Extreme Travel

The best rivers for whitewater rafting

When it comes to outdoor thrills it’s tough to beat whitewater rafting, especially in the height of spring.

As the snow melts and the spring showers bring rain, rivers run powerful and quick with tons of water. The increasingly popular activity of whitewater rafting is considered by many to be dangerous—and it can be—but there are many options ranging from slight currents to all out, life-threatening rapids.

Each area is ranked based on degree of difficulty and danger. The scale begins with class I Rapids, which usually have small waves, few obstacles and a very low risk of injury. At the extreme end of the scale, you’ll find class VI Rapids, which are considered extreme and exploratory. Even the most skilled paddlers are encouraged not to enter VI rapids, as the risk of major injury or death is high and the chance of rescue is very low. Most experts stick to class V rapids.

Whatever your skill level, if you’re interested in whitewater rafting, there’s a river just right for you. We’ve highlighted some of the best whitewater rafting rivers in the world to get you started on your planning.

  • 1. Çoruh River, Turkey

    Çoruh River, Turkey

    Flickr/ JeanandNathalie

    The Çoruh has been called Turkey’s last remaining wild river and it’s one of the fastest-flowing in the world. The challenging class IV and V rapids, along with the incredible beauty and diverse wildlife, attract rafters and extreme kayakers from all over. Paddling the Çoruh, you’ll float through canyons, past ancient castle ruins and alongside valleys of orchards—with the Kaçkar Mountains as a surreal backdrop. 

  • 2. Salmon River, Idaho

    Salmon River, Idaho

    Flickr/ Bitterroot

    One of the most popular and diverse rivers in the U.S., the Salmon River flows 425 miles through some of the country’s best preserved wilderness outside of Alaska. The river has it all—from easier routes to challenging rapids and plenty of amazing scenery. Take the alpine river of the Middle Fork through rugged wilderness and into a desert canyon, while keeping an eye out for wildlife like bears.

  • 3. Futaleufú River, Chile

    Futaleufú River, Chile

    Flickr/ Zachary Collier

    With water surging from glacier-fed lakes in the high Andes, the Futaleufú River has thrilling rapids to satisfy even the most adventurous rafter, but it also has calm routes for the less advanced paddler. Known for its stunning aqua-colored water, Patagonia’s Futaleufú features stunning mountain views, comfortable river camps and plenty of out-of-water adventure.

  • 4. Magpie River, Canada

    Magpie River, Canada

    Shutterstock

    This legendary river offers paddlers an eight day trip through rapids that start out easy and build in intensity. Accessible by float plane, highlights of the river excursion include traveling through the remote wilderness of Quebec, paddling by the breathtaking Magpie Falls and perhaps getting a glimpse of the aurora borealis (northern lights) from your campsite.

  • 5. Franklin River, Australia

    Franklin River, Australia

    Shutterstock

    Cutting through the World Heritage Area of the Tasmanian wilderness, this rafting adventure is both challenging and remote. Known for quickly changing water levels, big rapids and stunning scenery, the Franklin River should be on every expert paddler’s list. 

    See more of the world's best rafting hotspots.

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