Heading out on a river raft soon? You’re in for an exciting adventure, river rafting is both a thrill ride and a great way to experience the beauty of the world around you. However, it’s very important to take precautions when river rafting to prevent accidents and ensure you have fun safely, particularly if you’ve never been rafting before.
This is where guided tours come in. Going on a guided river raft tour is one of the best ways to enjoy this exciting activity safely, and you’ll even get expert knowledge about the area as well. In this article, we’ll rank some of the top American river rafting companies, share what you should look for in a river rafting tour, and help you choose the best gear for a day out on the river.
Top American River Rafting Companies
Jump and Raft is located in Maine, one of the most beautifully remote areas in the United States. They are a very unique company that offers both river rafting and skydiving tours, so this is a great option if you are a true adventure junkie. You can purchase a full weekend package that includes one day of skydiving over the beautiful hills of Maine, one day of rafting in the area’s gorgeous rivers, and a complimentary barbecue meal to celebrate.
The river rafting experience at Jump and Raft is located in the Penobscot River, which is a Class V whitewater river. Even if you have gone rafting before, this river is very challenging and exciting, with a mix of intense rapids and flat water sections. The rafting trip is a total of 13 miles, and you’ll be basking in the view of the beautiful Mount Katahdin for most of the trip.
Although this experience is challenging, you’ll have expert guides with you to help you navigate each rapid safely. Safety is a priority, and the Jump and Raft team provides helmets, life jackets, and paddles. You’ll enjoy the aforementioned barbecue lunch halfway through the day, which will fuel you up for the rest of the trip.
If you want to enjoy the scenery of Maine even more, you can book a two-day group rafting trip on the Penobscot. The package takes you through the same 13-mile trip but goes at a much slower pace with more stops for relaxation and fun on the river. You’ll then sleep at Jump and Raft’s private campsite where tents, sleeping pads, and nourishments are all provided.
The Ocoee River in Tennessee is another one of the most exciting rafting destinations in the United States. Ocoee Rafting offers tours of the entire river and has a 42-year history of expert operation on the Ocoee River. Their river tours range in length and difficulty, so whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rafter, there are options that will pique your interest. They also offer zipline canopy tours through the Blue Ridge Mountains where you can fly and climb among the trees.
Ocoee Rafting offers two main tours: the Middle Ocoee River and the Upper Ocoee River. The Upper Ocoee River was actually used as part of the rafting course for the Olympics in 1996, but it’s only open for a very short period of time each year. If you are lucky enough to be able to visit during this time, it’s a can’t-miss rafting trip. The Middle Ocoee River has a longer season and is one of the largest continuous stretches of Class III and IV rapids in the United States. It’s a great guided trip for people of all ability levels and is a very exciting and engaging introduction to rafting. You can also book a combo package that includes both stretches of the Ocoee River and lasts almost four hours. This thrilling guided trip is very accessible, and it’s an excellent choice if you want a good combination of high energy rapids and beautiful scenery. This tour is also a good choice for kids and teens because it’s on the shorter side.
Wilderness Voyageurs is a river rafting tour company located in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania that offers tours on rivers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. Their tours are based in the beautiful Ohiopyle State Park, which is full of beautiful greenery and majestic mountains. They are one of the most experienced river rafting companies out there with over 50 years of experience. Their services are also very comprehensive; they offer river rafting tours of all ability levels as well as bike tours, fishing, and kayaking.
Wilderness Voyageurs has developed a few different whitewater rafting trips, so you can choose the one that makes the most sense for your interests. Their basic Rafting Adventure Trips are appropriate for kids and beginners and feature rapids in Class II through IV. They are very safe and offer plenty of guidance to make sure you feel fully comfortable and supported on the river. There are also Rafting Family Adventure trips which are perfect for younger kids. These trips go through very gentle rapids and give you plenty of time to float and enjoy the scenery. For avid rafters that have experience on the water, there’s also the option to take a rafting high adventure trip, which goes through Class III, IV, and V rapids. Wilderness Voyagers prides themselves on offering some of the most accessible high-level rafting trips in the U.S., as their tours are short drives away from Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Columbus, and Cleveland.
