The 8 Best Whitewater Rafting Destinations in the World

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••• Kraig Becker

Whitewater rafting remains one of the most popular adventure sports in the entire world, and for good reason. Not only does it allow travelers to visit unique, and often breathtakingly beautiful, destinations, it provides quite an adrenaline rush along the way as well. There is nothing quite like rushing down a turbulent river while amazing landscapes flash by along the shore. Many rafting destinations can provide visitors with a quality experience, but as you might expect, not all of them are created equal.

Here are eight of the very best whitewater rafting destinations in the entire world that are guaranteed to provide memories to last a lifetime. 

Colorado River (USA)

No list of whitewater destinations could possibly be complete without mentioning the Colorado River in the U.S. This famous waterway wanders for more than 277 miles through northern Arizona, with the most famous stretch passing through the iconic Grand Canyon. Travelers can spend as little as a single day running the rapids there, but to get the full experience more than two weeks is required. This is the quintessential whitewater rafting experience and a trip of a lifetime that should not be missed. 

Zambezi River (Zimbabwe)

Africa's best whitewater destination is without a doubt the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. Starting just below the 360-foot (110 meter) Victoria Falls the river offers Class IV and V rapids that have to be seen to be believed.

In total, there are 23 rapids in a 15-mile (24 km) stretch that are amongst the most thrilling whitewater experiences found anywhere on the planet. Sharp-eyed visitors might even spot hippos and crocodiles along the way as well. 

Río Upano (Ecuador)

Dense rainforest teeming with life lines the banks of the Río Upano in Ecuador, which offers travelers an opportunity to experience Class IV rapids in a pristine setting.

The river wanders through narrow canyons, including the unbelievable Namangosa Gorge, where rocky cliffs tower high overhead while gorgeous waterfalls tumble into the river far below. It is an incredible setting, to say the least, and rafting through it is the only way to truly experience the location. 

Pacuare River (Cosa Rica)

With three incredible whitewater sections, and 38 individual rapids, spread out over 67 miles, the Pacuare River in Costa Rica has much to offer adventure travelers. The rolling waters provide Class III and IV rapids that flow past lush rainforest filled with colorful birds, curious monkeys, and elusive ocelots, while the nearby Talamanca Mountains line the horizon. One and two-day excursions are available, giving visitors a chance to truly experience one of the best rafting rivers in the world in all of its glory.

Middle Fork, Salmon River (USA)

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River, located in Idaho, is another river that is famous for its fantastic rafting opportunities. The scenery along the waterway is nothing short of spectacular, with snowcapped peaks towering high overhead, and granite canyons and thick forests lining its banks for 100 spectacular miles (160 km).

Rapids along the Middle Fork can reach as high as Class IV, making this not just a pretty place to paddle, but one filled with adrenaline-inducing sections as well. This is a true classic rafting destination that should not be missed. 

Magpie River (Canada)

Canada is home to several outstanding whitewater rafting destinations, but the Magpie River in eastern Quebec Province might just be the best. The adventure begins with a float plane flight to Magpie Lake, which is followed by a 6 to 8-day descent of the river itself. Along the way, travelers will pass through remote pine forests virtually untouched by man, as they take on Class V rapids that will test them both physically and mentally. At night, they'll camp under the stars and have opportunities to view the amazing Northern Lights in all of their glory.

Futaleufú River (Chile)

Few places on Earth are as breathtakingly beautiful as Patagonia in southern Chile, and there are few better ways to explore that environment than by rafting the Futaleufú River. The Andes Mountains make for a dramatic backdrop to the Futaleufú's deep blue waters, which are fed from glaciers that form lakes in the Patagonian highlands. The river itself keeps the heart pumping by offering Class III - V rapids, although rafters are likely to be just as captivated by the setting in which it passes through.

North Johnstone River (Australia)

Accessible only by helicopter, Australia's North Johnstone River passes through the untouched rainforests and volcanic gorges of Palmerston National Park in northern Queensland. Along the way, it provides travelers with Class IV and V waters as they spend 4-6 days making their descent while camping in the dense forests overnight. Remote, beautiful, and challenging, the North Johnstone is a worthy addition to this list.