The French Alps have long been a popular summer destination for kayakers and rafters. With the coming of the warmer weather in spring, the snow melt and dramatic landscapes combine, making the best kayaking rivers in the French Alps some of the most enjoyable in the world.
With a number of rivers to choose from across the region, incredible landscape and conditions to suit beginners to advanced paddlers, the French Alps are popular with kayakers of all levels. Here’s our guide to the seven best rivers in the Alps, taking into consideration accessibility, beauty and fun.
Before we get into the list we should say the top 7 are in no particular order and are not meant as a definitive list – everyones opinion is different. The resulting top 7 are a combination of the opinions of 3 kayakers that have spent a lot of time in the region. It includes a tour operator, a well travelled British kayaker, and a local French kayaker who competes at the top level. Also please note all the images are of the Bonne river.
Located in the incredibly beautiful Southern French Alps, the Bonne is famed for its majestic scenery and big rapids. With some sections of the river rated at between grade IV and grade VI, there is some serious paddling to be done.
Check out the kayaking holidays on the Bonne with Undiscovered Mountains, a company who specialise in creating kayaking adventures in the region. With intensive tuition at the start of the week, you’ll build your confidence and skill levels, and hopefully be able to take on some of the bigger sections of the Bonne under the watchful eyes of expert guides.
Transporting you away from civilisation to a magical world of canyons, gorges and frothy waves, the Guil is a special river that’s on many people’s lists but one they rarely visit. The two main gorges you’ll paddle through are called ‘Les Combes’ with the second providing some challenging sections with steep rapids. This is as close to wilderness kayaking as you can get in the Alps.
Ideally located between the beautiful towns of Guillestre and Embun, the Durance is a tributary of the mighty Rhone. Rising in the Southern Alps, the upper sections of the river are perfect for kayaking. With plenty of facilities around too, you can enjoy some great days on the water and check out the river wave known as ‘Le Rabioux’, as well as enjoying some classic Alpine lifestyle. Undiscovered Mountains also cover both the Durance and Guil on their kayaking holidays.
One of the most easily accessible rivers in the region, the Guisane has a little something for everyone. It is a little smaller than some of the other rivers meaning conditions are perfect for a more relaxed paddle. But it is still an Alpine river and some of the latter stages have some pretty steep gradients. Easily one of the most charming and best kayaking rivers in the French Alps.
This short and powerful river hurtles down the Vallouise Valley at breakneck speed. It’s situated at a high altitude near the glaciers of the Hautes-Alpes and provides little respite for paddlers taking it on. Flow changes throughout the day depending on conditions, adding to the challenge. All of this makes it suitable for more advanced paddlers.
Draining snow and glacier melt from the Ecrins National Park and Southern Alps region, the Souloise has some long grade IV stretches. The rocky descent is very technical and a real challenge, so best reserved for experienced intermediate or advanced paddlers.
This wild and powerful river flows for around 80 km through the French Alps and is one of the most popular and in-demand kayaking rivers in all of Europe. The river gets very powerful with the spring melt water and is a technical challenge in the summer months. Trips can be designed according to the season and with some distinct sections such as Riou Sec to Condamines to try, it’s a great place to paddle.
So, there you have our list of the best kayaking rivers in the French Alps. How many have you paddled? And if your answer is none of them, then you need to head on over to France to see what all the fuss is about.