The Grand Canyon has some of the most majestic scenery in all of the United States, and what better way to experience it than through a river tour? While these tours aren’t the most intense in terms of rapids, they more than make up for it with their beautiful scenery. You can opt for relaxing float tours to really take in the beauty of the area, and there’s the option to combine it with a helicopter tour to learn about the history of the area. Grand Canyon West can also help you find nearby lodging or campsites that are conveniently located near the river tours and other sightseeing you might want to do. Grand Canyon West is operated by the Hualapai Tribe in Peach Springs, Arizona.
Discover Outdoors is an adventure company with tours all over the world. They offer a variety of activities including biking, hiking, and more, but they also offer river rafting tours in a few stunning locations. If you are looking for a dramatic adventure, their Patagonia Explorer tour takes you through the mountains of Chile via kayak, horseback rides, and hikes, with dramatic glaciers and icebergs as scenery. If you prefer a warmer climate, they also offer a Baja California trip that consists of sea kayaking, whale watching, and hiking along the coastline. Within the U.S., Discover Outdoors offers a Maine coast kayaking weekend as well as an Adirondack canoe and hiking trip. All of Discover Outdoors’ tours are designed for adults, and they either guide you to campsites or provide lodging. The entire itinerary is pre-planned so you can adequately prepare for these immersive multi-day trips. Prices for the excursions vary widely depending on where you are going and the activities involved. Every activity is guided by experts who are very familiar with the area and have professional outdoor experience, so you’ll feel safe and supported while you’re out there trying new things. While Discover Outdoors doesn’t offer the most challenging whitewater river rafting specifically, the overall experience of the tour is something truly special.
Arizona River Runners offers rafting tours in the Grand Canyon through locations that are some of the most dramatic in the United States. The company has been in operation since 1970 and aims to make the stunning beauty of the Grand Canyon accessible for anyone who wants to see it, whether you’re a whitewater rafting beginner or you have years of experience. Their expert guides go through intensive training to ensure that the tours are as safe and enjoyable as possible.
Arizona River Runners offers several different types of trips through the Grand Canyon. Their motor boat trips take you on an exciting adventure through most of the canyon and guide you through some of the country’s most exciting rapids. You can choose between three-day, six-day, seven-day, and eight-day motor trips. They also offer oar trips, which are slower paced and on smaller boats. These trips are better for someone who wants to really immerse themselves in the scenery of the Grand Canyon. Some of their trips during the cooler months of the year also include guided hikes that allow you to see the beauty of the Canyon from a different perspective. Oar trips are available for six, eight, or 13 days. Arizona River Runners offers modern, high-tech camping gear that will keep you comfortable after a long day outdoors. Their motor rafts are also some of the most advanced boats of this style available. Arizona River Runners is committed to a clean environment and takes measures to ensure they conserve fuel and leave no trace on their rafting tours.
Oregon is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful places in the United States, and it makes for an absolutely perfect river rafting tour. Oregon River Experiences has been offering tours on 10 different rivers throughout Oregon since 1978. They have day trips on the Clackamas River that originate in Portland, which are a great way to get your feet wet (no pun intended) if you’ve never rafted before. If you’re looking for a more intense experience that takes you deeper into Oregon’s beautiful scenery, consider one of their nine multi-day trip options. Their trips range widely in difficulty, with options that are appropriate for kids and beginners all the way up to more challenging tours with Class IV rapids.
