Category Archives: Rafting


South Fork American River Rafting History

south-fork-american-peopleDuring the 1850s, when the gold-rush was reaching its peak on the south fork american river in Coloma, an interesting thing began taking place. Cultures began mixing their food and music, they shared stories, experiences and jokes. As they sat around the campfires, they learned from each other. As they worked in the mines in the hills and the dredges in the river, they began mixing their skills and talents.

160 years later, not much has changed. Now, however, rafters – not miners- mix their food, music and jokes. People come from all over the world. Raft guides in particular come from all corners of the earth with their music (Costa Rican salsa, New Zealand hip-hop, Irish punk-rock) and their stories and experiences. They learn different styles of running rivers, steering rafts, cooking tri-tip steaks. Much like the old miners, rafters sit around the campfire after work and swap stories and jokes. Considering that Whitewater Connection camp is 300 yards downstream of Sutter’s Mill, where James Marshall found the first gold nugget in 1848, it’s likely that rafters sing and laugh on the same spots along the South Fork American River as miners did.

How cool is that?


Adventure of Rogue River Rafting

Rogue-River-RaftingOnce you embark on your Oregon Rogue River rafting, kayaking or hiking vacation, you begin to understand what a magical place this is–and why Oregon’s Rogue River has been protected as a wild and scenic river since 1968. In fact, the Rogue River was one of the original twelve rivers designated under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Wild Rogue Wilderness Act augments the protection of Oregon’s Rogue River wild and scenic designation.

Rogue-River-Rafting-2Oregon’s pristine Rogue River flows deep into a wooded canyon, a botanically rich and diverse ecosystem, a true paradise. Depending on whether your looking at a north-facing or south-facing slop, the Rogue River canyon is either wet and lush or arid and sparse. Madrone trees with red bark peeling from their smooth trunks cluster on the Rogue’s southern exposed banks.

Rogue-River-Hiking-3The Rogue River’s most coveted Oregon rafting and kayaking run is this wild and scenic stretch beginning at Grave Creek and ending at Foster Bar. This is an Oregon rafting enthusiast’s dream, dropping through a series of spine-tingling rapids separated by quiet, even-flowing pools. These moments of quiet respite create an ideal setting for lying back and gazing at the spectacular canyon scenery that slides past your gliding raft or kayak.

Rogue-River-Hiking-4Glancing over to the mossy banks of the mighty Oregon Rogue River, you might likely spy a blue heron spiking a tiny fish for dinner, a black bear foraging for berries, an eagle keeping a lookout high in the trees for its next meal, or even a playful family of otters out to spin and twist in the Rogue’s waters…making you laugh out loud at their antics.

An Oregon Rogue River rafting adventure captures it all: history, folklore, wildlife, and fantastically eroded geologic features. For many folks, this is the best, most relaxing rafting vacation they have ever experienced…which is why they keep coming back year after year…to stay in touch with the unique character of Oregon’s Rogue River rafting and kayaking canyon.


Family Adventures

Many rivers offer a rafting experience that is ideal for families and children. Rafting combines the very best elements of a summer holiday: excitement, adventure, scenery, camping, great food. Rafting can also be a multi-generational trip. As many as three generations (grandparents, parents and children) have safely paddled down rivers together!

Going with a professional rafting company is essential to ensure your safety and comfort. Many questions should be asked of your prospective rafting outfitter:

  • What type of rafts are available?
  • Which rafting trip is best for my family and what is the minimum age/weight to go rafting?
  • How long have you been offering trips to families and what safety standards do you use on trips with children or older adults?

What are the Types of Rafts Available?

An important question to ask your rafting outfitter is what types of rafts do they use (type of propulsion)? The following types of rafts are available:

Paddle rafts:

Each person in the raft gets a paddle and one professional guide who sits in the back calling out commands and steering the boat. This is the most popular means of rafting today, but does require the participation of everyone when doing rapids of moderate difficulty (Class 3 or higher). In Class 1 or 2 rapids, paddling is not so critical that everyone must be paddling. Younger kids could jump to the front of the raft in these rapids and just hang on. Paddle rafting is a true participation sport and paddle rafts are used on all classes of whitewater from Class 1-5. Paddle rafts are the preferred type of raft for most Class 3 and 4 whitewater trips. Paddle rafts can also do extreme whitewater as they are ideal on technical and steep rivers with an expert guide at the helm. Many of the Class 5 rivers that are run commercially use paddle rafts.

