10 Best White Water Rafting in US: Beginner to Advanced

10 Best White Water Rafting in US: Beginner to Advanced

Whitewater rafting is one of the best outdoor activities for group trips, newbies, and experts.

Rapids are classified from 1 to 6, with six being taboo for beginners. But it may be just what you’re looking for if you’re an extreme sports enthusiast like me. The best part is, you don’t have to travel too far to raft down incredible rapids in the states.

The United States has dozens of majestic, world-class rivers perfect for whitewater rafting – both for individuals and large groups.

I’ve made this quick list of the ten best whitewater rafting locations in the United States with all the information and recommended locations for beginners and experts.

1. North Carolina

10 Best White Water Rafting Spots in US: Beginner to Expert
Nantahala River | Source: NOC.com
Rapid DifficultyClass 1, 2 and 3
Rafting LocationsNantahala River, Tuckasegee River, US National Whitewater Center
SpecialtySuitable for beginners, Expert-level rapids
Other ActivitiesSkydiving, Jet Skiing, Racing, Surfing, Kayaking

North Carolina is the U.S. treasure trove for water-based sports. You just can’t go wrong when whitewater rafting in NC.

North California is considered the best whitewater rafting state for beginners, with almost a dozen popular rafting spots. And, arguably one of the best rafting experiences for experts thanks to the US National Whitewater Center that trains the olympians and offers rafting for first-timers too.

You should also visit the Nantahala River just outside Bryson City to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Or go to the Tuckasegee River in the Southern Appalachians. Chances are you’ll see herons and kingfishers and people fly fishing and back casting.

Contact / Planning:

2. California

10 Best White Water Rafting Spots in US: Beginner to Expert
Salmon River | Source: US National Park Service
Rapid DifficultyClass 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
Rafting LocationsSalmon River, Tuolomne River, Kern River
SpecialtySuitable for beginners, Perfect for large groups, Expert-level rapids
Other ActivitiesFishing, Parahwking, Mountain biking, Scuba diving, Slacklining

California is the all-rounder of whitewater rafting in the United States since you can raft in all five classes of rapids. It’s my second favorite rafting location after Colorado.

The Salmon River in the Klamath Mountains is perfect for beginners because of the beautiful scenery, level 1 and 2 rapids, and the Otter Bar Lodge Kayak School, where you can take a crash course in whitewater rafting. Overnight rafting in Lotus & Coloma is also great for small groups.

You should also go to the 165-mile long Kern River but don’t go without a guide or expert. The lower Kern River has rapids from 2 to 3, but the upper side can go as high as five.

If you’re a thrillseeker (and an advanced-level rafter), go to the Tuolumne River and try out its class 4 and 5 rapids.


3. Colorado

10 Best White Water Rafting Spots in US: Beginner to Expert
Arkansas River | Source: Colorado Trout Unlimited
Rapid DifficultyClass 1, 3, 4 and 5
Rafting LocationsArkansas River, Buena Vista, Idaho Springs
SpecialtyPerfect for large groups, Expert-level rapids
Other ActivitiesZiplining, ATVing, Paragliding, Horseback riding

The state of Colorado is the best whitewater rafting location in the United States and my personal favorite. I first tried whitewater rafting in Idaho Springs (Colorado), and it was beautiful.

Beginners should first go to the Upper Colorado River. It offers stunning panoramic family float trips of class 2 rapids. Then go to Buena Vista for paddling at Brown’s Canyon National Monument or Big Bend for class 2 and 3 rapids.

The Idaho Springs rafting trip at Clear Creek is incredible, and it’s only 30 mins from Denver. Experts and enthusiasts should try whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River in the mountain town of Canon City if you’re ever in Colorado. 

You’ll raft through 14,000 ft high peaks and plunge into the 1,000-foot-deep canyon while rafting on Arkansas.

4. Arizona

10 Best White Water Rafting Spots in US: Beginner to Expert
River Rafting in Grand Canyon
Rapid DifficultyClass 3, 4 and 5
Rafting LocationsColorado River, Grand Canyon, 
SpecialtyPerfect for large groups
Other ActivitiesSkydiving, Hiking, Mountain biking, Floating, Hot air ballooning

Arizona is the third community-favorite location after North Carolina and California. It offers world-renowned whitewater rafting through the Grand Canyon.

The Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon and is big enough for larger groups. You start from Flagstaff, Arizona then head through the Grand Canyon route.

The only downside is that it’s not great for most beginners. So, visit Arizona after some practice.

5. Massachusetts

10 Best White Water Rafting Spots in US: Beginner to Expert
Deerfield River | Source: MIT
Rapid DifficultyClass 1 and 4 
Rafting LocationsDeerfield River
Best Time of the YearApril – October
SpecialtyGood for beginners
Other ActivitiesKayaking, Hiking, Mountain biking, Canoeing, Hunting

Whitewater rafting in Massachusetts is “fun for everyone” because of the Deerfield River that runs from South Vermont through Massachusetts to the Connecticut River. The same Deerfield river offers both beginner and family-friendly floats as well as adventure for experts depending on the time of the year.

