The best white water rafting in the U.S.

Smokey Mountains

After a long, cold winter, the snow is finally melting under the rays of the warm sun. Trees are showing signs of life, flower buds are opening, and the thermometer is climbing higher. It’s the perfect time to burn off that excess energy compiled over the last few months, and we’ve got just the adventure you’re looking for.

The US is home to a deluge of action-packed rivers ripe for rafters of all levels. Whether it’s your first time boarding a paddle raft or you’re a seasoned river enthusiast, there is a body of water to match your mood. From Pennsylvania’s estuaries to the mighty rivers of Colorado, Greenvans has compiled a list of waterways that offer the best white water rafting in the US, with ideas of what to do when you’re done.

1. Youghiogheny River, Pennsylvania

Also known as the “Yough”, this river is sectioned off into Lower, Middle, and Upper parts that mix serene stretches with exhilarating rapids. Beginners and families with varying levels of rafting experience will enjoy a day on the Lower or Middle Yough, where you can find gentler rapids. Rafting enthusiasts with lots of physical stamina might want to head to the Upper Yough in Maryland for more action. 

Reputable companies include:

  • Laurel Highlands River Tours
  • White Water Adventurers
  • Wilderness Voyageurs 

Price range: $50 to $100 per person, per day

There’s plenty to do after your thrilling white water rafting trip, like hiking in Ohiopyle State Park, visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, going out for a nice dinner together in the charming town of Ohiopyle, known for its quaint shops, bike rentals, and scenic trails.


2. Nantahala River, North Carolina

A day on the idyllic Nantahala River is perfect for water enthusiasts of all ages and levels. The scenery is impressive — clear waters, lush forests, and glimpses of regional wildlife abound, while the rapids themselves range in difficulty from mild to moderate. Families of first-timers and semi-experienced will feel the adrenaline on the Nantahala River.

Reputable companies include:

  • Nantahala Outdoor Center
  • Wildwater
  • Endless River Adventures

Price range: $40 to $100 per person, per day

When not partaking in a rafting adventure, go for a hike along the Appalachian Trail or zipline at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Bryson City is close by and a lovely town for boutique shopping, dining at local restaurants, and taking a scenic train ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.


3. The Forks, Maine

The wild beauty of Maine is best appreciated in The Forks, where sparkling lakes and tree-covered mountains meet the energetic Dead and Kennebec Rivers. Not only are the rivers known to be among the best whitewater rafting spots in the country, but the picturesque scenery that surrounds them is unparalleled. Classes range from II to IV, so everyone will find a level to fit their needs.

Reputable companies include:

  • Three Rivers Whitewater
  • North Country Rivers
  • Magic Falls Rafting Company

Price range: $50 to $100 per person, per day

Unwind after your excursion with a swim in nearby waterfalls, a moose-watching tour, or fishing, an activity for which The Forks is very well known. 


4. New River Gorge, West Virginia

Sharp cliffs and abundant flora make up the incredible scenery of this 73,000-acre gorge cut out by the New River which is, ironically enough, one of the oldest rivers on the continent. The regional ties to coal mining left many settlements and houses from the late 19th century along the riverbank, perfect for exploring between rafting sessions.

Speaking of rafting, the New River is divided into two sections: the upper, or southern, section is ideal for beginners while the lower, or northern, area is flush with rapids ranging from Class III to Class V, best for rafters with experience.

Reputable companies include:

  • Adventures On The Gorge
  • Cantrell Ultimate Rafting
  • River Expeditions

Price range: $100 to $150 per person, per day

Fun fact: The New River is one of the few rivers in the USA to run from South to North, and it’s older than the Nile River! 


5. Yellowstone River, Montana

Rolling wave rapids, picturesque landscapes, and opportunities to spot bald eagles and river otters make a visit to Yellowstone River truly unforgettable. It’s known as a high-volume, wide river that caters to all levels of rafting enthusiasts and is especially great for families. 

Reputable companies include:

  • Montana Whitewater
  • Yellowstone Raft Company
  • Wild West Rafting

Price range: $50 to $100 per person, per day

When you’ve had your fill of the rapids, try your hand at fly fishing, hike the canyons and mountains surrounding the river, or sign up for an exhilarating zip-lining experience to get a true feel for the stunning geography.


6. Lehigh River, Pennsylvania

Snuggled among the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania is the lovely Lehigh River, where visitors can enjoy an exciting ride on its Class I, II, and III rapids. If you’re looking for something a bit more chill, there are many areas to float leisurely instead. Either way, the river will take you on a journey through Pennsylvania’s past through historical sites like Jim Thorpe and the Lehigh Tannery.

