Whitewater Rafting in Western America
One of my best friends just returned from a whitewater rafting trip on the American River.
Well, she called it “rafting.”
Her version of this adventure sport involved a case of cheap beer and a lazy float down the Lower American River—a stretch of water that’s occasionally mild enough to snooze on. When I heard that she’d spent more time cracking cans of PBR than actually paddling, I couldn’t help but laugh a little. My own experience on that same river had left me with some of the largest bruises of my life. And I loved every second of it.
If the “bruises” bit has you nibbling your nails, don’t worry. My thigh-sized Badge of Honor was actually not at all rafting-related—I earned it trying to impress a cute river guide with a jump off a cliff face. That said, there are some rapids that can leave you sore, but there are also plenty of other courses that make for more gentle adventuring.
Colorado’s Got “Class”
Colorado whitewater rafting is a great example of river diversity. From Class III and IV rapids with names like “The Silver Bullet” and “Widow-Maker,” to easy stretches that are purely Class I and II, you can find a course that delivers just the right amount of adrenaline. Some tours also offer opportunities to see local wildlife, including Bighorn Sheep, Blue Herons, and even the rare Bald Eagle. These “scenic tours” are especially great if you’re rafting with younger kids (or older parents), or even just want a day of distraction before crashing at your Colorado hotel.
Make a Splash in Montana
With some of the best scenic river trips in the nation, Montana rafting is an especially pleasant way to pass a day. Class I tours are plentiful along the upper Yellowstone River, and July brings a whole flotilla of rafts making the float from Livingston to Billings. For rougher rides and frothier water, Gallatin River is your best bet in the state, offering Class II, III, and IV rapids, along with some appropriately challenging terrain. There are also some great Montana vacation deals going on right now, making it easy to find a home base near your river of choice.
Courses in California
Like Colorado, California has a number of waterways that are ideal for rafting. You can tackle Sierra-style whitewater on the Kings River near Fresno, or follow my friend’s lead and take on the popular American River, whose three forks (plus the Lower River) offer a huge variety of whitewater courses. For those who want to extend their experience beyond a single afternoon, there are plenty of multi-day trips available as well. My last adventure involved three days on the water and two nights sleeping by the riverside—pure bliss after a day of hard paddling.
Paddle Across Oregon
Oregon tends to get colder a little sooner than either California or Colorado, but if you’re quick you can squeeze in a trip this September. The wild and scenic Rogue River is an easy Oregon favorite, with loads of wildlife—including otters, beaver, deer, and bears—and two world-famous Class IV+ rapids. Other whitewater-friendly runs can be found on the Snake River, Deschutes River, and Clackamas River.
Image Credit: “Whitewater rafting” by Eric van der Palen.
My name: Kate Beall
How I earn my keep: Writing for Travelocity.
Best meal I've ever had: There are three: the mofongo at Jimmy'z Kitchen in South Beach, the lomito completo at Fuente Alemana in Santiago, and (for the sheer novelty factor) the cuy chactado in Arequipa, Peru.
First thing I do in a new place: Hit the shower. Anything more than an hour in transit gets me fantasizing about soap.
View that took my breath away: Seeing the endless stretch of the Sierras as I flew in to Reno/Tahoe for the first time. In the winter, it's an aching field of white all the way to the horizon, like a world wiped clean. Looking out at it gives you this unmatched feeling of eternity.
Most challenging travel moment: Sharing a pull-out couch in a cramped New York apartment. The heat wave of 2010 was in full, humid swing and the air conditioning was D.O.A. There was nothing to do but soak your clothes in the sink and hope to pass out before they dried. ...then wake up in an hour and do it all again.
Favorite way to get around: On foot. I'm still working on the motorcycle license.