Here’s A Guide to Whitewater Rafting in the Rocky Mountains | Trekking Days

Here’s A Guide to Whitewater Rafting in the Rocky Mountains

by | Hotspots, North America

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If you are looking to enjoy breathtaking views under the influence of adrenaline, a whitewater rafting adventure might be your thing. In case you are not sure, feel free to try an exercise: close your eyes and imagine yourself rushing down a tumultuous river while listening to the sound of water and perhaps some screams. Then open your eyes and think about it-don’t you want to do some wild water rafting? If the answer is yes or you are at least curious about rafting, hold on, as today I’m going to review some of the best places for whitewater rafting in the U.S. I’ll also suggest some guided rafting tour opportunities in case you don’t want to go rafting by yourself.

Colorado River

This 1,450 mi (2,330 km) long river encompasses seven American and two Mexican states and can give you quite a cool river rafting experience. The Colorado River starts in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and flows across the Colorado Plateau and through the Grand Canyon.  Most of the river’s waters are diverted into the Imperial Valley (Southern California). In Mexico, the Colorado River makes the boundary between Baja California and Sonora before entering the Gulf of California. The most famous stretch of the river passes through Grand Canyon, where you can experience both relaxing smooth water floating and rapids that only experts can handle.

View of the Colorado River from the Grand Canyon

Rafting trips through the Grand Canyon can last anywhere from 3 to 21 days and you typically need at least 6 days to fully see the Grand Canyon. For more on this, check here.

View of the Colorado River from the Glen Canyon

Colorado Plateau

There are many, many guided rafting trips on the Colorado River. If you are looking for something that lasts for a few days, you have the option to go on a 3-day tour through the Westwater Canyon. The tour consists of hiking, several rapids, and, of course, camping. For more information, check here.

Want to explore canyons on a 4-wheel vehicle? Then consider a tour that shows you how to do rafting on the Colorado River and takes you to the Canyonlands National Park on a 4-wheel drive. The tour lasts for 8 hours and provides views of canyons, ancient rock art, fossils, and natural stone arches. For more information, check here.

Horseshoe Canyon (Canyonlands) contains some of the most significant rock art in North America

An alternative to this trip is the one-day tour through Brown’s Canyon National Monument. This tour will show you Pinball, Zoomflume, Big Drop, Staircase, and more. For additional information, check here.

Salmon River (Idaho)

The Salmon River, also known as the River of No return, has several Class III-IV rapids and provides access to a few beach campsites so you can be tan while rafting. It is said that the most unspoiled part of the river’s canyon are found between Corn Creek and Carey Creek. Another hot spot is the Lower Main Salmon, famous for its high canyon walls.  If your thing is a smooth float, you can try the Hells Canyon, a place where the Salmon River meets the Snake River and two Class IV rapids make the encounter fun.

This is how rafting on the Salmon River looks like

Another interesting location is Middle Fork of the Salmon, as this location is one of the largest wilderness areas in the United States. With a length of 104 mi (167 km), Middle Fork of the Salmon River takes you on Class III and Class IV rapids that typically satisfy experienced boaters.

You can find more about Salmon River rafting, including directions and important tips, here.

If you don’t feel ready to go rafting by yourself, you can try one or more of the rafting guided tours offered in the region. For a longer vacation at the Grand Canyon of Salmon River, consider a 6-days tour that will take you on several rapids (e.g.,Big Mallard and the 1-mi (1.6 km) Elk Horn rapid), hiking, camping, and an extensive exploration of the heart of Grand Canyon of the Salmon River-a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon of Colorado. For more information, check here.

For those who prefer a short rafting trip, one option is the one-day family-friendly rafting trip that will take you on a Class III rapid. For more information, check here.

Another alternative is a half-day rafting trip where you will visit both rapids that make beginners feel safe and bigger rapids at Time Zone Bridge. For more information, check here.

Animas River (Colorado)


Animas River has sections for both experts and non-experts. If you’re one of the experts, you will likely love the upper section of the river, which is Class V only. If you’re less of an expert, the lower sections located in the proximity of Durango are better options, as they are Class II and Class III.

View of the Animas River from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Combining a Durango trip with whitewater rafting can be a really good idea for those who want to see a Wild West town, do rafting, and perhaps some hiking in the Rockies. You can find more about how to get around Durango here.

There are several rafting tours that take place around Durango. One option is the zip-line rafting package which allows you to float through the trees as well as down the Animas River. The full tour has a 7-hour duration and 3 hours of it are dedicated to rafting. For more information, check here.

If you are a beginner and/or traveling with young children, a good option is the half-day rafting trip on Class I, II, and III rapids. For more information, check here.