Oar rafts:

Oar rafts are simply rafts with a large rectangular rowing frame strapped in securely to the raft, either in the middle or the back of the boat (stern). This frame will have a seat for the guide and two pins or oarlocks that support the oars. The guide will sit facing downstream and row through the rapids. The oars are quite powerful and the guide often does not need additional paddlers. However, on some rivers with Class 3 and 4 whitewater, participants may each have a paddle and the guide will call out commands for them to paddle. In this case, the company should use a stern-mounted frame so that all the paddlers are in front of the guide.

A specialized type of oar raft, the cataraft, is typically two large tubes with an oar frame attached. Catarafts are capable of running extreme whitewater rapids and big holes, and for this reason, are often used as safety rafts on Class 4 and 5 rivers.


Motor rafts:

Motorized rafts are very common on large-volume rivers in North America.The Grand Canyon of the Colorado and the Thompson River in British Columbia are two of the most popular rivers for motorized rafting. Participants merely sit and hold on through the rapids so it is particularly popular with seniors and those that don’t want to actively paddle. One unique advantage is that motor rafts can zip back upstream and re-run some rapids.


Jet Boats:

Not technically a raft, but jet boats are now operating on many river sections that rafts also navigate. Some people may think this is a type of rafting as these boats frequently jet up and down whitewater rapids.


What Type of Raft trip is Best for my Family?

What type of raft trip is best for your family depends on the following factors:

  • Age and experience of the family members
  • Difficulty of the whitewater and special river hazards or features
  • Personal preference for an active or passive trip
  • Length of trip desired

Age and experience are important factors in deciding the type of trip. Every outfitter has different age limits for their trips and they will tell you what river is best. A few outfitters will take young children from ages 5 and up, especially if they are just doing a float trip. We recommend that families with young children try an easy river (Class 1 – 2) as a day trip (2 to 4 hours in length) to see how the children and parents enjoy the trip. These trips are often marketed as scenic float trips.

Whitewater trips that feature Class 3 rapids will usually have a minimum age of between 8 and 12. These age limits are often set by the outfitters based on their judgment. They may also ask you about the weight of your children since lifejackets have a weight rating. In our experience, children under the ages of 8 or 9 (usually less than 60 pounds), are not very good paddlers and thus should go in an oar raft or a paddle raft with other stronger paddlers. If your children enjoy camping, an overnight rafting trip would be a highlight of the summer.

Class 4 trips are best when your children are teenagers as most companies will have a minimum age limit of 12 to 14 for more challenging rivers. Check to see if any special river hazards or features exist such as extremely cold water, log hazards, portages (carry around an unrunnable rapid) or other features that you should be aware of. Swimming ability is a must when running Class 4.

An important consideration in choosing your trip is how active you want to be. If you’d rather just sit and enjoy the scenery, then an oar or motor raft trip is the best choice. If you want to be an active participant and feel the reward of paddling the river, then a paddle raft is your only option.

Multi-day rafting expedition trips, usually using oar rafts, are an incredible family experience. Chances are you’ll have miles and miles of floating, perfect for the guide to row you and your family while you relax, enjoy the scenery, float in the river, or try your hand at fishing. Motor rafts are an option on a few large volume rivers and one advantage is that they can speed up the trip during the calm sections. For example, motorized trips on the Grand Canyon are much shorter (7 days) than oar or paddle trips (up to 14 days or longer).

