Hang tough: The world’s best rivers for whitewater rafting
Zipper up your lightweight wetsuit, tighten your helmet ties: we’re off to the world’s most indomitable, rough and awesome rivers to whitewater rafting.
San Kosi River, Nepal
The mighty San Kosi River (literary translation: “Golden River”) carries its crystal-clear waters from one of Tibet’s highest peaks, Mount Shisha Pangma. It flows through the Himalayas, serves as a source of fresh water for eastern Nepal, and for only five months of the year is suitable for rafting. But how exciting your trip can be! The 273-kilometre journey from Dolalghat to Chatra Gorge takes you through rapids, rapids, gentle sloping valleys, remote mountain villages in the backcountry and beautiful campsites on dazzling white sand beaches. And, of course, hot sunny days and cool nights. By the end of your trip, you’ll probably agree that gold isn’t just what we’re used to seeing in the store.
On the San Cosi, you can go rafting from September to January, after which the river floods and the volume of water triples. It takes you up to 10 days to cover the route from Dolalgat to Chatra Gorge.
Magpie River, Ontario, Canada
On the remote Magpie Lake, you’ll pass through endless pine and spruce forests. On the way you’ll have the feeling something extraordinary awaits you. It really is – the breathtaking journey down Magpie River, with its granite banks and gorges. Spend your nights on rock ledges or beaches and marvel at the indescribable “light show” of northern lights. While you’re paddling, keep your eyes peeled for native fauna such as brown bears, eagles, wolves, and American elk. Tow Towards the end of the trip you’ll drag the raft a little further when you reach the vicinity of Magpie Falls, just past one of the five rapids, which is one of the most interesting parts of the trip.
The best months for rafting on the Magpie River are August and September. By the way, there is a real “battle” going on in Ontario with the local authorities seeking to dam the river. Hurry, while there is still an opportunity.
Zambezi River, Zimbabwe/Zambia
Below the cascades of Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River (Africa’s fourth-longest river), between the black basalt “walls” of the Batoka Gorge is what many consider the best section for one-day whitewater rafting in the world. The names of the rapids do not look very “comfortable.” “Boiling Point, Washing Machine, Devil’s Toilet Bowl, Oblivion. well, you get the idea. More than half of them are characterized by the fifth category of difficulty*, and places with category six are almost impossible to overcome at all. Have we talked about crocodiles yet?
* assessment of the difficulty of overcoming obstacles in rafting is made on a seven-point scale (from 0 to 6).
The best time for rafting on the Zambezi is the low water season (July to mid-February).
Alsek River (USA/Canada)
Try your raft on the American-Canadian Alsek River and you’ll understand what “really cold” means. The river is fed by meltwater from the largest glacier outside the Arctic Circle. The average temperature of the perpetually icy Alsek water barely reaches half a degree Celsius. Yes, you will definitely need a waterproof wetsuit of the dry type. You’ll be whisked through 250 kilometers of ultra-fast flowing water past incredibly beautiful alpine meadows and the pristine landscape of Kluane National Park. Bald eagles and grizzly bears are all around – did we mention that grizzly and rafting activity peaks at the same time?
The best time of year to raft the Alsek River is June. One section is so dangerous that it is constantly patrolled by rescue helicopters.
Middle Arm of the Salmon River (or Middle Salmon), Idaho, USA
What better way to soak in the hot springs after a Class 3 or 4 whitewater rafting adventure? The Middle Salmon cuts the largest expanse of natural land in the Northwest U.S. at the 48th parallel. The Middle Salmon is the longest undammed river in the United States. It’s got everything to get your heart racing: rapids, ripples, rapids, shivers and waterfalls. And beautiful natural scenery, wildlife, amazing flying fish (you can’t find better in all of America), and of course, the aforementioned hot springs – six of which are right on the banks of the Middle Salmon.
The Middle Salmon River rafting season usually runs from May through September. The only difficulty: rafting requires a permit, which is not easy to obtain.
Franklin River, Tasmania, Australia
From the moment you’re mesmerized by the magic of Australia’s dark, tannin-colored Franklin River, you’re trapped in its energy. It will be your indefatigable companion through the long days and nights, even when you’re sleeping. Your mood will change with the river. You will be saddened by cold and raindrops of rain falling on the water surface, you will be charged with adrenaline simultaneously with the rise of water level in the river and along with stormy rifts. And when on a sunny day you will glide along calm sections of the route past leisurely swimming duckboards, your soul will be filled with peace and tranquility. And for sure you’ll feel a little sad when the journey comes to an end.
The best rafting on the Franklin River is in the summer. The traditional destination for most travelers is Sir John Falls.
Futaleufu River, Chile
The first thing that strikes you about the Futaleufu River in Chile is the color of the water, which ranges from unnaturally bright turquoise to greenish-blue hues. It’s all about the minerals that the glacier-fed river leaches out of the rocks of the Patagonian Andes. You’ll spend days in “battles” with rough waters and all kinds of obstacles up to difficulty category 5, and nights in unprecedented for such wild places luxury, provided by Earth River, the organization “supervising” the Futaleufu River area. Shower stalls, restrooms, hot water and excellent food are available along the shore. So, you can relax and enjoy life.
