There are some of us who see a big, beautiful body of water and think,
Ahh, vacation. For those folks, the U.S. is full of beautiful, bucket-list-worthy coastal locales, lovely inland lakes, and even accommodations located right on the water.
However, there’s another type that sees the same big, beautiful body of water and thinks,
Challenge accepted. These are the rough-and-rugged types always looking for a waterfall to swim in or the next big adventure. And that’s what today’s Bucket List is: that next big, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. We searched all across the country for the most epic river expeditions, from whitewater rafting and record-breaking floats to multi-day, multi-terrain, test-your-grit wilderness excursions on rivers in the U.S. Of the 17 expeditions listed below, a few are on the Midwest’s Great Lakes, bodies of water we consider to be every bit as epic as their river brethren. And here’s the thing: even if you’re more of a river lounger than a Class V rafter, we think you’ll still be able to find an adventure tailor-made for your ability and adventurous acumen here! River Rafting Excursions In The U.S. 1. Rogue River - Oregon
Momentum River Expeditions, 3195 E Main St, Ashland, OR 97520, USA
Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
is a natural treasure that's home to over 200 miles of rushing rivers, 324,000 acres of lush forests, and perfect panoramas of mountains, meadows, streams, and lakes. Its crown jewel is the cerulean blue, 215-mile Rogue River, the third largest in Oregon and a place of infinite water recreation and activity. Whitewater rafting on the mighty Rogue River is an experience that should be on every adventure seeker's bucket list, and
Momentum River Expeditions
organizes epic adventures worthy of this setting. The outfitter's three-to-five-day "Wild Section" excursion down the Rogue is a once-in-a-lifetime journey down thrashing rapids and white-capped waters that's a true "Great American" adventure. It's one of the country’s great summer wilderness trips, and an experience you can only have in Oregon.
2. Middle Fork American River - California
For those looking for the adventure of a lifetime and some of the best whitewater rafting in the U.S., California's Middle Fork American river delivers. This river, comprised of Class III-IV rapids, offers a kayaking experience that will test the grit and gumption of the most seasoned outdoorsman and woman. While the river is known as a
celebrated summer swimming hole
All-Outdoors Whitewater Rafting
offers single and multi-day trips that traverse the most rushing and fastest flowing sections of this river. Grab a helmet and get ready for the trip of a lifetime!
3. Arkansas River - Colorado
45000 US-50, Cañon City, CO 81212, USA
Location: Cañon City, Colorado Popular For: Whitewater rafting, Where To Stay Nearby: Rustic Lodge
Colorado is famous for its beautiful wilderness and exciting outdoor adventures -- where the
rushes through the Royal Gorge is an adventurer’s dream, with thrilling Class IV-V rapids and immense views. On a rafting trip with
Echo Canyon River Expeditions
, you can opt for either a half-day rafting trip along gentler rapids or an adrenaline-pumping trip down boisterous, white-capped waters. While the Grand Canyon of Arizona often steals the show in terms of whitewater excursions, the Arkansas River is just as incredible and challenging, offering a unique aquatic experience all its own. This is another trip that offers some of the best whitewater rafting in the U.S.
4. New River Gorge - West Virginia
ACE Adventure Resort | Whitewater Rafting West Virginia, 1 Concho road, Oak Hill, WV 25901, USA
New River Gorge
has a kayaking history that goes back much further than its national park status. The New River has been a designated National River since the 1970s; and December 2020, New River Gorge was re-designated from a National River to a National Park and Preserve. The river is the face of the park, with its New River Gorge Bridge providing the most awe-inspiring welcome to visitors. It's the longest single-span arched bridge in the nation, stretching 1,700 jaw-dropping feet. Intrepid explorers have the opportunity to paddle beneath this architectural marvel, which is an experience absolutely befitting of anyone's bucket list. In total, the National Park portion of New River Gorge spans over 7,000 acres, and the river is the heart and soul of it all: 320 miles of rushing and roaring grandeur that's wholly wild, and wonderful. Outfitter
ACE Adventure Resort
offers whitewater rafting on the New River for a thrill of a lifetime. After all, the New River is where you can experience some of the best whitewater rafting in the U.S.
5. Penobscot River - Maine
Northeast Whitewater Rafting & Moose Tours, 155 Greenville Rd, Shirley Mills, ME 04485, USA
Location: Shirley, Maine Popular For: Whitewater rafting Where To Stay Nearby: Fox Quarry Lodge
In the far northeastern corner of the contiguous U.S., the Pine Tree State is a place of untamed and untouched beauty. Home to lush landscapes, cold waters, and active wildlife, the best way to experience Maine is to immerse yourself in it -- literally. The rivers of Maine were made for rafting, and
Northeast Whitewater Rafting & Moose Tours
takes the "river float" experience to the next level with its
. Maine has the highest moose population in the Lower 48, in fact, with these marvelous mammals outnumbering humans in the Pine Tree State. Nevertheless, you'll need a little help finding the elusive Maine moose; and that's exactly what the guides at this outfitter do: guide kayakers through the rugged wilds of the Moosehead Lakes region while also getting adventures up close with the state's majestic mascot.