Why Company Experience is Important on a Family Rafting Trip

More experience generally means better judgment on the river.  River trips with young children should offer a little excitement but the trip should not scare them either. Younger children have fun getting splashed on a Class 2 rapid and many Class 3 rapids are also appropriate. Some companies have a policy that only senior guides, those with 3 or more seasons of guiding, take families with children especially when the river has Class 3 or higher rapids.  On any Class 2, 3 or 4 rapid, guides usually have many options in terms of how they run the rapid. Some routes are definitely more exciting and challenging and others are easier. Senior guides with more years of experience can best determine which route to take families with children.

In general, the outfitters on each river are the best judge of the type of trip that is best for you and your family. However, you should check with several companies because not all have the same standards of safety, customer service or experience on the river.

It makes sense to ask the outfitter how many years of experience their guides have or even request a senior guide for your raft. Some companies have such high turnover from year to year that many of their guides are new or even first-year guides. Others may employ guides with 10 seasons of raft guiding under their belt on rivers around the world. Again, these are questions that you should be asking particularly if you are rafting Class 3+ rapids.



Thrill Seekers

Looking for an adrenaline rush? While rafting on any river any time is a guaranteed good time, many paddlers are looking for the ultimate in excitement and challenge. If that’s the case and you are ready for an extreme test, you’ll want to try rafting a river with Class 4 or 5 rapids. We’ve outlined the Class 1-6 classification system of rapids in our Rafting 101 section. Class 4 and 5 rapids are generally the most challenging that a professional rafting company will run commercial rafting guests. You should be in good physical condition and be a strong swimmer in case you find yourself floating through one of the rapids on your own!

Below is a list of popular Class 4 and 5 runs in North America, many of which are offered by members. Please remember that Class ratings do vary with river levels and other factors. A Class 4 run may be a Class 5 river in high water or seem like a Class 3 river at low water. So ask the outfitters what river levels are likely to be like on the day you come rafting. Most will not be able to give you exact river flow information, but in general, they can tell you what the river is normally like during the time you are coming.


  • Kennebec River Gorge Run: Class 4 during high water flows
  • Penobscot River, West Branch: Class 4-4+

New York:

  • Hudson River (Indian River to North River): Class 4 at high water flows
  • Moose River: Class 4-5
  • Black River: Class 4

West Virginia:

  • Cheat River: Class 4 at moderate flows
  • Tygart River: Class 4-5
  • New River Gorge: Class 4-
  • Gauley River: Class 4-5


  • Russell Fork: Class 5

North Carolina:

  • Watauga Gorge: Class 5
  • Nolichucky River: Class 4 at high flows


  • Chattooga River (Section 4): Class 4+


  • Selway River: Class 4


  • Upper Colorado River (Gore Canyon): Class 5-5+
  • Animas River (upper section): Class 5

New Mexico:

  • Rio Grande (Taos Box): Class 4


  • Colorado River (Grand Canyon): Class 4+


  • Forks of the Kern: Class 5
  • Tuolumne River (Cherry Creek): Class 5
  • Tuolumne River (Clavey Falls run): Class 4-4+
  • Trinity River (Burnt Ranch Gorge): Class 5
  • Cal Salmon: Class 4-5

British Columbia:

  • Nahatlatch (including Canyon): Class 4-4+
  • Stein: Class 5
  • Chilko (Lava Canyon): Class 4+
  • Fraser (Hell’s Gate): Class 4+
  • Thompson: Class 4 at high water

Yukon & Alaska:

  • Alsek (Turnback Canyon): Class 4-5

Whitewater Rafting 101

Never been rafting?

Planning your first rafting trip can be intimidating.  As a beginner you may have many questions: Where do I find whitewater? What do I need to know? Is rafting safe? Do I need to be experienced?

The best way to experience rafting for the first time is sign up for a trip with a reputable and professional rafting company armed with a little bit of rafting knowledge.

Rating the Rapids

First, not all rafting trips are created equal. Rivers can be relatively calm and benign or be raging maelstroms of whitewater and it is important to be aware of different rafting classifications for rapids and how the various trips are actually marketed to the public.

Rapids are rated on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 being the easiest and 6 the most difficult. Any rating system is only a rough approximation of what you may actually encounter as rapids are greatly affected by river flows (volume) and other factors. Basic definitions for each class of whitewater are presented below:

Class 1:

Moving water with a few riffles and small waves but no major obstacles.

