How To Plan a Whitewater Rafting Trip

If you're up for an adventure, whitewater rafting is always a good choice. The thrill of paddling down a roaring river with whitewater hurtling at you from every side is hard to beat. Not to mention the beautiful countryside and mountain views that inevitably accompany any whitewater rafting trip. Regardless of your age, skill level and the length of time you want to spend on the river, you'll be able to find a whitewater rafting trip that appeals to you. However, there are a few things that you should consider when you're planning your whitewater rafting trip.

  1. Half-Day, Full Day or Multi-Day Whitewater Rafting Trip? Depending upon where you're planning to go whitewater rafting, you'll have the option to choose from a half-day (usually 3-4 hours), a full day (about 5-6 hours) and a multi-day trip. Not all rivers offer all of these options, so if the duration of your whitewater rafting trip is important, make sure the rivers and outfitters that you're choosing from offer the trip length you want. For example, on the American River (in California) you can choose from half-day, full day and 2-day trips. However, on the Colorado River (through the Grand Canyon) the shortest trip available at least 5 days.
    • Half-Day: A half-day whitewater rafting trip is perfect for families with small children, people who have never whitewater rafted before and those who simply don't have the time for a longer trip. Whitewater rafting outfitters typically offer two half-day trips each day, the first starting around 9am and ending around noon, the second starting at noon or 1pm and ending around 3 or 4pm. Oftentimes the whitewater rafting outfitter will provide you with lunch either before or after your trip, depending on whether you opt for a morning or afternoon paddle.
    • Full Day: If you're staying in the area and want to make a full day out of your whitewater rafting trip, there are many rivers and rafting companies that offer full day packages. A full day whitewater rafting trip will usually start at 8 or 9am, you'll stop for lunch around noon and eat with your rafting guides and other passengers on the river, and you'll get back on the river after lunch to finish your trip by 3 or 4pm.
    • Multi-Day: Multi-day whitewater rafting trips are available on many rivers for you hard-core camping and whitewater rafting enthusiasts. On these trips you'll spend anywhere from 2 to 22 days on the river. Most likely you'll opt for something closer to the 2-day mark, but you can choose much longer trips on rivers like the Colorado (through the Grand Canyon) or the Sun Kosi River in Nepal if you're interested in making a long vacation out of it.

    With multi-day whitewater rafting trips you will almost always camp out and the rafting outfitter you choose should provide you with meals and possibly tents and sleeping bags as well. Check with a few different whitewater rafting companies on the river you want to raft because some may offer better amenities than others.

  2. Class of Rapids. When it comes to whitewater, rapids are classified from I - IV. Generally speaking, Class I - Class III are relatively tame, but can still be a lot of fun. Class I rapids are small, low waves with no obstructions. Class III rapids start to become a little challenging and may require some maneuvering of the raft-they include larger waves up to 4ft. high. If you're into more serious thrills you may want to opt for a river with some Class IV and V rapids. These are big, long rapids that require maneuvering around obstacles, involve unavoidable waves and may require scouting. Class VI rapids are typically considered un-navigable. Most commercial whitewater rafting trips will only offer trips up to a Class V.

    So choose your trip accordingly. If you're looking for an exciting, adrenaline-pumping trip, you should opt for a river that offers rapids between Class III and Class V. If you're with small children or you're more interested in a float trip you may want to stick to Class III rapids and below. It's important to decide upon the level of trip you want to take before you start looking at rivers. Knowing your parameters when it comes to rapids will make it easier to narrow down your choices.

  3. Where do you want to go? Once you've decided on the Class of rapids you're looking for and how long you plan to spend on the river, you can start thinking about location. There are many great whitewater rafting trips throughout the US. States like Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado boast some of the best whitewater rafting trips and their rivers are fairly easily accessible if you live nearby or if you're willing to fly into a nearby city. The same goes for the east coast and some of the southwest. Rivers in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, the Carolinas and Maine are all on the list of whitewater rafting "rivers to visit."

    If you're hoping to travel internationally, it's likely that you'll opt for a multi-day trip, raft more than one section (or "fork") of a river, or even raft more than one river. South America boasts legendary whitewater as do countries like Nepal and Turkey. On an international trip you'll likely be considering more than just the whitewater rafting hotspots when you're deciding where to go, but some of these rivers, like the Zambezi in Zimbabwe/Zambia, are destinations in and of themselves for the whitewater rafting enthusiast. Below you'll find a list of some of the most popular rivers to raft (this list is by no means complete):

    River Location Trip Duration
    (in or near) (in days)

    American Sacramento, CA ½-3
    Colorado Flagstaff, AZ 5-22
    Salmon Lewiston, ID 4-6
    Wenatchee Seattle, WA ½-2
    Rogue Southwestern, OR ½-4
    Arkansas Buena Vista, CO ½-5
    San Juan Blanding, UT 3-4

    New River Hico, WV ½-2
    Penobscot Baxter State Park, ME 1
    Cheat Ohiopyle, PA ½-1
    Deerfield Boston, MA 1
    Chatooga GA/SC Border ½-2

    Zambezi Zimbabwe/Zambia 1 day or multi-day
    Alsek/Tatshenshini Alaska/British Columbia Multi-Day
    Pacuare Costa Rica 1-3
    Bio Bio Chile Multi-Day
    Sun Kosi Nepal Multi-Day
    Coruh Turkey Multi-Day
    North Johnstone Queensland, Australia Multi-Day

  4. Guided Whitewater Rafting Trip vs. Planning Your Own. For most people this isn't even a consideration. Unless you have a lot of whitewater rafting experience you're probably not going to, nor should you, plan your own trip. However, it is doable. If you choose to guide your own whitewater rafting make sure that you've rafted the river before or you're with someone who has. Whitewater rafting is a dangerous sport, so ensure that you have the appropriate experience before attempting to run a river on your own.

    There are many advantages to booking your trip with a whitewater rafting company/outfitter with skilled guides. Obviously safety should be your primary concern, so make sure that the rafting company you choose is reputable and its guides are knowledgeable. Another perk is that whitewater rafting companies typically provide their clients with wetsuits, booties, helmets, paddles, life jackets and, of course, the rafts themselves. You won't have to worry about bringing anything, with the exception of your bathing suit, some sunscreen and a strap for your glasses. Check with your whitewater rafting outfitter to confirm that they provide you with the above items-the vast majority do. You will also likely get fed on your trip. It's a guarantee if you're going on a multi-day trip, but it's still pretty likely if you're only out for half a day. For a multi-day trip, check with your outfitter to determine what you need to bring and exactly what they will provide for you, especially when it comes to tents, sleeping bags, eating utensils and other camping and rafting-related equipment.


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