Earth River organizes rafting trips on the Futaleufu River every summer and from December to March.
Rio Cotahuasi River, Peru
Nowhere is the contrast between high mountains and rivers more pronounced than on the Cotahouasi River, which flows through the canyon of the same name, the deepest in the world (3,535 meters at its lowest point). Even the way to the starting point of your rafting route is an adventure. You have to drive 12 hours by car on the mountain roads, and then another two days to get on mules. But as is often the case, the challenge is followed by a wonderful pastime: seven days of thrilling grade four and five obstacles. Stops at secluded campsites, beautiful natural landscapes, unexplored ruins from the pre-Inca period, left over from the ancient Guari civilization. A cultural program and adventure – what more could you want from a vacation?
Note: the trip is for experienced rafters only. The best months for rafting the Cotahouasi River are June and July.
Colorado River, Arizona, USA
Many people think there’s nothing better than whitewater rafting in the murky brown water of the Colorado River. Indeed, is there any other river in the world flowing through the most famous hole in the earth’s surface called the Grand Canyon? And if the numbers mean anything, here they are: 22,000 people raft down the Colorado River each year on the section that runs through the Grand Canyon. You certainly won’t find peace and quiet here, but you will find 42 rapids and incredible natural scenery of bizarre geological formations up to half a billion years old in Lees Ferry and downstream. Then there are the ruins of North American Indian settlements you can explore during your shoreline breaks.
The Colorado River rafting season runs from May through October. You can spend anywhere from one to 18 days on the trip. Unorganized tourists can wait ten years for a permit – contact a travel agent.
Nose River, Italy
Floundering through the icy green waves of the Nose, you’ll get rid of the last doubt that this Italian river is Europe’s best rafting river. Fuelled by crystal-clear water from melting glaciers, the Nose carries its waters through Dalmatia, an alpine paradise in northern Italy, and passes through the picturesque Val de Sole (Sun Valley). There are obstacles of all categories of difficulty on this river, but the most famous are the rapids of the 5th grade at Mostizzolo Gorge. The main thing is that you will not be too far from the civilization along the whole route, but you will not feel its close presence.
The best way to raft on the Nose is in summer. It’s probably the most accessible river of all those mentioned in this article.
12 Most Epic Rafting Places in the World
Whitewater rafting is an amazing adventure sport because there are different levels of rapids to try and test your comfort level. Class I and II rapids can often be navigated by true beginners and families with children, while Class V rapids can only be tried by experienced adrenaline seekers.
What’s also interesting about the sport is that there are incredible rivers with rapids all over the world, so chances are you’re not too far from where you live and plan to visit. Local guides can be found almost anywhere rafting is popular, and each river offers something different for adventurers.
But if you’re trying to narrow down your list, here are some of the most epic rafting spots around the world.
Nelson Falls, in Franklin Gordon National Wild River Park, Tasmania Nelson Falls, in Franklin Gordon National Wild River Park, Tasmania
Franklin River, Tasmania (Nearby Hotels)
Activism and conservation have helped preserve the environment around the Franklin River, making Tasmania an unexpected rafting destination. A company called Tasmanian Expeditions led the first commercial trip in the late 1970s and continues to be a leader in local conservation efforts. The best time of year for rafting here is November through January. One recommended rafting trip here takes nine days, which is admittedly a great commitment to the sport. But if you’re up for the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with waterfalls, gorges and epic rapids to battle.
The Futaleufu River in the Aisen District The Futaleufu River in the Aisen District
Futaleufu River, Chile (neighboring hotels)
One of the most legendary rivers for rafting in South America is the Futaleufu River in Chile. This river is fed by the high lakes in the Andes of Patagonia and provides spectacular mountain scenery. You’ll find several sections of the river to navigate and class V rapids here. However, some areas are also suitable for beginners. Beginners can try a few sections here, but the Class V rapids are challenging even for experienced rafters. Plan to spend a couple of days on this river and camp overnight to get the full experience. While you’re in the area, continue the adventure by booking a guided day of rock climbing or horseback riding.
Rafting the Colorado River Rafting the Colorado River
Colorado River, Arizona (Nearby Hotels)
There’s nothing more grandiose about whitewater rafting than the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon and is a world-famous rafters destination. It’s a classic place to visit if you’ve rafted before and want more of an experience. The canyon walls, pits and rapids are huge and impressive. The Colorado River also runs through Cataract Canyon in Utah and has some huge class V rapids. It is interesting to find a white river in the desert, but it is an impressive river that peaks in June. In all, the Colorado River is 226 miles long. When you explore it, you can also check out the hiking trails, campgrounds, and Native American ruins in the area.
