Whitewater rafting is an amazing adventure everyone should try at least once in their lives. There’s a river out there for just about any experience and comfort level. Class I-II rapids are for true beginners and those seeking an outing for the entire family. Class III rapids are best run by those with some experience. Class IV and V should only be attempted by those with prior rafting experience and with a professional guide.
For a true adrenaline-induced adventure, here are the five best places to whitewater raft. These rivers that are sure to give you the ride of a lifetime.
Also known as the “Slam-bezi,” Africa’s fourth longest river has earned its moniker. The Zambezi River below Victoria Falls is arguably one of the most spectacular stretches of whitewater on the planet. If the more than 350-foot drop of Victoria Falls isn’t impressive enough, the river enters the Batoka Gorge and what lies beyond is just the beginning of an amazing experience. Aside from epic rapids, the river also offers rafters the chance to see hippopotamus and crocodiles at water level. Dangerous!
The Colorado is North America’s quintessential big water river, winding its way for 226 miles through Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. To get the feel for all the river has to offer, plan to spend no less than three days; for the full experience, sign on for an 18-day journey. If rafting Class IV-V rapids all day isn’t enough, there are also hikes to spectacular waterfalls, as well as visits to ancient Native American ruins along the banks.
The Futaleufú, or the “Fu,” is South America’s premiere whitewater river. Four years ago, a hydroelectric dam project was thwarted and the river remains protected for the time being. Fed by glacier lakes high in the Andes, the clear, cold waters of the river promises an exhilarating ride. While there are sections of the Fu for beginners, some areas should only be navigated by the most diehard and experienced rafters. For multi-day trips, some of the overnight locations offer hot tub access to relax and reflect after a long day on the water.
Middle Fork of the Salmon River
Also known as the “River of No Return,” the Middle Fork of the Salmon River snakes through one of the largest wilderness areas in the contiguous United States. The 105-mile stretch can take five to six days to run and will have you on the edge of your seat the entire way. This unforgettable adventure will drop over 3,000 feet over the course of the trek — a non-stop ride with more than three hundred rapids (most Class III-IV) in a rustic landscape.
West Virginia, USA
For six weeks each fall, the Army Corps of Engineers begins a series a controlled releases from the Summerville Dam that transform the seemingly docile river into a mecca for adrenaline seekers. The Gauley River consists of two sections: the Upper and Lower Gauley. While the Lower Gauley is no walk in the park, the Upper Gauley features dozens of Class IV and V rapids with names like Lost Paddle, Insignificant, and Pillow Rock. You can read more about what it’s like to raft the Gauley here.
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