Trips for rafters of every level

10 Great Rivers to Get You Started

Here are 10 of the West’s best rafting rivers, along with veteran outfitters that lead trips on them. We’re suggesting runs that let you feel the power of the water without leaving you shaken. They range from rivers rated class I (a fast, easy float) to class IV (wild and woolly but relatively safe for aggressive beginners on a guided trip). Water flow can vary widely by the year and throughout the season, however, so be sure to check with the outfitter.


1. South Fork of the American River Your base: Coloma Why it’s great: The most popular whitewater river in California, with plenty of thrills. Trip length/Rapids rating: 1/2–2 days; class III Season: April–October Outfitters: A, E

2. Tuolumne River Your base: Groveland Why it’s great: An 18-mile run through an awesome, whitewater-filled canyon on a river that’s big in spring, milder in summer. Trip length/Rapids rating: 1–3 days; class IV Season: April–September Outfitters: C, E COLORADO 3. Green River/Gates of Lodore Your base: Vernal, UT Why it’s great: Slickrock canyons and fossils in Dinosaur National Monument. Trip length/Rapids rating: 4 days; class III Season: May–September Outfitters: D, E IDAHO 4. Main Salmon River Your base: Salmon or Boise Why it’s great: Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area is full of wildlife, huge sand beaches, and hot springs. Trip length/Rapids rating: 5–6 days; class III Season: June-September Outfitters: C, D, E 5. Snake River Your base: Lewiston or Boise Why it’s great: Hells Canyon, North America’s deepest river gorge. Trip length/Rapids rating: 3–5 days; class III-IV Season: May–September Outfitters: D, E OREGON 6. Deschutes River Your base: Maupin Why it’s great: Canyons and waterfalls on the sunny side of the Cascade Range. Trip length/Rapids rating: 1/2–1 day; class III Season: April–October Outfitter: F 7. Rogue River Your base: Grants Pass Why it’s great: Thick forests; bears, eagles, and otters; side canyons to explore. Trip length/Rapids rating: 3–5 days; class III Season: May–September Outfitters: C, E, F UTAH 8. Colorado River/Cataract Canyon Your base: Green River or Moab Why it’s great: Technicolor canyons and thrilling rapids; first-timers should go during low-water months Trip length/Rapids rating: 5 days; class III-IV (V in high water) Season: July–September (low months) Outfitters: D, E WASHINGTON 9. Sauk River Your base: Darrington Why it’s great: The wild North Cascades loom over a river of deep-green glacial meltwater. Trip length/Rapids rating: 1 day; class III+ Season: April–July Outfitter: B 10. Upper Skagit River Your base: Marblemount Why it’s great: Emerald water, sockeye salmon, rapids balanced with flat water. Trip length/Rapids rating: 1 day; class I-III Season: April–October Outfitter: B Outfitters to call A. American River Recreation ( or 800/333-7238) B. DownStream River Runners ( or 360/805-9899) C. Echo River Trips ( or 800/652-3246) D. Holiday Expeditions ( or 800/624-6323) E. O.A.R.S. ( or 800/346-6277) F. Oregon River Experiences ( or 800/827-1358)
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