10 best white water rafting rivers in the world

Nov 05, 2013 BY Paul McWilliams

When you’re compiling a list of the 10 best white water rafting rivers in the world, there are a number of factors that you might think about. However, there’s only one that really matters and that’s the size and quality of the rapids.

Best white water rafting rivers flickr image by Martijn Munneke

After all, factors like ease of access and cost don’t really matter when you’re plunging head first over the edge of huge drop off. And it’s hard to focus on the stunning scenery around you when you’re being hit full in the face with a huge torrent of rampaging river. So, with this in mind, here’s our list of the 10 best white water rafting rivers. How many of these would you take on?

Futaleufu River, Chile

Patagonia is an extraordinary place that’s like no other on the planet. So it’s little surprise that the rafting here is equally unique. The Futaleufu is a rolling mass of white water, with class III and IV rapids merging into one another for kilometre after kilometre. With rafting camps built right into the cliffs and thunderous currents, this is one of the few Patagonian rivers that hasn’t yet been dammed to exploit its huge hydroelectric potential. So get here quickly to experience the immense force before they use it to power a few more cities.

Colorado River, Grand Canyon, USA

You only have to look around the Grand Canyon to see the colossal power of the Colorado River. Ok, so it may have taken millions of years, but anything that is strong enough to create this awesome landscape has to be pretty ferocious. And the river itself doesn’t disappoint. With nearly 300 kilometres of rafting river with 42 spectacular rapid sections, all surrounded by canyon walls half a billion years old, this is certainly a rafting trip you’ll never forget.

Best white water rafting rivers flickr image by  Grand Canyon NPS

Costa Rica

This Central American country is one of the world’s greenest but that’s not the main reason to head here for rafting. The sheer choice of rafting rivers is exceptional, with the Pacuare, Reventazon, Sarapiqui and Corobici all providing some stunning places to raft. Rapids range from some smaller class IIs up to some mighty class Vs. This is a rafting destination that warrants a lengthy stay, so that you have time to explore all the river sections the country has to offer.

Drigung Chu River, Tibet, China

Looking around before you get into the boat, you might notice that some of the Himalayas are a little bit on the tall side. Some of the water you’re about to raft has made its way down from some stratospheric places and it’s gathered a little momentum along the way. All of which has created some nasty class IV rapids and gorges to raft through. Some of the rafting on the Drigung Chu takes place so high up you might even need a couple of days to acclimatise, and how often do you have to do that before getting into a raft?

Best white water rafting rivers flickr image by Grand Canyon NPS

Zambezi River, Zimbabwe/Zambia

If this mighty river were in any other continent, the chances are they wouldn’t let you raft on it for legal reasons. Even if it was allowed, no rafting tour operator would be able to afford the huge insurance bill. But in Africa they do things a little differently, and the fact that if the massive class IV and V rapids don’t get you, the crocodiles will, doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.

Start your rafting adventure at Victoria Falls and head down stream from there through the Batoka Gorge and through rapids with ominous sounding names like ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and Gnashing Jaws of Death’. Nice touch. Definitely one of the best white water rafting rivers in the world.

Rio Cotahuasi, Peru

One of the few remaining old-school-type river expeditions left on the planet. Sure there are a few tours on this river but it’s unlikely to be very crowded with other boats. It’s a full days trek from the town of Cotahuasi just to the launch point but from there you can enjoy seven full days of rafting with regular class IV and V rapids to deal with. Oh, and you get to camp near some Inca ruins in the evening. Just your ordinary rafting adventure then.

Best white water rafting rivers Wikimedia image by Sascha Grabow

Paro Chhu River, Bhutan

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is one of  the world’s happiest places and they intend to keep it that way. That’s why tourists are charged between $200 and $250 a day just to be there. However, the price is worth it to explore this amazing river. The class II and III rapids let up just enough to take in some of the stunning Buddhist monasteries that line the route. And don’t be too worried about the river, apparently it’s sacred, so what’s the worst that can happen?

Magpie River, Canada

Catch a floating plane to the put-in on this isolated Canadian river and start eight days of rafting through remote pine forests and unexplored territory. As you leave the lake for the river itself that’s when things start to get really interesting. The rapids build in size and ferocity until you’re facing some pretty hefty class Vs with some steep drops. At the back of your mind at all times is the fact that if something happens, it’s a long way to the nearest hospital.

Best white water rafting rivers flickr image by Rupert Taylor-Price

Middle Fork, Salmon River, Idaho

This is one of the world’s most popular rafting rivers and it’s easy to see why. With some exceptional scenery and the fact that it’s relatively accessible, it does get a little crowded but most people aren’t here for the view. With big class IV rapids and the possibility there will be bears around, this river is wild enough to keep most rafting enthusiasts happy.

Franklin River, Tasmania

One of the cleanest and most pristine ecosystems on earth, the Franklin River is an amazing place to go rafting. The first rafting descent was way back in the late 70s and since then the locals have been fighting efforts to build a dam in the area. The canyon gorges, torrential waterfalls cascading from all sides and big rapids make this a fun river to run. And like most of the best white water rafting rivers in the world, once you’ve started there is no turning back. The river demands nothing less than 100% commitment.

Franklin River one of the 10 best white water rafting riversImage courtesy of FranklinRiverRafting.com

So there you have our top 10 best white water rafting rivers in the world, as with any top 10 it is subjective and is the Authors opinion. If you agree or disagree with our choices let us know in the comments as perhaps we’ve made a glaring omission….? Let us know below.

Africa, Arizona, Asia, Australia, Bhutan, Canada, Central America, Chile, China, Colorado, Colorado River, Costa Rica, Franklin River, Grand Canyon, Idaho, North America, Oceania, Ontario, Patagonia, Peru, South America, Tasmania, Tibet, United States, Victoria Falls, Zambezi River, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Class III, Class IV, Class V, Gnashing Jaws of Death, Stairway to Heaven, Whitewater (Rapids)
Travel Articles

7 responses to “10 best white water rafting rivers in the world”

  1. All great rivers…but, why snub California?
    Cherry Creek (arguably the most challenging commercial rafting in the World!). Forks of the Kern (true wildernesss, beauty, and class 5 rapids). The California Salmon (class 5 with awesome access). The North Fork American (a snow-melt, class 5 wonder)….and more!

  2. I understand that brutal portages and poison ivy aren’t always part of every great river trip, But how about the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colrado?

  3. OK, OK, the Balck canyon isn’t run commercially so how about Gore Canyon of the Colorado. Class v’s galore, commercially run and even hosts the famous down river race. Gore rocks!

  4. this is a highly subjective topic. These are all great rivers, but who has the authority to say “best”
    nah, don’t think so!!!

  5. Lots of good suggestions for rivers we have missed but as Bill points out it is a subjective topic. We asked the Author to put together his top 10 and to spread them out around the world.

    As with any ‘top 10’ or ‘best of’ it is purely the authors opinion, we have added a line to this effect at end. The aim is not to annoy people with a top 10 like this but to spark discussion, and of course to be a useful article for anyone that does not know about the topic who wants a taster of 10 of the best.

  6. Hi there, thanks for information regarding this amazing Rafting adventure. Love to do Rafting and it is full of fun. Nepal is also popular for different grades of Rafting. Rafting day trip of series are quite popular among adventure lovers. I would like to welcome you guys to feel the difference in between. Just let me inbox, will response you soon.

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