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What is White Water Rafting? 

White water rafting is a popular outdoor recreation activity using an inflatable raft to navigate a river with rapids. It is called white water because the frothy water takes on a white appearance because of the rapids.  Rapids are created by the river’s gradient (or how steep it is), obstructions like rocks and boulders, narrow channels that constrict a river’s flow, and the flow rate of a river.

River rafting can be done in most rivers, while white water rafting is typically done in rivers with some measure of turbulence. Checking the class or level of rapids in a river is important to know whether you are heading out on a calm, flat, peaceful float or whether you will be in for some rapids. The right gear, guide, and experience are needed for more turbulent rivers.  

White water rafting is a popular activity for adventure enthusiasts because of the exhilarating rush of encountering white water and the typically spectacular scenic views along the river. White water rafting can include bouncing and dropping in sections of rapids, and also relaxing in calmer areas of the river between rapids. White water rapids are categorized in a class I-VI system by the American Whitewater Organization, depending on the size and technicality of the rapids. 

White Water Rafting Class System

Class I

Typically calm water, any rapids are very small and gentle, little to no obstruction. 

Difficulty level- Easy

Skill level- Easy

Class II

Easy rapids with waves up to three feet that are easily identified with little scouting necessary. Obstacles can easily be avoided, some maneuvering may be required.

Difficulty level- Easy 

Skill level- Novice

Class III

Moderate rapids with waves up to four feet, narrow passages can rock boats with the opportunity to get wet. 

Difficulty level- Moderate 

Skill Level- Intermediate

Class IV

Longer and more difficult rapids and narrow passages, some are powerful with cross currents. Requires careful maneuvering. 

Difficulty level- Difficult

Skill Level- Advanced

Class V

Violent and turbulent rapids, some with multiple obstructions like holes and drops. Large waves and powerful currents.  Requires expert maneuvering.

Difficulty level- Extremely difficult

Skill level- Expert

Class VI

Almost impossible to navigate as the rapids or waterfalls are extremely dangerous. These are only attempted by the most expert or extreme rafters and kayakers.

Difficulty level- Extraordinarily Difficult/Unrunnable

Skill level- Highest Expert Level 

White Water Rafting Near Me

There are many locations for white water rafting in the US.   We have rounded up our top picks below. 

Arkansas River, Colorado Rafting

The Arkansas River flows through some of the most scenic spots of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and offers some spectacular rafting opportunities.  The river is flanked by high peaks on all sides in some areas and flows through narrow canyons in other places. From afloat on the calm water sections to experiencing extreme class V whitewater, the Arkansas River provides thrills for all levels of rafters. We feature the experts in Arkansas white water rafting, with guided white water rafting trips and rentals of rafts and inflatable kayaks. 

Ocoee River, Tennessee Rafting

Rafting the Ocoee River in Tennessee takes you through a stunning gorge in the Cherokee National Forest,  surrounded by spectacular scenery and opportunities for wildlife viewing. The Ocoee offers Class III and IV rapids for rafters as well as the southern Appalachian’s beautiful and untamed scenery. 

Colorado River, Colorado, Utah, Arizona Rafting

The Colorado River runs southwest across the Colorado Plateau and through the Grand Canyon before finally reaching the Arizona–Nevada border at Lake Mead, where it shifts south to the international border with Mexico. Rafting the Colorado River offers some of the world’s most incredible views, rapids, and adventures. Rafting adventures along this river, with its limitless scenic views, will be an experience of a lifetime. TripOutside offers incredible rafting trips on the Colorado River in Moab from the best local rafting outfitters.  Booking a rafting trip on the Colorado is a unique experience exploring the red rock canyons of Moab along the magnificent Colorado River.

Green River, Utah Rafting

The Green River flows from Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. Finally, it merges with the Colorado River at Canyonlands National Park situated in southeastern Utah. It is one of the top 10 rivers in all of the USA for rafting. Rafters will get to explore the ancient history of the canyons with more than a thousand years worth of mysterious rock art. Explore the Green River whitewater, ancient relics and pictographs, and spectacular scenery on a rafting adventure.

Wenatchee River, Washington Rafting

Emerging from Lake Wenatchee,  running for 53 miles to the southeast, and emptying into the Columbia River just north of Wenatchee, Washington, the Wenatchee River is popular for white water rafting. With warm temperatures and incredibly scenic views of the Enchantments, Sleeping Lady, and Icicle Ridge, the river offers up to class III rapids. 

What to Wear White Water Rafting

Most people wear a swimsuit underneath quick-dry shorts, a t-shirt or tank top, and river sandals or water shoes. Wearing flip-flops is a no-no because they can easily come off and get lost in the river. Neoprene booties with rugged soles are preferred (and can usually be rented) in colder waters.

Packing the appropriate clothes and gear for your rafting trip is essential as it will make things more convenient for you. It is always great to carry a plastic bag along with you for wet clothes after the trip, as well as an extra set of dry clothing. 

Things to bring :

  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses with retainer strap
  • Bug spray
  • Hat or a baseball cap
  • Snacks

It is usually not recommended to bring gadgets like phones and cameras on your white water rafting trip.  There is a high probability that these could get lost or dropped in the river.  Waterproof cases can reduce the risk of damage to these items. Many rafting outfitters offer professional pictures of your trip!  

When is the Best Time of Year to Raft?

The months of June, July and August will bring temperatures that are generally warm and dry with moderate weather, which makes for the best rafting.  Late spring and early summer will provide the best rapids, as snowmelt increases the flow of most rivers.   By late summer, the flow of many rivers has decreased, and rafting may be a calmer float in most areas.

What to Wear White Water Rafting

Essential Gear for Rafting

  • Rafting boat
  • Paddles
  • Helmet
  • Water bottle or hydration pack
  • Swimsuit
  • PFD
  • Splash jackets
  • Dry bag

What to Wear for Warm Weather for Rafting

  • Quick dry top and shorts (no cotton!)
  • Sturdy sandals (with straps) or neoprene booties
  • Hat for sun protection
  • Headlamp
  • Sunglasses with strap

What to Wear Rafting in Cooler Weather

  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof pants
  • Warm hat
  • Wool socks
  • Synthetic layers (no cotton)
  • Synthetic underwear
  • Wetsuit

Helpful Items to Pack for Rafting

  • ID 
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Toiletries
  • Towels
  • Lip balm
  • Whistle 
  • Food/snacks