10 Intense White Water Rafting Destinations

There are few things as exhilarating as clinging to the paddles and riding across angry waves on board a flimsy raft. White water rafting expeditions will take you on an amazing thrill ride with the river’s course shaping your path. As the best white water rafting destinations are located in remote locations across the world, an adventure of this sort also provides a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Most of these rivers flow through lush forests and across landscapes where different forces of nature have sculpted unique geological marvels out of the rocks.

White water rafting is an adventure sport that requires great courage and stamina but minimum training and can test your endurance to the extreme, depending on which river you pick. Various rivers come with rapids of varying levels of difficulty and it is always a good idea to do your own research before making travel plans. Depending on the difficulty of rafting, rapids are classified into 6 grades or classes. While class I-II rapids require pretty basic strength and skill, class III and IV rapids demand rather advanced paddling skills. The class V rapids are large in volume and are peppered with challenging obstacles necessitating pro-level white water rafting skills to manoeuvre around them. Class VI rapids are virtually impossible to navigate and require extreme skill and a good measure of luck for the adventurer to emerge uninjured.

Awash with fear and excitement at the same time, riding a surging river’s rapids makes for an incomparable experience and a memory you will cherish and look back on with pride. Although there are numerous rivers in different countries where you can ride the rapids, the following are arguably among the world’s top 10 white water rafting destinations.

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10 Colorado River, Arizona, USA


Every spring the snow thaws and makes way for this turbulent river to gain force and bound across different states in frothing and foaming majesty. The white water rafting season lasts from May to September, but the waves are at their wildest best in May and June and they settle into a much milder pace by August. The Colorado River in Arizona also offers adventure lovers rare glimpses of the majestic landscape of Navajo sandstone cliff walls and mesmerizing scenery on every bend of the white water rafting stretch. If you opt for the commercial trip which incorporates some class III and IV rapids, you are sure to also be enthralled by panoramic views of wild flora and fauna.

9 Tuolumne River, California, U.S.A.

The Tuolumne River in California has been designated a ‘National Wild and Scenic River’. The river is peppered with side canyon water slides, swimming holes and rapids such as Sunderland’s Chute, Ram’s Head, Hell’s Kitchen Grey’s Grindstone, Clavey Falls and so on. A white water rafting expedition across the Tuolumne usually extends over two days and takes the rafters through the beautiful wilderness. Severing all contact with the outside world temporarily, you will be accompanied by the river otters, ring-tailed cats and bald eagles that reign in the area. The Tuolumne River is classified as a Class IV whitewater rafting destination or sometimes IV+, but the Clavey Falls rapid is commonly classified as Class V.

8 Río Upano, Ecuador

Río Upano is a much more accommodating white water rafting destination because of its wide classification of II to IV. A journey across this River of the Sacred Waterfall usually lasts eight days and allows rafters to spend time deep in the reaches of the Andes Mountains, across the voluminous headwaters of the Amazon. The trip offers a glimpse into an isolated part of Ecuador, rich in history and the culture of the Shuar tribe (erstwhile ‘Head Hunters of the Amazon’), yet untouched by most of the world. The rugged terrain in the mountainous Morona-Santiago region will provide an adequate challenge for even the most seasoned rafters. Along calmer stretches the route also allows rafters unforgettable glimpses of toucans, egrets and shimmering butterflies.

7 Futaleufú, Chile

While most Patagonian rivers have been captured and tamed by Chilean hydroelectric companies, this Class III-V river is still a popular white water rafting destination. Perhaps the earliest whitewater destination, it offers a rafting season from as early as February. In addition to breathtaking vistas of the expansive Patagonian valley, it is also the most luxurious white water rafting destination of the region. The company that pioneered white water rafting in Futaleufú also set up fully furnished, permanent camps along the course of the river, allowing rafters the luxury of hot tubs, saunas, hot showers and warm beds while on an expedition.

6 Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho, USA

The unique geology of this Class IV river makes it a very interesting destination with the pulse of the river changing dramatically even just in the course of a single day. Of course during different parts of the year it changes from a tame and lazy river to a voluptuous, white water spewing rafting destination from June to August and then back again. The river itself is one of the most stunningly clear water bodies you will find in Idaho with fish 20 feet below the surface, clearly visible. It allows a fascinating glimpse of Indian rock art, hot springs, abandoned homesteads and a beautiful waterfall. With a dense population of fish, fly-fishing is also popular on these trips.

5 White Nile, Uganda

The impressive White Nile is large enough to accommodate several of the rivers mentioned here with a flow rate of 1,000 to 1,600 cubic meters per second. Even more interestingly, the White Nile is compressed into narrow channels, sliding over bedrock shelves. Together, these facts combine to form one of the most formidable white water rafting destinations anywhere. It offers the intrepid rafting enthusiast waves and holes that can strike fear even in the most seasoned hearts. It has several Class V channels hidden in the far reaches of the river. It is mandatory for rafters to get up to a certain fitness level and paddling skill in order to ensure safety.

4 Pacuare River, Costa Rica

The Pacuare River flows through a gorge which makes it a turbulent and challenging destination. Flanked by steep, mossy walls on either side, rafters will feel like they are in a world of their own as they leap across 18 miles of white water consisting of 52 Class II-III rapids. The Terciopelo Snake, Magnetic Rock, Double Drop, Play Hole, Pinball and Upper and Lower Huacas are some of the most enjoyable rapids in the course. On either side are inspiring views of virginal tropical forests replete with toucans, morpho butterflies and sloths while exotic tropical birds fly above your head. The gorge opens up to the Valle del Pacuare, which is a gentle stretch of water which will allow you to bask in the lush forest, rife with wildlife.

3 Magpie River, Ontario, Canada

The Magpie River has consistently found a place in most of the top 10 whitewater rafting lists with its credibility being ratified by the National Geographic, Huffington Post and The Lonely Planet. It allows rafters to ride across dozens of Class III-IV rapids (and one ten-foot waterfall) in perfect solitude as roads and human habitations are far from the river. The trip will take rafters to the dramatic Magpie Gorge Camp that sits on a shelf of spruce from where cataracts can be seen cascading hundreds of feet below. The waters have a dense population of fish, which makes the river excellent for fishing too.

2 Zambezi River, Zimbabwe/Zambia

The Zambezi River offers multi-day or overnight whitewater rafting adventures, taking rafters through the expanse of its warm water rapids. There are 22 rapids in total to give you an adrenaline rush worth remembering. The Zambezi, as its rapids’ named ‘Morning Glory’, ‘Devil’s Toilet Bowl’ and ‘Oblivion’ suggests, is one thrilling class V ride. The most enticing rapids include Stairway to Heaven, The Highlight, Midnight Diner and Gulliver’s Travels and rafters can hear the distant cries of fish eagles. Overnight and multi-day trips will also allow the rafters to experience the beauty of Batoka Gorge.

1 Noce River, Italy

The melting ice of the ancient glaciers of the Brenta Dolomite Mountains in Italy have given rise to Europe’s most exciting white water rafting destination; the Noce River. While most of the river is dotted with class III-IV rapids, adventure seekers can find the thrill of class V rapids when the river plummets alongside the villages of Ossana to Caldes. Rafting across the Noce is a treat to the eyes as well because of the breathtaking stretches of sheer cliffs, glaciers, vertical walls and pinnacles strewn across its length. With such geological wonders accentuating the valley’s topography, the Noce River’s course across the isolated and wild Val di Sole is sure to give rafters the best experience of their lifetime.

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