We Know: Best Places for Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater Rafting Locations

There are many fantastic locations around the world for whitewater rafters. Personal opinions vary as to which are the best ones, but most people can agree on the following locations and runs:

  1. The Colorado River in Grand Canyon, Arizona: One of the most spectacular places in the world as far as scenery. Though the river has tamed a bit since the early days of John Wesley Powell, it's still an intense whitewater river trip. Permits can be hard to obtain when the waiting list is long. The river runs for 280 miles but you can put in at several locations to shorten the trip from around 23 days to 10 or less. Though you can run the river on your own, the outfitters are known for their excellent food and provisions.
  2. The Tatshenshini River from southwest Yukon through British Columbia and Alaska to the Pacific Ocean: Truly one of the very last wild places on the planet. Paddle past glaciers, vast mountains, and icebergs. Along the shore you're likely to see grizzly bears, perhaps even one of the seldom seen blue bears, bald eagles, and other wildlife. In spring and fall you may see the Northern Lights display overhead. The 180-mile long Tatshenshini runs from a class II to class IV. Most of the outfitters offer from one to thirteen day trips.
  3. Guanacaste, Costa Rica: There are almost two dozen whitewater rivers in Costa Rica and their rapids range from a class II to a class V. You can run these rivers without a guide using your own gear or you can rent what you need. Outfitters offer a variety of packages, from all-inclusive to one day trips. Two of the most popular rivers are the Río Pacuare and the Río Reventazón.
  4. Great Bend of the Yangtze River, China: One of the most challenging rivers in the world, the Yangtze includes class IV and V rapids. The canyons of this river have been compared to the Grand Canyon, though the latter is not nearly as dramatic, deep, or narrow. Because the Chinese government restricted access to outsiders, the Yangtze is a relatively new river for whitewater enthusiasts. Even the Chinese did not make a successful run until as late as 1986, and lives were lost even on that trip.
  5. The Middle Fork of the Salmon, Idaho: Second only to Alaska for its untamed surrounding wilderness, the 100-mile long Salmon include class III through class IV rapids. Also popular for those who run the Salmon are the numerous hot springs along the way that can be enjoyed after a hard day's paddle.
  6. Karnali River, Nepal: The Karnali includes class IV and V rapids and is only accessible by hiking two hours after driving twelve hours from Kathmandu. This remote river is home to several isolated villages who seldom see Westerners. Along the way you'll also see uninhabited stretches of beach, and perhaps a Bengal tiger in Royal Bardia National Park where the river ends.

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