River Kayaking In The U.S. 6. Smith River - Northern California Location: Gasquet, California Popular For: Whitewater rafting, kayaking Where To Stay Nearby: Creekside Home
One of the most beautiful places in California -- and the country -- the Smith River is a dazzling gem with turquoise waters and cold, flowing rapids. It's the perfect place for all sorts of
whitewater rafting adventures
, but if you want to take things to the next level, we suggest kayaking down the sublime Smith.
Momentum River Expeditions
leads three-day kayaking adventures on this resplendent river; it's the kind of experience that will challenge and test even the most seasoned adventurer, but as we all know, with great challenges come great rewards -- and personal growth.
7. Big Bend National Park - Texas
Big Bend National Park, TX, USA
in and of itself, Big Bend National Park is a dream for outdoor enthusiasts and one of the best places to kayak in the U.S. The canyon was carved by the Rio Grande and is the premier kayaking and paddling destination in the park. There are plenty of outfitters in and around Big Bend National Park that offer rafting and canoe trips down the river, offering an unparalleled perspective of these massive, majestic canyon calls. Of course, if you prefer to stay on land, there is also a beautiful hiking trail that winds along the river, against the sheer rock faces of this otherworldly gorge. The cliffs also keep the trail and river shaded, providing a much more pleasant recreation experience than on other, more exposed adventures in the park.
8. Apostle Island National Lakeshore - Wisconsin
Apostle Islands, Wisconsin, USA
Sea caves and untamed wilderness; this is the magic that awaits at the
Apostle Island National Lakeshore
, a place acclaimed for its kayaking and water-bound adventures. Yes, this is technically a
adventure, but we think Lake Superior is, pardon the pun,
for water recreation. There are 22 islands in the Apostles; sea kayaking is easily the best way to explore, as many of the caves and coastline formations can
be accessed from the water. In fact, the islands have become a world-renowned destination for paddlers. Though striking from afar, the opportunity to get up-close to these commanding monoliths is something that shouldn't be passed up.
9. Cana Island Lighthouse - Wisconsin
Cana Island Lighthouse, 8800 E Cana Island Rd, Baileys Harbor, WI 54202, USA
Location: Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin Popular For: Kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding Where To Stay Nearby: Kookaburra Cottage
One of the most iconic lighthouses in the Midwest, Cana Island is a beautiful beacon that, while accessible via a scenic hike, is best viewed from the water. And on a paddling excursion with
Door County Adventures
, that's exactly what you'll get to do. On this half-day adventure, you'll
get a whole new perspective of Cana Island
: a mariner's perspective! The trip includes a tour of the lighthouse, a locally provided picnic, and a scenic paddle around the cold clear waters of Lake Michigan that surround the island, and is an absolutely enchanting *and* accessible adventure for lighthouse enthusiasts.
10. Buffalo National River - Arkansas
Buffalo National River Park Road, Buffalo Nat'l River Pk Rd, Arkansas 72634, USA
4699 AR-43, Ponca, AR 72670, USA
Location: Ponca, Arkansas Popular For: Canoeing, kayaking, floating Where To Stay Nearby: The Lily Pad
The Natural State is, pardon the pun, a natural beauty. And the
Buffalo National River
is truly one of its crown jewels. The Buffalo National River flows freely for 153 miles through upper Arkansas, beginning in the Boston Mountains and ending in the White River. Established in 1972 as America's First National River, this beautiful body of water is one of the last remaining undammed rivers in the Lower 48. The river offers unparalleled water recreation within the Arkansas Ozarks, with some of the kayaking in the country.
Buffalo Outdoor Center
organizes myriad adventures down this resplendent river, from half-day floats to multi-day journeys. Regardless of your rafting acumen, opportunities abound for all to experience one of the most beautiful bodies of water and one of the best places for kayaking in the U.S.
River Float Trips In The U.S. 11. Salmon River - Idaho Location: Salmon, Idaho Popular For: River floats, whitewater rafting Where To Stay Nearby: Cozy Home with Hot Tub
Floating, rafting, kayaking, fishing -- there’s no shortage of ways to connect with the Gem State's many glorious rivers. The
is easily the most sought-after natural playground in Idaho, however; it's 425 miles of rugged and resplendent beauty that, depending on where you are, features white-capped rapids as well as gentler cascades.
Idaho Adventure River Trips
offers a variety of scenic floats down the Salmon River that are accessible even for families and those looking to spend a relaxing day on the river. The half-day Salmon River Half-Day Scenic Float is offered daily from March through September and flows 6-10 miles down the river, depending on water levels. It's a beautiful and bucket-list-worthy adventure
, opening up the glory of the Great Outdoors to all.
12. Lower Hudson River - New York
1289 Lake Ave, Lake Luzerne, NY 12846, USA
The Lower Hudson River offers calmer waters than most other sections of the 315-mile Hudson River. In fact, it's so calm that it's the perfect body of water for a tubing trip.