One of the best things about Oregon River Experiences is that each of their trips offers a unique experience. Some trips head through the woods and involve camping, others move through the desert, and some even take you to beautiful sand beaches. They also offer fun specialty trips, like their rafting and craft beer trip in collaboration with Lompoc Brewing. Groups can work with the organization to build their own custom trip for an even more unique experience. Most trips offer hand-cooked meals to keep you nourished while you are out on the water as well. It’s important to note that you will need to rent your equipment; it’s not included in the price of the ticket. If you already have your own equipment, you can bring it with you, or you can talk to their knowledgeable staff to make sure you’re set up with everything you need for an enjoyable river rafting trip.
Laurel Highlands River Tours offers rafting tours of the Ohiopyle River located in Pennsylvania. The Ohiopyle River is often considered to be one of the best rivers for whitewater rafting in the United States. It’s also located in beautiful Ohiopyle State Park where there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in addition to rafting. Laurel Highlands offers camping, rock climbing, mountain biking, ziplining, and even gem mining in the park. They also have several different options for rafting tours, ranging from quick express tours to slower guided tours that allow you to explore the history and nature of the Ohiopyle River area. Their tour of Cheat Canyon in nearby West Virginia even exposes you to Class IV and V rapids, perfect for more experienced rafters. Transportation to and from the river is included, and meals are provided for some of the longer trips. You will need to rent a raft and equipment once you arrive in Ohiopyle. Expert guides are a part of every step of the tour to help you stay safe and make the most of your trip. If you want to stay in the Ohiopyle region for more than a day, the team can recommend lodging and food options to you as well.
Three Rivers offers thrilling raft and tubing trips on the Kennebec, Dead, and Penobscot rivers in Maine. Their tours allow you to experience some of the country’s most exciting rapids while also taking you through the beautiful scenery of Maine’s forests and mountains. The Kennebec River tour features Class III and IV rapids, which are appropriate for families and beginner rafters with guidance from the Three Rivers team. If you are looking for a more intense, challenging whitewater rafting experience, their tours of the Dead and Penobscot rivers are not to be missed. The Penobscot tours are run through most of the year, while Dead River tours are more weather dependent. These tours are available in one- or two-day options. Tours include delicious lunches and drinks to make sure you are properly nourished for this exciting experience. Two-day tours also include a night of camping in the natural beauty of remote Maine.
In addition to rafting, Three Rivers offers combination packages that include other outdoor activities like river tubing, hiking, fishing, and even snowmobiling in the winter. Three Rivers also runs three different lodging accommodations in the area, so you can make your rafting trip into an entire vacation. The Forks Fun Resort is located near the Kennebec and Dead rivers and is located in a renovated barn house. They also have a pub onsite, the Boatman’s Bar and Grill. Their Inn By The River is also located nearby, which is a more relaxed option that’s still very close to the rafting trips and other activities. If you’re heading on a trip on the Penobscot River, you can stay at their Penobscot River Outpost, which is a 26-acre lodging facility located in the town of Millinocket.
Northeast Whitewater Rafting is another rafting company based in Maine offering tours through the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers. As some of the most exciting rivers in the country, these tours are great for true rafting enthusiasts. They also offer rafting on the Dead River and through Canada Falls. Unlike many other rafting companies, they pride themselves on offering small, intimate trips, so you get plenty of helpful guidance that’s catered to your skill level. Additionally, guides offer home-cooked meals to keep you nourished throughout the entire trip. The small group atmosphere means you get more time on the water plus a fun social experience where you can make new friends or enjoy spending time with your existing ones.
In addition to rafting, Northeast Whitewater offers a range of nature tours to help you get to know more about the Maine wilderness. They are particularly known for their moose watching trips, but you can also go on bird watching, paddleboarding, and hiking trips with them. They even offer ice cave excursions during the wintertime. They also offer training for guides as well as a variety of other safety and conservation programs. If you’re interested in camping in the Maine wilderness, they have tent camping excursions as well as yurts you can stay in. If you are looking for a truly intimate experience on the water, this is a great trip for you.
