Top 10 white water kayaking rivers worldwide

Mar 23, 2016 BY AWE365 Team

When it comes to picking the top 10 white water kayaking rivers in the world there is only one factor that really counts: rapids. Almost every white water kayaking river is going to be blessed with beautiful views and present challenges in terms of access, so what you really need to know is how much of a thrill it’s going to give you.

Top 10 white water kayaking rivers Wikimedia image by Zachary Collier

We’ve scoured the world and tried to pick ten of the best rivers that will get the heart pounding and the adrenaline flowing, and we reckon we’ve created a pretty incredible list.

Each one of these rivers is going to be a challenge, even for experienced kayakers. With huge rapids and swells, ominous rocks and man-eating predators to deal with, if it’s adventure you’re after, any of the following should float your boat – so to speak.

Top 10 white water kayaking rivers

Please remember as with any top 10 this is the authors opinion and not a definitive list. If your favourite rivers are not included in the list please leave us a comment. After all there were only 10 spots and so many rivers to choose from….

Cotahuasi, Peru

Imagine a river with 100km of rapids and a canyon that’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Now imagine that the route is dotted with Incan ruins and that the rapids are as impressive as the scenery, with never-ending sections of class IV and IV+. Chuck in a few class V drops and you’re almost close to imagining the Cotahuasi River in Peru.

This is without doubt one of the most phenomenal kayaking rivers in the world and a must-visit for any serious kayaker. Fully deserving of its place in any top 10 white water kayaking rivers, and a possible contender for the top spot.

Noce, Italy

Located in the Brenta Dolomite mountains of northern Italy, the Noce is a wild river in the heart of the Val di Sole (Valley of the Sun). The river is fed by melting glacial ice, so catch it at the right time of year (spring time is best) and you’ll be treated to some tasty class III and IV rapids along its course.

Top 10 white water kayaking rivers Wikimdeia image by Yachmoka

However, as the river tumbles past the villages of Ossana to Caldes things get really interesting with some very challenging class V rapids. It’s not surprising that European and World Championship events are regularly held here.

Çoruh, Turkey

With unrelenting rapids that seemingly merge into one another, Çoruh in Turkey is definitely one of the best kayaking destinations in Europe. There’s enough here to keep even a seasoned kayaker interested and concentrating fully.

Found in the rugged and mountainous area of northern Turkey, the Çoruh drains the area south of the Black Sea. The fast paced river runs over some heavy class III and IV rapids, and with olive grove-lined banks, its beauty matches its ferocity.

Futaleufu, Chile

Also known as the Fu or Futa, this river was often been described as an undiscovered kayaking Nirvana. Of course, there are a few more people on the water now but it’s still one of the world’s best kayaking rivers.

Top 10 white water kayaking rivers flickr Wikimedia by Steve

It’s found in the wild region of northern Patagonia and home to the world-famous ‘Terminator’ rapid. There’s also the non-stop action of the ‘bridge-to-bridge’ and exciting ‘El Macal’ sections. And with some gentler sections for beginners and intermediated kayakers, this is a superb kayaking river.

Alesk and Tatshenshini, Alaska and Canada

Flowing through the tundra and wilderness of the Canadian/Alaskan border, huge glaciers and icebergs form the backdrop to this unique kayaking river. There’s some superb white water to navigate but capsize and you’ll know about it, as the water here is terrifyingly cold.

All of which makes it a very exciting kayaking destination. It may not be the most popular as yet but we think it fully deserves its place in any list of top 10 white water kayaking rivers. The Tatshenshini River rafting expedition was voted the best in the world by National Geographic so its well worth a visit in a kayak.

Sun Kosi, Nepal

Rising up near the border with Tibet, among some of the highest peaks in the world, it’s little surprise that the Sun Kosi should be home to some extraordinary kayaking. From there it flows all the way down to the Ganges on the plains below in India.

Top 10 white water kayaking rivers Wikimedia image by RaynaultM

Along the way there are some frighteningly narrow gorges and forested canyons to explore, complete with some very heavy class V rapids to negotiate. Make your way out of the mountains and the landscape changes again into dense jungle with chattering monkeys and thick vegetation.

Zambezi, Zimbabwe/Zambia

One of the most famous rafting rivers in the world, the Zambezi is also home to some world-class kayaking. The legendary Batoka Gorge section bubbles and boils with 23 rapids in a 24-kilometre section. Of course, you would expect any river that’s home to the Victoria Falls to be fairly bumpy, and the Zambezi doesn’t disappoint.

Unlike some of the other rivers on this list, the Zambezi comes with another kind of danger – namely some of the other creatures that call the river home. We won’t mention what they are as we don’t want to scare you too much but they do have very sharp teeth.

Rio Upano, Ecuador

Back in South America, the Rio Upano in Ecuador runs through the dense jungle, where you’ll spot the thatched cottages of native tribes. Don’t take your eyes off where you are going for too long, however, as the Namangosa Gorge has some huge class IV rapids and is lined by plunging waterfalls from tributaries along its banks.

Top 10 white water kayaking rivers Wikimedia image by Adrille

The river rises on the remote fringes of the Amazon basin and winds its way through narrow canyons, rapids and some much-welcome gentler sections.

Colorado River, USA

No top 10 white water kayaking rivers list could be complete without the Colorado River. This mighty river has carved out the Grand Canyon over millions of years, so with that much power behind it, just imagine what it could do to you and your kayak.

There are many highlights down the river’s course but keep a special eye out for the class V rapids at Gore Canyon. When your boat is being submerged by a huge torrent of rampaging water, that’s when you truly begin to appreciate the vast and awesome power of nature. The views aren’t bad either but with so much mater hitting you full in the face, you probably won’t have time to notice

North Johnstone, Australia

Right up in the far tip of Queensland, in the ancient forests of the Palmerston National Park, the North Johnstone river throws up a few treats and delights for kayakers. One of them is the eerie luminous fungi growing on the rocks that glows at night. Another is the vast class IV and V rapids that flow through these volcanic gorges.

Perhaps the biggest thrill is the helicopter ride that you have to take to get to the start of this otherwise inaccessible river. This is white water kayaking at its most adventurous.

So there you have it – the top 10 white water kayaking rivers in the world. How many of them have you visited? And if the answer is none, then what are you waiting for? Check out our Kayaking holiday discounts as you could get yourself a bargain.


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