The southern end of the river is for mid-tier floater rafting. The difficulty of the rapids in this New England waterway rises to class 4 between April and October because of the Deerfield River Reservoir.

You won’t forget rafting through the Mohwark Trail into the Berkshire Mountains.

6. Pennsylvania

10 Best White Water Rafting Spots in US: Beginner to Expert
Youghiogheny River | Source: Pittsburgh City Paper
Rapid DifficultyClass 1, 2, 3 and 4
Rafting LocationsYoughiogheny River, Lehigh River
SpecialtyGood for beginners
Other ActivitiesKayaking, Hiking, Snowmobiling, Cross-country skiing

If you ask a pro whitewater rafter about THE BEST river for beginners, many will say the Youghiogheny River. It’s hard to pronounce, but it’s definitely the community-favorite location for beginners.

You access the Youghiogheny River through the Ohiopyle State Park, where you can choose your rafting level from classes 1 through 4. Lower Yough is more beginner-friendly, so start from there if you don’t want to worry about flipping over.

And if you’re going to PA, don’t forget to visit the Lehigh River in Weatherly. It’s similar to the Deerfield River. You could either go for the family experience or wild class 4 rapids if you time the dam release correctly.

7. Tennessee

10 Best White Water Rafting Spots in US: Beginner to Expert
Smoky Mountains | Source: Wikipedia
Rapid DifficultyClass 3 and 4
Rafting LocationsPigeon River, Hartford, Ocoee River
Best Time of the YearMarch to October
SpecialtyPerfect for large groups
Other ActivitiesHot air ballooning, Kayaking, Ziplining

The Pigeon River flows through the majestic Smoky Mountains in Hartford and offers rafting opportunities for all levels. With its energetic waves and massive drops, the upper side is the spot for rafting enthusiasts.

The lower section of the river has lower rapids, so it’s good for beginners, but it’s not what Tennesse whitewater rafting is best known for.

The best rafting location in Tennesse is certainly the Ocoee River, which was featured in the 1996 Olympic Games. The rafting season at Ocoee is long – from March to October. Rafters are even allowed to try the six-hour-long Olympic route for themselves.

8. Oregon

10 Best White Water Rafting Spots in US: Beginner to Expert
Rogue River
Rapid DifficultyClass 1,2, 3 and 4
Rafting LocationsRogue River, Hellgate Canyon
SpecialtyPerfect for large groups
Other ActivitiesSurfing, Hiking, ATV-ing

Things can’t get wilder than whitewater rafting at Oregon’s popular Rogue River. Rafting through the visionary Crater Lake and the exclusive entrance to the Grants Pass Area are unforgettable.

The Rogue River offers both expert and family-friendly options, with the expert rapids going up to class 4. The best spot for paddling and floating is ironically called Hellsgate Canyon, but the rapids don’t go above class 2 here.

9. Georgia

10 Best White Water Rafting Spots in US: Beginner to Expert
Chattooga River | Source: YouTube
Rapid DifficultyClass 1, 2, and 5
Rafting LocationsChattooga River, Toccoa River
SpecialtyPerfect for large groups
Other ActivitiesHiking, Camping, Rock Climbing, Paddling

It’s time for my home state! Georgia’s Chattooga River boasts one of the most challenging rapids (class 5) in the South alongside South Carolina. It was also featured in the 1996 Olympic Games. If you want, you can try the rapids used during the games, such as Bull Sluice, Five Falls, Sock-em-Dog, and Woodall Shoals.

The Chattooga River is also a goldmine for other outdoor recreation opportunities besides whitewater rafting.

Or, you can raft on the Toccoa River that flows through Chattahoochee National Forest for an easy, family-friendly experience.

10. Wyoming

10 Best White Water Rafting Spots in US: Beginner to Expert
Snake River | Source: Western River
Rapid DifficultyClass 1, 2, 3
Rafting LocationsSnake River
SpecialtyGood for beginners
Other ActivitiesFly fishing, Mountain biking, Rock climbing, Hiking

The last entry to this “best of whitewater rafting” list is Wyoming. Whitewater rafting on the Snake River is why adventurists visit Wyoming when they’re in the Mountain West and want to enjoy some untamed, natural beauty and release their inner freedom.

The Jackson Hole ranges provide a complete view of the Grand Teton Mountains. Plus, you can mix in activities while rafting, such as Wyoming’s famous fly fishing.

More Popular Spots in States Not Mentioned:

  • Maine
    • Dead River
    • Kennebec River
  • Wisconsin
    • Menominee River
  • Idaho
    • Salmon River
  • West Virginia
    • Gauley River
    • New River Gorge
  • New Mexico
    • Taos River
    • Rio Grande
  • Montana
    • Yellowstone River
Jonathan Spaeth

I got into extreme sports about 20 years ago and am a die-hard adrenaline junkie. Just like in business, I choose my outdoor adventures based on how much they scare me. My goal is to share the lessons I've learned over the past couple of decades braving the unknown to encourage you to do the same.