Reputable companies include:

  • Whitewater Challengers
  • Pocono Whitewater
  • Jim Thorpe River Adventures

Price range: $50 to $100 per person, per day

There are so many things to do in Poconos in the summer that it’s worth extending your trip beyond the whitewater adventure. From roller coasters to farmers markets, there’s a lot of fun to be had in Pennsylvania’s most popular mountains!


7. Pigeon River, Tennessee

Looking for some white water rafting in Tennessee? You’re in luck. The mix of rapids in the Upper Pigeon River is a great option for families or groups of friends desiring a diverse rafting experience. Located in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, the river is hugged by evergreen-covered peaks and a rocky riverbank and offers all classes of rapids.

Reputable companies include:

  • Smoky Mountain Outdoors Whitewater Rafting
  • Big Creek Expeditions
  • Nantahala Outdoor Center

Price range: $30 to $50 per person, per day

Aside from rafting, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is abundant with activities such as hiking, biking, and fishing. For something more unique, Pigeon Forge — home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park — is only 30 miles away. 


8. Chattooga River, Georgia/South Carolina

Chattooga River is designated by Congress as a Wild & Scenic River, renowned for its untamed scenery and exhilarating Class II, III, IV, V, and VI rapids. What’s unique about this river is its free-flowing nature which, for us, means it’s one of the best places to white water raft. The water levels are not dam-controlled and depend solely on rainfall, making the experience a bit unpredictable and very physical — rafters must be able to help paddle while on the water.

Reputable companies include:

  • Nantahala Outdoor Center
  • Southeastern Expeditions
  • Wildwater Ltd.

Price range: $50 to $100 per person, per day

There are plenty of ways to enjoy nature here, such as zipline canopy tours, hiking, and fishing. For a laid-back experience, spend a night in the vibrant mountain town of Clayton, Georgia.


9. Clear Creek, Colorado

Suitable for beginner rafters to the more experienced, Clear Creek provides an adrenaline-pumping mix of class II to class V rapids and makes for a quintessential experience white water rafting Colorado style. The river’s steep, narrow, and technical landscape makes it an excellent option for physically fit families and groups of friends. 

The surrounding terrain is overflowing with biking and hiking opportunities and is just 30 miles from Denver, a thriving cultural hub with museums, architecture, and award-winning dining.

Reputable companies include:

  • Nantahala Outdoor Center
  • Southeastern Expeditions
  • Wildwater Ltd.

Price range: $50 to $100 per person, per day

Colorado is one of our favorite states to visit on a cross-country road trip for its nature, art, and exciting urban life.

10. Hudson River, New York

Starting at Mount Marcy’s Lake Tear of the Clouds and winding 300 miles down to Manhattan, the Hudson River isn’t just a historical gem —  the exhilarating rapids have made it one of the top 10 whitewater rafting trips in the United States. 

Rapids reach their peak in the spring, boasting Class IV and V rapids, mellowing to Class II and III by the middle of the summer. Fall is a particularly scenic time to visit, as colorful foliage is in full swing. Rent a van in New York and enjoy a ride through the falling leaves!

Reputable companies include:

  • Beaver Brook Outfitters
  • Whitewater Challengers
  • Adirondack River Outfitters

Price range: $99 to $110 per person, per day

The Adirondack Mountain Region is a beautiful region of the country and full of cozy B&Bs, farm-to-table restaurants, cafes, and campgrounds.

11. Snake River, Wyoming 

Majestic and iconic, the Snake River in Wyoming flows through the jagged peaks and breathtaking landscapes of Grand Teton National Park. Opt for a more relaxed experience in the Snake River Canyon or do something challenging in the Alpine Canyon section. 

Note that spring and early summer offer more intense rapids which calm down mid-summer. Whenever you decide to go, visitors of all levels are sure to enjoy themselves with some of the best white water rafting in the US. 

Reputable companies include:

  • Mad River Boat Trips
  • Jackson Hole Whitewater
  • Sands Whitewater

Price range: $75 to $100 per person, per day

When you’re ready to get out of the water, Jackson Hole is a must. The town is flanked by towering mountains and boasts a variety of activities such as art galleries, top-notch dining, and vibrant nightlife.

12. Housatonic River, Connecticut

Rural and historical, natural and enticing, the Housatonic River is a surprise gem that runs from Connecticut to the Berkshires in Massachusetts. The river holds opportunities for white-water rafting, flat-water canoeing, kayaking, and swimming. 

Those newer to rafting can opt for a calmer, six-mile stretch to get familiar, while the more experienced can jump right into the rougher waters of the 10-mile section. The season lasts from April to May and makes for a great stop on a spring break road trip to Boston or New York.

