The 10 Best River Trips in North America

I know, winter is still in full swing, but now is the best time to start planning for next summer’s awesome river trip.

Colorado River, Arizona

The Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is the premier, multi-day rafting trip on the North American continent, offering 226 miles of big water excitement set in one of the most beautiful desert canyons on Earth. Trips can range from six-day, motor-driven tours to 16-day, luxury-rafting getaways that feature gourmet food and breathtaking side hikes.

Salmon River, Idaho

The Salmon River boasts more options for trip length and more diverse scenery and wildlife than any other river in America as it cuts through the middle of the largest contiguous, roadless wilderness in the lower 48 states. The Middle Fork is a five- to six-day adventure that starts on a rushing alpine river and ends in a majestic desert canyon. The Main Salmon offers everything from seven-day, gourmet, semi-arid, canyon overnight trips to single or half-day, intermediate trips out of Riggins, Idaho.

Chattooga River, South Carolina/Georgia

The legendary Wild and Scenic River is one of the most beautiful free-flowing streams in the country. Whether you’re looking to ride raging class V in the springtime on section IV or cool off with some light class II-III in summer on Section III, the Chattooga is the premier destination for wilderness rafting in the Southeast.

Gauley River, West Virginia

When the Corps of Engineers draws down Summersville Lake for six weekends in September and October each year, the water rushes into the riverbed of the best single-day rafting trip in America. The towering canyon walls and hardwood trees painted with the hues of fall are breathtaking—when you have time to briefly look up as you pause between the explosions of awesome whitewater that churn between the Gauley’s house-sized boulders.

Arkansas River, Colorado

The Arkansas River is the ultimate rafting destination in the Rockies, flowing through a wide glacial valley surrounded by 14,000-plus-foot peaks before plunging into the thousand-foot-deep slot canyon of Royal Gorge. Whether you’re looking for mild adventure or a total whitewater thrill ride, the Arkansas has what you’re looking for.

Nahatlatch River, British Columbia

Welcome to the middle of nowhere! The Nahatlatch is an excellent getaway found at the end of a dirt road in a breathtaking Canadian mountain wilderness teeming with bears. The whitewater on the Nahatlatch is excellent, flowing straight out of a chain of natural lakes before making a fast-paced rush through mountain terrain and plunging deep into a vertical-walled canyon.

Kennebec River and Dead River, Maine

These rivers provide awesome thrills in the beautiful setting of backwoods Maine. The Kennebec runs every day during the summer season, and the adjacent Dead River provides an extra thrill on selected days throughout the season. Check the dates with an outfitter well in advance if you want to raft the Dead on your trip to the Kennebec area.

Youghiogheny, Maryland and Pennsylvania

The Yough (pronounced “Yock”) is one of the premier rafting rivers of the East, offering trips to satisfy any level of adventure from a family float on the Middle to intermediate excitement on the Lower or technical class V on the Upper. All of the sections have regular dam releases all summer long, meaning that you can schedule trips with confidence that the conditions will be good.

Tuolumne River, California

In a state that’s filled with rafting choices, the Wild and Scenic Tuolumne River stands out as an exceptional whitewater adventure. This incredible stream drains out of Yosemite National Park before plunging into the Cherry Creek section, perhaps the most intense stretch of commercially rafted whitewater in North America. If you’re looking to experience the beauty and thrills of Sierra Nevada whitewater with a little bit less intensity, you can do an 18-mile trip over one, two or three days on the less intense but equally beautiful Main Tuolumne section.

Rio Santa Maria, Mexico

This beautiful aquamarine river cuts a deep canyon through the verdant jungles of the Mexican Huasteca in the eastern state of San Luis Potosí. The whitewater is captivating as well, with plenty of intermediate thrills to match the incredible setting.

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