Top photo credit: Pedro Lastra
Brought to you by Sea to Summit.
There are countless waterways in the world, and with that countless spots for rafting.
Here are some of the best of the best.
Before You Go
There are some things you always need on you – even when you’re taking on the most difficult rivers. That’s when a trusty dry bag comes in. Sea to Summit’s Hydraulic Dry Bag is a super heavy duty bag “designed to withstand extreme conditions that demand toughness and abrasion resistance”. The construction is completely welded, meaning it’ll keep your valuables, like passports and cash, safe from the elements. The side of the bag even has loops for attaching it to your raft or boat.
Even for the less extreme stuff, like protecting your laptop and gear when you’re caught out in the rain, dry bags are perfect. A 35 liter sized Ultra-Sil® Nano Dry Sack weighs only 1.6 ounces (46 grams) and is ideal for putting inside your backpack.
Before going on your first rafting adventure, it’s also important to remember that white water rafting is not like going on a roller coaster. Conditions can go awry, especially on the higher level IV and V rapids. You’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. For all reputable rafting companies, you’ll be required to fill out forms in advance for legal reasons.
1. Waitomo Caves, New Zealand
If you ever make it down to New Zealand, you must go Black Water Rafting. Why is the water “black”? Because all the exploring occurs inside a dark cave.
The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. has run these tours since 1987. It’s not exactly rafting in a traditional sense, though. Visitors ride on inner tubes and get to explore the inside the Waitomo Caves. You’ll be able to ride some small, cascading waterfalls and spot glow worms along the cave walls.
I took this tour while in New Zealand 2 years ago and highly recommend it. If I remember correctly, the guide wore the Sea to Summit Hydraulic Dry Pack for holding his camera gear throughout the 3 hour tour. As a tour participant, I wasn’t allowed to bring anything with me, but the guide used his waterproof backpack for taking a first aid kit and camera gear. The guides spend long hours partially submerged in water in the caves several days per week, and it’s crucial to have a reliable backpack for keeping your gear dry.
2. Juramento River, Salta, Argentina
Salta Rafting, a small adventure tour operator in Salta runs whitewater rafting experiences in the Juramento River almost daily. I went rafting there a few years ago, and the day I happened to go was the first time it snowed in Salta in 3 years. It was cold! That didn’t detract from the spectacular views, though. The portion of the river which we rafted along is graded as a Class III, which wasn’t exactly a smooth float down the river, but not ridiculously challenging either. It was difficult enough that one person in our group ended up falling out of our raft when we hit a rock.
At the end of the 2 and a half hour tour in the cold water, we had Argentinian barbecue, which was included in the tour’s cost. It was a great way to warm back up.
Read more about my experience whitewater rafting in Salta, Argentina here.
3. Arkansas River, Colorado
Witness the cliffs and canyons while rafting along the Arkansas River. This advanced whitewater rafting trip goes through the Royal Gorge, a 1,250 foot deep canyon on the Arkansas River. The rapids range from Class III to V. The entire trip is 8 hours with 5-8 hours spent on the water. This is a must do for thrill seekers visiting Colorado.
4. Nenana River, Denali, Alaska
Add the word “Alaska” to anything and it suddenly gets a little more hardcore. Just ask the reality TV producers.
What applies for reality TV also applies for rafting. Denali Raft Adventures is a tour company that takes visitors rafting on the Nenana River, just outside of Denali National Park. You can either take an oar boat or a paddle boat as you travel across Class 3 rapids and one Class 4 rapid. Guests are provided with a “Gore-Tex dry suit, neoprene booties, life jacket, and a helmet” and are recommended to dress in warm layers. The tour only runs from May 20 to Sep 15.
5. Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Arizona
There’s nothing like taking in the view of the Grand Canyon from the very bottom, while floating along the Colorado River. There’s something for every type of traveler. Visitors can go on motorized boats for serene rides along the river or take paddle boats on level 4 rapids.
Oars.com has a extensive list of the many tour companies operating in the canyon for day trips or even 18-day experiences.
6. Futaleufu River, Patagonia, Chile
Right at the border of Argentina sits the tiny town of Futaleufú, Chile. It is a town with a population of just over 2,000 and is located in Patagonia, in the south of Chile. Right by Futaleufú is the Futaleufú River, one of the premier spots for rafters. There are tours and excursions for those looking for calm river rides and also level IV and V rapids for the adrenaline junkies. One thing to note is the river’s crystal clear water which comes directly from the glaciers. While battling the rapids, remember to look up and take in the photogenic Patagonian views.
I spent a month in Chile a few years ago, but wasn’t able to go rafting at the Futaleufu River. I’ll be back.
7. Nile River, Uganda
Bragging rights don’t get much better than “I went rafting in the Nile River.” While we usually think of Egypt when we think of the Nile, this white water rafting takes place in Uganda, on the White Nile, one of the Nile River’s main tributaries.
For the thrill junkies and real rafting experts, Nile River rafting tour operators offer Grade 5 rafting and even one-on-one experiences with just you and a guide taking on the roughest rapids. You’re certain to have the time of your life, and probably capsize in the process.
Where have you gone white water rafting? Leave a comment below.