Whitewater rafting is an amazing adventure sport because there are different levels of rapids to try and test out your comfort level. Class I and II rapids can often be navigated by true beginners and families with kids, while Class V rapids should only be attempted by experienced adrenaline-seekers.
What’s also interesting about this sport is that there are incredible rivers with rapids all around the world, so chances are that one isn’t too far from where you live and plan to visit. Local guide companies can be found pretty much everywhere that whitewater 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 whitewater rafting destinations around the world.
Franklin River, Tasmania (Nearby Hotels)
Activism and conservation have helped preserve the environment around the Franklin River, making Tasmania an unexpected whitewater 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 the year to come rafting here is between November and January. One recommended rafting trip here takes nine days, which admittedly, is a big commitment to the sport. But if you’re up for the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with waterfalls, gorges, and epic rapids to battle.
Futaleufu River, Chile (Nearby Hotels)
One of the most legendary rivers for rafting in South America is the Futaleufu River in Chile. This river is fed from the high lakes in the Andes mountains of Patagonia and provides spectacular mountain scenery. You’ll find multiple sections of the river to navigate and Class V rapids here. However, some area are suitable for beginner rafters too. Novices can attempt a few sections here, but the Class V rapids are challenging for even expert rafters Plan to spend a couple days on this river and camp overnight to get the full experience. While you’re in the area, keep the adventure going by booking a day with a rock climbing guide or going horseback riding.
Colorado River, Arizona (Nearby Hotels)
It doesn’t get much more grand in North America than the Grand Canyon when it comes to whitewater rafting. The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon and is a world-famous spot for rafters. This is a classic place to visit if you’ve rafted before and want a bigger experience. The canyon walls, holes, and rapids, are huge and nothing short of impressive. The Colorado River also runs through Cataract Canyon in Utah and has some huge Class V rapids to check out. It’s interesting to find a whitewater river in the desert, but this is an impressive one that’s at its peak in June. In its entirety, the Colorado River stretches about 226 miles. When you explore it, you can also check out hiking trails, campgrounds, and Native American ruins in the area.
Zambezi River, Zambia (Nearby Hotels)
There are a few incredible rafting rivers in Africa, but one of the very 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 that includes a couple dozen rapids. This is a place to come for Class VI and V rapids that are intimidating and best saved for expert rafters. Most of the rapids here are Class IV. It’s also not uncommon to encounter hippopotamuses and crocodiles in these waters.
Rio Cotahuasi River, Peru (Nearby Hotels)
A classic river expedition in Peru travels down the Rio Cotahuasi River. This route goes past towering canyons and Incan ruins that can only be reached by boat. But this isn’t a journey for the faint-of-heart. You’ll need to trek all day just to reach the put-in area from Cotahuasi. Popular rafting trips here last for a week and include about 100 miles of paddling through rapids that reach Class IV and V status. This is a really special trip because you can actually camp near ancient Incan ruins that have been left largely untouched by the modern world.
Chilko River, British Columbia (Nearby Hotels)
Another epic area in North America for whitewater rafting is the Chilko River, which is famous for Class IV rapids. The river is surrounded by stunning scenery in all directions – glacier peaks, alpine forests, and lush meadows. You’ll pass through Lava Canyon, Farwell Canyon, and Big John Canyon on this trip, and the route is said to be the longest stretch of navigable whitewater in North America. Another whitewater river worth checking out in British Columbia is the Alesk River. This is a 140-mile river that is flanked by towering peaks and huge glaciers. Definitely dress for the weather though, because the water temperature isn’t often above freezing.
Sun Kosi River, Nepal (Nearby Hotels)
Nepal is known for high mountain peaks, and the Sun Kosi River offers a high-altitude whitewater experience for adventure seekers. The river is located near the border of Tibet in the Himalayan Mountain Range. You’ll experience Class V rapids and landscapes that vary from jungle to forests, canyons, and gorges. The Drigung Chu River is another whitewater rafting destination in this region worth checking out.
Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica (Nearby Hotels)
Costa Rica is an adventure lover’s paradise, so it should come as no surprise that there are excellent whitewater rafting opportunities here. Come to Rio Pacuare to experience 67 miles of river that’s divided into three sections. Here you’ll find Class III and Class IV rapids that are great for intermediate rafters. Wildlife lovers will also enjoy this rafting trip because monkeys and exotic birds can be often seen on the shorelines.
Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho (Nearby Hotels)
Also in the U.S., the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is a very popular place to whitewater rafting. Come to this part of Idaho between late-May and mid-June for the best conditions. Here you’ll find pretty continuous Class IV rapids that don’t give many breaks for rafters. Plan a trip to this river if you’re looking for pure wilderness that hasn’t been spoiled by roads or housing. Other than in Alaska, you won’t find a more remote area of wilderness free of traffic. However, you might see some bears around the river. The full journey is 105 miles long, with 3,000-foot elevation drops and at least 100 rapids.
Rio Zamora, Ecuador (Nearby Hotels)
One the most famous rivers for rafting in Ecuador is Rio Zamora. To get inspired, check out the historical book, A Journey on the Rio Zamora, Ecuador by J. L. Hermessen. Rivers on the Amazon side of the Andes Mountains typically have more consistent flows and are bigger, cleaner, and more scenic than those in the West Andes. Besides Rio Zamora, another great place to go whitewater rafting in Ecuador is Rio Upano. This river runs through the rainforest, so you may see unique wildlife species and local villages along the way as you paddle. Most adventurers start their journey in the town of Macas and travel through the canyons, Class IV rapids, waterfalls, and the Namangosa Gorge.
North Johnstone River, Australia (Nearby Hotels)
Head north of Queensland to raft the North Johnstone River’s Class IV and V rapids. On this Australian route, you’ll see rainforests, volcanic gorges, and Palmerston National Park. But one of the most memorable things you may see here are the bioluminescent fungi that glows through the forest and on the rocks. The heavy rains that fall in the area are what causes these rapids to become so dramatic. Plan to camp out here overnight to get the best nighttime views. This is a thrilling trip for true whitewater lovers because you’ll need to take a helicopter to reach the beginning of the river route.
Noce River, Italy (Nearby Hotels)
Italy is known for a lot of different things, but whitewater rafting isn’t often one of them. However, the Noce River is an amazing place to go rafting because this is where the Dolomites of northern Italy meet the melting glaciers. This trip will give you a whole perception of what this country is all about. Class V rapids can be found around the gorges of Mostizzolo, providing one of the most exciting experiences you’ll find anywhere in Europe.