Reputable companies include:

  • Clarke Outdoors 
  • Housatonic River Outfitter

Price range: $50 to $100 per person, per day

The river itself is flush with things to do, like discovering waterfalls, hiking the Appalachian trail, and birdwatching. When you’re done, hit the road for a ride along the coast, stopping in charming seaside towns like Mystic and Guilford. 

13. Salmon River, Idaho

Don’t be alarmed. You will, indeed, return from the famed “River of No Return”, a legendary waterway that winds through the rugged landscapes of central Idaho. Navigate the river’s rapids and calm stretches surrounded by the country’s most pristine wilderness, as towering cliffs, lush forests, and wildlife sightings abound.

Due to the wild nature of the Salmon River, it’s recommended that more seasoned rafters participate in the water sports offered here.

Reputable companies include:

  • Salmon River Rafting Company 
  • Orange Torpedo Trips
  • Idaho River Adventures

Price range: $1,000 to $2,600 per person, per multi-day trip

When you’re done, take a scenic ride along the river for a different perspective of the landscape. The outdoorsy town of Salmon is calm and quaint, full of art galleries, boutique shops, and cozy restaurants.

14. Deerfield River, Massachusetts

A perfect day trip from Boston, a rafting adventure on the Deerfield River provides an exciting and picturesque deep dive into New England’s robust nature. The waters are clean and pristine, with a mix of fast water and exhilarating rapids. 

The section known as Zoar Gap is suited to beginners due to its Class II and III rapids that take visitors through a spectacular wilderness canyon. Plus, animal lovers will be in heaven with sightings of red-tailed hawks, ospreys, bald eagles, and beavers galore. 

Reputable companies include:

  • Crab Apple Whitewater
  • Zoar Outdoor
  • Berkshire East

Price range: $50 to $100 per person, per day 

Deerfield itself is a lovely little historic town with a museum, the Great Falls Discovery Center, the colonial Ashley House, and the Old Deerfield Church. It’s a wonderful place to relax after a high-energy afternoon on the rapids.

15. Arkansas River, Colorado

Paddle your way through canyon rock and majestic valleys on an unforgettable trip through the Arkansas River rapids. With over 100 miles of whitewater, it’s one of the best destinations for first-timers to experts alike. 

It’s the quintessential rafting experience, made even more exciting by its proximity to Colorado Springs, a neat, energetic mountain town that artfully blends culture and the outdoors.

Reputable companies include:

  • AVA Rafting
  • Echo Canyon River Expeditions
  • Wilderness Aware

Price range: $84 to $129 per person, per day 

16. Gauley River, West Virginia

Up for a real challenge? Rent a van in Richmond and take a beautiful road trip through George Washington & Jefferson National Park. Less than five hours later, you’ll reach the Gauley River, renowned for intense Class IV-V rapids that carry you along a remote, forested landscape. 

Gauley River is one of the best places to white water raft for experienced rafters who can visit during just 22 days of peak season, lasting from September to October. 

Reputable companies include:

  • Adventures on the Gorge
  • ACE Adventure Resort
  • River Expeditions

Price range: $50 to $100 per person, per day 

Mountain biking and rock climbing are popular activities around the Gauley River area. However, if you’ve had your fill of adventure, head to Fayetteville to wander the small town and its local shops, restaurants, shops, and historic sites.

FAQs about white water rafting

Ready to hit the rapids? You likely have questions. Here are a few of the most common FAQs about white water rafting, including where to go and which destinations to avoid.

What state has the best white water rafting?

Colorado is said to have the best whitewater rafting in the US. Its state rivers are abundant with multi-class rapids, including the Arkansas River, Clear Creek, and the Colorado River, all set against a background of breathtaking natural landscapes. 

What is the most difficult white water rafting in the United States?

The most difficult whitewater rafting in the United States is found on the Gauley River in West Virginia. The river boasts more than 100 rapids ranging from class III to V. Steep drops and technical challenges make it the country’s most intense whitewater experience, best for experienced rafters. 

Are there any Class 6 rapids in the US?

The Gauley River in West Virginia has Class 6 rapids, but they are not recommended for rafting due to their perilous nature. Outside of the US, Class 6 rapids can be found on the Chuya River in Russia and the Zambezi River in Zambia. 

Plan your adrenaline-fueled road trip today

A whitewater rafting adventure is one of the most exhilarating experiences out there, and it’s especially exciting when done in a group. To bring your family or friends on the rafting trip of a lifetime, you’ll need to decide where you want to go and how you’re going to get there.

We’ve got the solution. Rent a van from any of our Northeast offices and hit the open road toward your river of choice. Securing a spacious vehicle allows you to travel together in comfort and style, providing you freedom to explore the surrounding landscape. Having your own timeline and reliable transportation is all you need to make this river-rafting adventure go from fun to unforgettable!

Explore the best white water rafting in the US with Greenvans. Get a quote today!


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