Class 2:

Bigger waves but no major obstructions in the channel.

Class 3:

Longer and more difficult rapids, hydraulics are bigger (waves, holes, currents). Some technical maneuvering is required but usually for a limited number of moves.

Class 4:

Steeper, longer or more heavily obstructed than Class 3 rapids. Usually, more technical and require many maneuvers. Scouting of rapids may be required prior to running. Swimming Class 4 is challenging.

Class 5:

Strong currents, big waves, boulders, restricted routes and powerful holes that can hold or flip rafts. Scouting is mandatory. Portaging around rapid may be required depending on river levels. Swimming Class 5 rapids is extremely challenging.

Class 6:

Considered unrunnable such as a large waterfall or an extremely violent section of whitewater with severe hazards. Risks include injury or loss of life. Commercial rafting outfitters do not provide rafting trips on rapids with Class 6 ratings.

River volume, water temperature, gradient and river hazards all play a role in determining the appropriate rating of a rapid. High water flows can easily increase the river class one or two levels so rapids that are normally Class 4 could increase to Class 5 or 6 levels.

For those unsure how exciting or dangerous a river may be, try using the standard symbols for downhill skiing as follows:

  • Green Circle=easy (Class 2)
  • Blue Square=Intermediate (Class 3)
  • Black Diamond=Advanced (Class 4)
  • Double Black Diamond=Extreme (Class 5).

Doing a double black diamond ski run or a Class 5 river is not a safe proposition for a first timer. Try starting at a comfortable level and moving up the scale. Always remember that high water can increase a rating so if you are going rafting during the high water season, plan accordingly when choosing your river run.

Finding the Best River

Although rafting is available world-wide, certain areas are recognized as premier rafting locations:

  • Western United States: California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Alaska, Arizona
  • Western Canada: British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon
  • Southeastern United States: West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee
  • Northeastern United States: New York, Maine, Pennsylvania
  • Eastern Canada: Ontario, Quebec
  • Mexico & Central America: Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras
  • South America: Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina
  • Africa: Zambia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda
  • Europe & Asia: France, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Turkey, Nepal, India, Japan
  • South Pacific: New Zealand, Australia


Length of River Trips

In addition to river difficulty and location, you also need to know the different types of trips available and the length of a trip. In general, rafting trips can be divided into short-duration trips of 1-2 days and long-duration or expedition trips of 3 or more days.

Short duration trips include day trips and overnight trips, typically 1-2 days in length. A day trip is typically a rafting trip of 3 to 5 hours duration, though many trips are shorter or longer. An overnight trip includes one or more nights camping or lodging and one or two days rafting. Short duration trips can feature anything from Class 1 to 5 rapids, but most whitewater day trips provided by professional river-rafting companies feature Class 3 and 4 rapids.

Long duration or multi-day expedition trips are typically 3 to 14 days in length. Many rafting expeditions feature big whitewater whereas others may consist of slow-moving Class 1-2 water and the main highlight is the scenery. Others provide a mix of floating and whitewater. For example, the legendary Grand Canyon of the Colorado is 90% Class 1-2 rapids interspersed with huge Class 4 rapids.

Price of River Trips

How much should you pay for your rafting trip? As expected, pricing varies greatly by region and is subject to a number of factors such as permit restrictions (fewer the permits, generally the higher the price) and other market factors. In general, companies price according to their level of experience and quality of trip. If an outfitter is charging much less than others in the market, it may indicate price competition, fewer frills provided, and possibly a lower standard of customer care.

Because safety is so important, ask your prospective outfitter how long they have operated, how many trips or years have they operated on this river, what kind of safety record do they have and do they employ any special safety features on the trips. For example, on some rivers, companies provide full-body wetsuits for protection from the river temperature and hazards and safety kayakers that follow the trip and look out for swimmers. Helmets are generally recommended on Class 3 and above rapids but some companies do not provide them even on Class 4 or higher whitewater. Standards do vary significantly among companies and by country.