The Zambezi River in Zimbabwe The Zambezi River in Zimbabwe
Zambezi River, Zambia (Nearby Hotels)
There are some incredible rafting rivers in Africa, but one of the best is the Zambezi River in Zambia. The river runs along the Bakota Gorge and stretches about 15 miles below Victoria Falls. Dramatic scenery marks this rafting route, which includes a couple dozen rapids. This is the place for Class VI and V rapids, which are intimidating and best suited for experienced rafters. Most of the rapids here are Class IV. It is also not uncommon to see hippos and crocodiles in these waters.
Rio Cotahuasi in Cotahuasi Canyon in Peru Rio Cotahuasi in Cotahuasi Canyon in Peru
Cotahouasi River, Peru (neighboring hotels)
A classic river expedition in Peru travels along the Rio Cotahuasi River. This route takes you past high canyons and Inca ruins that can only be reached by boat. But this is not a trip for the faint of heart. You’ll have to walk all day to get to where you can get from Cotahouasi. The popular rafting trips here last a week and include about 100 miles of paddling through rapids that reach Class IV and Class V status. It’s a really special trip because you can camp near ancient Inca ruins that the modern world has left untouched.
Chilco River, Lava Canyon Chilco River, Lava Canyon
Chilco River, British Columbia (Nearby Hotels)
Another epic area in North America for rafting is the Chilco River, which is famous for Class IV rapids. The river is surrounded by stunning scenery in every direction – glacier peaks, alpine forests and lush meadows. This trip takes you through Lava Canyon, Farwell Canyon and Big John Canyon, and this route is considered the longest stretch of navigable water in North America. Another river water in British Columbia worth visiting is the Alaska River. It’s a 140-mile river with high peaks and huge glaciers in between. Definitely dress for the weather, though, because water temperatures are not often above freezing.
Rafting in Nepal Rafting in Nepal
Sun Kosi River, Nepal (Nearby Hotels)
Nepal is known for its high mountain peaks, and the Sun Kosi River offers a high altitude experience for the adventurous. The river is located near the Tibetan border in the Himalayan range. You will experience class V rapids and landscapes that range from jungle to forests, canyons and gorges. The Drigung Chu River is another rafting destination in the region that is worth a visit.
Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica
Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica (Nearby Hotels)
Costa Rica is an adventurer’s paradise, so it’s no surprise that there are great rafting opportunities here. Come to Rio Pacuare to experience 67 miles of river, which is divided into three sections. Here you’ll find Class III and Class IV rapids that are great for intermediate rafters. Wildlife enthusiasts will also enjoy this rafting trip because monkeys and exotic birds are often seen on the banks.
Pine Creek Rapids. Salmon River Pine Creek Rapids. Salmon River.
Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho (neighboring hotels)
Also in the U.S., the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is a very popular rafting destination. Come to this part of Idaho between late May and mid-June for the best conditions. Here you’ll find fairly continuous Class IV rapids that don’t provide many breaks for rafters. Plan a trip to this river if you are looking for pure wilderness that has not been spoiled by roads or housing. Other than Alaska, you won’t find a more remote wilderness area without traffic. However, you may see some bears around the river. The full trip is 105 miles long, with a 3,000-foot drop in elevation and at least 100 rapids.
Rafting in Zamora Ecuador Rafting in Zamora Ecuador
Rio Zamora, Ecuador (neighboring hotels)
One of the most famous rivers for rafting in Ecuador is the Rio Zamora. For inspiration, check out the historical book, J.L. Journey on the Rio Zamora, Ecuador by J.L. Hermessen. The rivers on the Amazon side of the Andes tend to have steadier flows and are larger, cleaner, and more scenic than those in the Western Andes. In addition to the Rio Zamora, another great place to raft in Ecuador is the Rio Upano. This river flows through the rainforest, so you can see unique wildlife species and local villages along the way. Most adventurers begin their journey in the town of Macas and travel through canyons, class IV rapids, waterfalls, and Namangosa Gorge.
North Johnston River, Australia (Nearby Hotels)
Head north from Queensland to raft class IV and V rapids on the North Johnston River. You’ll see rainforests, volcanic gorges and Palmerston National Park along this Australian route. But one of the most memorable things you can see here are the bioluminescent mushrooms that glow in the forest and on the rocks. The heavy rains that fall in the area make these rapids so dramatic. Plan to camp overnight to get the best nighttime views. This is an exciting trip for true whitewater enthusiasts because you’ll need a helicopter to get to the beginning of the river trail.
Vermigliana Creek in Val di Sole Italy Vermigliana Creek in Val di Sole Italy
Noche River, Italy (Nearby Hotels)
Italy is known for many different things, but rafting is not often one of them. However, the Noche River is an amazing whitewater rafting destination because this is where the Dolomites of northern Italy meet the melting glaciers. This trip will give you a complete picture of what this country is all about. Class V rapids can be found in the gorges of Mostizzolo, providing one of the most thrilling experiences in Europe.