Kicking Horse River (British Columbia, Canada)

You can get a kicking rafting experience on a river that travels from the Rocky Mountains, in the proximity of Banff and Jasper National Park, to the Columbia River Valley. If you’re an expert, the Lower Canyon with its Class IV and IV+ are for you. If you’re in the process of becoming an expert, you should consider the Middle Canyon, which has Class III and IV rapids. If you’ve recently joined the world of whitewater rafting, consider using the Upper Canyon, as it is Class II.

Kicking Horse River

Somewhere around the Kicking Horse Pass

For more information on Hiking Horse River and other rafting trails in British Columbia, check here.

You can get a guided Kicking Horse experience with a 2.5-hour rafting tour that includes a mix of I-IV rapids such as Shot Gun, Man Eater, and Roller Coaster. For more information, check here.

There is also a challenging tour that is meant to be used by beginners that are courageous enough to try a big whitewater. The trip takes place through the upper and middle sections of the Kicking Horse River where you encounter Class IV rapids. For more information, check here.

Those looking for a milder experience on Class I and II rapids can try a 1 h 30 minutes tour that is especially meant to be enjoyed by families with children of 6-11 years old.  For more information, check here.

Snake River (Wyoming)

This river starts in the Yellowstone National Park and ends in the Columbia River. Along the way, you can see some of the Grand Teton Nation Park and the Alpin Canyon, where you will experience Class III and IV rapids. With 1,078 mi (1,735 km), the Snake River has plenty of rafting opportunities with different levels of difficulty.

Snake River

The Teton Range as seen from the Snake River

You can find more about rafting on the Snake River and other places in Idaho here.

For a relaxing guided rafting trip on the Snake River, an arguably interesting option is the 3-h rafting tour that starts in Jackson Hole and gives you a good view of the Grand Teton and hopefully of wildlife such as moose and deer. For more information, check here.

Royal Gorge of Arkansas (Colorado)

Considered to be one of the most exciting places for whitewater rafting in North America, Royal Gorge of Arkansas is a canyon of the Arkansas River that will take you through a narrow gorge with 1,000 ft (304 m) walls overhead that you may perceive as both scary and exciting. While it can be frustrating not doing rafting in this river, its Class III and IV rapids make it less recommendable for beginners.

Royal Gorge Park and Arkansas River

Royal Gorge Bridge

If you think Royal Gorge of Arkansas is your thing, you can find more about it here.

For those who want to spend a full day on the Royal Gorge, a good option is a tour that takes you through Class III-IV rapids, including the Sunshine Falls, Sledgehammer, and Wall Slammer. Better yet, the tour includes sandwiches and dessert. For more information, check here.

You also have the option to experience the same Class III-IV rapids on a half-day rafting tour. For more information, check here.

If you prefer a tour that combines rafting on the Royal Gorge with a zipline tour, you have a 9-h tour offer that comes in several packages. For more information, check here.

Little Grand Canyon of the San Rafael (Utah)

Located a few miles upstream where the San Rafael River passes between the Sid’s Mountain and the No Man’s Mountain on the south and the Wedge on the North, Little Grand Canyon of the San Rafael is special for its wild desert scenery, such as impressive towers and sandstone cliffs.

If you want to do rafting in a place with Class I riffles and low chances of human contact, this river might make your day. For more information, check here.   

Middle Fork of the Flathead (Montana)

Serving as the southwestern boundary of Glacier National Park, Middle Fork Flathead River is 92 mi (148 km) long and offers Class II and III rapids through a tree-rich valley near the Continental Divide. You can find much more about it here.

The Flathead River

A rafting trip on the Flathead River that is appropriate for those who aren’t that fond of the feelings provided by adrenaline is the 5-h whitewater trip that will show you how to do rafting on Class II and III rapids. For more information, check here.

Another option is a rafting tour that lasts for 5-6 hours and will take you through the John F. Stevens Canyon, where most rapids are Class II and III. Better yet, you will also go below the Glacier’s historic Old Belton Bridge. For more information, check here.

Some Tips Before You Go

When planning a rafting experience, just as when you are planning other types of trips in unfamiliar places, it is best to learn anything you likely need to know about a particular location early on. If you are rafting in the United States, a good source of information comes from the American Whitewater organization. Here you can find useful information about the rivers that interest you, including a comprehensive inventory of whitewater trails, permit requirements, and reports on river condition.

The organization plans to include Canadian rivers too in the future, which will help both tourists and those interested in conservation efforts. If you want to find more about rivers from other parts of the world, especially on issues concerning human rights and environmental protection, you should check the International Rivers Network.

I have only mentioned a few guided tours that take place in the reviewed locations. You can find a long list of rafting tours from the mentioned locations and many other parts of the world with our partners GetYourGuide and Viator.


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