What to Look for in a River Raft Tour
The U.S. is home to some of the most exciting river rapids in the world, and there are river rafting tours all over the country. With so many to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which one to participate in, particularly if you are new to white water rafting. Here’s what you should consider when making your decision to ensure you find a white water rafting trip you’ll never forget.
Location and Scenery
The first thing to consider when looking for a rafting tour is the location. White water rafting is one of the best ways to explore the natural beauty of the United States, so you should pick a tour in a location you are interested in. Do you want to be surrounded by the grandeur of the mountains, or would you prefer to be deep in the forest? Look for pictures of the tour location to get an idea of what kind of scenery you can expect to experience.
Difficulty of Rapids
The next thing to consider is the difficulty of the rapids on the tour and whether or not they are appropriate for your skill level. Rapids range in class from one to five, with five being the most difficult and intense. Beginners can often handle challenging rapids if they have a guide in the boat with them, but if it’s something you are concerned about, you should err on the side of caution when choosing a tour.
Another factor you should consider when choosing a tour is whether or not the necessary equipment is provided. At the very least, you will need a paddle and life jacket, and it’s smart to wear a helmet for safety as well. You may also want to consider wearing a wetsuit for comfort. Most tours do provide these items, but you should find out whether they are included in your ticket cost or whether you have to rent them separately. This will give you a better idea of the overall value for money.
When you’re out on the river in a place you’ve never been, you want to be completely sure that your tour guides know what they’re doing. Look into how long the company has been in business, and see if you can find reviews to give you an indication of other customers’ experiences and whether or not they felt comfortable. You may even be able to find bios or information on the guides’ training on their website. This will help you feel more comfortable on the water knowing that you have an expert out there with you.
If you are planning on taking your children on a river rafting trip with you, it’s very important to make sure the tour is appropriate for them. There are many rafting trips that are specifically designed for beginners with close guidance through smaller, more manageable rapids. Look for trips that list Class I and II rapids if you are rafting with children. Additionally, many companies list a minimum age for each of the tours that they offer, so be sure to check this before buying your tickets to make sure your child can go.
Length of Tour
Whitewater rafting tours can vary widely in length from just a few hours to several days. Before you choose your tour, decide how long you want to be out on the river. For beginners, a day trip will likely be more than enough, but if you’re a passionate rafter or outdoorsman, you can take advantage of the multi-day trips that most companies offer. Keep in mind that most trips are only offered at certain times of year depending on the weather and water levels in the area.
Another important factor when choosing a whitewater rafting tour is the accessibility of the tour. Some tours are located just a short drive from a major city or airport, while others are deep in the wilderness and require more commitment to get there. Additionally, some tours offer shuttles from an accessible location to the river, while others require walking or hiking to get there. If you don’t have much time to commit to your rafting trip, look for an option that is very accessible to make the most of your time.
If you are going on a multi-day rafting trip, there is a good chance you will need to camp outdoors on the river each night. However, some rafting companies offer lodging between each rafting day for a more comfortable experience. For some people, the opportunity to camp is a huge perk of going rafting, while for others it can add stress to the experience. Decide whether or not you want a camping experience when choosing a whitewater rafting trip to ensure you select an experience you will really enjoy.
Many rafting companies offer snacks, drinks, or even full meals during your time out on the river. This is a huge perk because it means you don’t have to worry about packing food and finding appropriate storage for it while you are rafting. When selecting a tour, find out if food is included in your ticket price, and see if you can view a sample menu to get an idea of what type of food is provided. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you should make sure there are food options that are going to be appropriate for you as well.
Other Adventure Services Offered
Many rafting companies offer more than just rafting tours. Most of these companies also have other activities available that will help you really enjoy the beauty of the area around the river. Common activities that are offered in conjunction with whitewater rafting are hiking, biking, fishing, paddleboarding, and rock climbing, just to name a few. If you’re looking for a full vacation experience, it may be helpful to choose a tour that allows you to experience other activities besides whitewater rafting. Some tours even provide lodging, which can help you have an even more comfortable rafting experience.
