet tall. And, with the lake being ice-free even in the coldest months, surfers can hit up the “waves” all year long.