Tubby Tubes River Co.
is a local outfitter that offers guided lazy river tubing trips for ages two and older. You'll slowly float down this river that cuts through the Adirondacks and be able to enjoy the scenery along the way. If you're looking for a
family-friendly adventure in New York
, this one is hard to beat.
13. Hocking River - Ohio
31251 Chieftain Dr, Logan, OH 43138, USA
How does an
all-day float trip in Ohio
sound to you? Relaxing, right? The 102-mile Hocking River is a tributary of the Ohio River and cuts through the Allegheny Plateau. Adventure abounds in and around this lovely river and people come all over to enjoy the great outdoors here. Through
Hocking Hills Adentures
, you can book a five-mile float trip that takes 3-to-5 hours, depending on the water level. (The lower the water, the longer the trip an take).
14. Fox River - Illinois
2480 N 41st Rd, Sheridan, IL 60551, USA
A tributary of the Illinois River, the Fox River stretches 202 miles from Wisconsin to Ottawa, Illinois. This is a popular river for swimming, fishing, and tubing.
Fox Hollow Tubing
provides a short 1.5-mile float trip as well as 3-mile and 6-mile floats. Perfect for families, you can relax as the river meanders through forests and past small islands and sandbars where you can stop and rest for a while.
Unique River Excursions In The U.S. 15. Grand Canyon - Arizona
Marble Canyon, AZ 86036, USA
Location: Grand Canyon, Arizona Popular For: Rafting on the Colorado River Where To Stay Nearby: The Cowgirl Cabana
Easily among the most scenic natural wonders in Arizona, the Colorado River is a force to be reckoned with. Its powerful waters have carved out some of the state's most iconic landmarks, from Horseshoe Bend to the mighty Grand Canyon itself. There are so many ways to enjoy the incredible nature scape of Arizona, and kayaking happens to be one of our very favorites. Outfitters like
Kayak The Colorado
Outdoors Unlimited Grand Canyon Rafting
let you explore the scenic Colorado River on either a kayak, canoe, or raft, visiting iconic destinations such as Horseshoe Bend and Hoover Dam.
16. Chattooga River - South Carolina and Georgia
Wildwater Chattooga: Rafting & Canopy Tours, 1251 Academy Road S-37-14, Long Creek, SC 29658, USA
The American South is often left out of the equation when it comes to epic outdoor adventures, but the Chattooga River truly is a place that belongs on every adventurer's bucket list. Spanning Georgia and South Carolina, the
is an epic playground for everyone. It has some Class V rapids, but most people seek out a more accessible trip that traverses Section 2 and 3 of the river. During Section 2, you'll float over and around gentle Class I and II rapids, as well as enjoy calmer sections of the deep, clear-blue water. There are forks and opportunities for turning this trip into a more advanced excursion, making for a veritable "Choose Your Own Adventure" experience on the wild waters of the Chattooga!
Wildwater Chattooga: Rafting & Canopy Tours
is one outfitter that offers rafting trips along the Chattooga for some of the best whitewater rafting in the U.S.
17. Upper Alesk River - Alaska
Alsek River, Alaska, USA
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska, USA
Location: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska Popular For: Floating, rafting Where To Stay Nearby: Cove View Cottage
Rafting and kayaking trips abound in the Last Frontier, and most are (understandably)
relegated to summer
. The Upper Alesk River excursion is no different; this 12-day, 155-mile journey navigates through one of the only truly wild parts of North America, starting from Kluane National Park in Canada’s Yukon and ending at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. This excursion with
Wilderness River Outfitters
is consistently rated as *the* top river expedition
in the world
, and once you experience it, you'll undoubtedly agree. Paddling past the largest non-polar ice cap on the planet, through an otherworldly landscape of immense grandeur and beauty, adventurers have the unique opportunity to experience Alaska through all the senses. Watch and listen to massive icebergs calving off active glaciers in this dynamic environment; feel the spray of the shockingly cold waters; experience a birds-eye view as you take a helicopter flight over one of the most wondrous landscapes in the world; ogle the vibrant Alaska wildflowers and colorful summer sunsets over snow-capped peaks and glacial lakes... these images and memories that will profoundly change you -- and stay with you forever.
So, there you have it — adventures on some of the most magnificent rivers in the U.S. Go out there and surprise yourself — you are so much stronger and more capable than you think. And this spirit of discovery is the heart of our
Bucket List features; it’s the wonder and awe that fans and feeds our insatiable wanderlust.
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More to Explore
Rivers In The U.S.
What types of boats are used for river expeditions?
The following are the types of boats used for river expeditions:
What is the best time of year for a river expedition in the United States?
The best time of the year for a river expedition in the United States if you’re looking to go whitewater rafting is spring time soon after a snow melt. During this time, river waters will be at the highest and fastest. However, depending on the river, rafting can be done from spring through the fall months.
What equipment is needed for a river expedition?
The following is the equipment needed for a river expedition:
Raft, kayak, canoe, or tube, depending on the type of expedition
Additionally, be sure you bring the following