Rafting Gear Essentials
To ensure that you are safe while you are out on the river, it is very important to have the right gear. Most rafting tours include gear in your ticket price or have rentals on site. Here are the items you need to have a safe and comfortable trip on the river, regardless of where you are touring:
– Raft and paddles: The raft and paddles you are using should be appropriate for the type of water you will be exploring. Larger rapids require different boats and paddles for control out on the water. Rafting companies typically provide these items for you or have them on site to rent.
– Helmet: Rafting is a thrill ride, and although it’s usually safe if you are with a guide, you need to have appropriate protection for your head in case of any accidents. A durable, waterproof helmet with wide coverage is best for rafting.
– Life jacket: Again, you never want to take any chances when you are out on the river. A life jacket could keep you from drowning in the highly unlikely event that your boat tips over.
– Wetsuit: While this isn’t always a complete necessity, a wetsuit can keep you comfortable if you’re rafting in intense waters or cooler weather.
– Thick pants and top: If you aren’t going to wear a wetsuit or waterproof clothing, you should make sure that your clothing is thick enough to handle cooler temperatures and protect your body. Generally, it’s best to avoid wearing cotton in these scenarios. You should also bring a light jacket, like a windbreaker, if there’s any chance of cooler weather. In warm weather, you may be able to get away with wearing lighter clothing. Consult your specific tour group for more information on clothing to wear based on your region.
– River shoes: When you are out on the water, you will also need shoes that are designed specifically to handle moisture. There are many brands that make shoes for rafting and other water activities, and they will keep your feet comfortable.
– First aid kit: It’s very important that your boat is stocked with basic first aid items in case of an emergency. You should always be prepared for any accident that could happen on the water.
– Map/compass/GPS: Even if your tour guides are very experienced, they should still always carry some sort of navigational device to make sure they can get back safely if lost.
River Rafting Safety Tips
River rafting is an exciting thrill ride that allows you to experience the natural beauty of the world around you up close. However, there are also many risks involved in river rafting, and it’s important to know the best practices for rafting safety before you head out on the water, particularly if you are a beginner. Here are some of the most important safety tips for anyone going river rafting:
Wear your life jacket correctly.
Many people aren’t actually aware of how to correctly put on a life jacket, and this can be very dangerous if anything were to happen during your rafting trip. When putting on your jacket, make sure it fits snugly and that it isn’t twisted. You should also make sure that all the buckles are clipped and tightened. Check with your guide to make sure your life jacket is put on correctly.
Listen closely to your guide’s commands.
Before the rafting trip starts, your guide will go through an extensive safety briefing to make sure you are fully prepared for your time out on the water. Pay attention to it closely, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are feeling confused at all. In particular, you should listen to the commands your guide will use when you are in the boat and make sure you know what they mean. Being able to act quickly on your guide’s commands will make your trip much safer and more fun.
Hold the paddle properly.
Your guide will review proper paddling technique with you before you go rafting, but it still helps to know the best technique before you go. One hand should be at the end of the paddle while the other one will be covering the T-grip. This will give you complete control and will make sure you don’t lose your paddle or accidentally hit anyone with it.
Know how to swim.
This should go without saying, but it’s very dangerous to go whitewater rafting if you don’t know how to swim. Swimming can save your life in the event you are thrown overboard from the raft and cannot quickly rejoin your group. If this does happen, there are two swimming options. You can swim as quickly as you can to shore facing forward towards your desired destination. Make sure you don’t stand up until you are completely on shore, or you could risk being pulled back into the water. You can also lay on your back with your legs closed and use your arms and legs to push off rocks around you. This will help you see where you are more clearly.
River rafting is a very exciting outdoor activity that anyone can do with the proper guidance. With so many rafting companies in the United States, you are sure to find a tour that appeals to you. When planning your next vacation, consider heading on one of these tours. Just don’t forget to follow the proper safety advice while you are out on the water.