White Water Rafting | The Ultimate Guide and Gear Essentials

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White water rafting is one of the most enjoyable things you can do with friends and family, especially if you love nature and getting out on the water. Everything about white water rafting is truly exhilarating, from the teamwork required with the ones you are going with to the rush of heading down a fast-flowing river. There is no doubt that white water rafting is truly a fantastic way to bond with those you are closest with and create a real connection while having an amazing and memorable time doing so.

However, it is important to ensure safety when heading out white water rafting. Of course, every trip involves a rafting guide to help you navigate the waters in a safe manner, but there is still some risk involved with the adventure if the conditions are not properly planned for and the necessary gear and accessories are not worn.

By understanding exactly how to prepare for your white water rafting trip, you can ensure you choose a river that best suits you. It’s important to be fully prepared for what awaits ahead, which is hopefully a good time full of excitement, adventure and bonding with friends or family.

This ultimate guide to white water rafting will tell you how to find the best places to go white water rafting, how to properly plan for the conditions of the river and what clothes and accessories to wear on your trip. Being prepared is important to ensure you and those you are with have an enjoyable experience while staying safe white water rafting.

What Is White Water Rafting?

White water rafting is an outdoor recreational activity that involves navigating down a river on an inflatable raft. White water rafting most commonly involves multiple members of a team – which are most commonly friends, family members or a related group of some kind. Everyone works in unison to propel the raft, and it is a great bonding exercise as well as an exciting individual experience. There is usually some risk involved in white water rafting, although a guide is there to help each member make it through safely.

There are places to go white water rafting in just about every state, and each individual location has its own unique experience and obstacles to plan for. There are various organizations that provide white water rafting services (see below) and signing up for a time is very easy to do.

Simply contact the organization that puts on the guided trips, or sign up online, to schedule your time slot to go rafting. After you sign up, you are ready to go, although it is important to ensure you properly prepare yourself and your team members with the necessary equipment to make the trip fun, effortless and safe.

Once you arrive at your whitewater destination, you’ll check-in before being assigned to an experienced guide – or instructor – who is there to teach you how to properly go rafting. Plus, he or she is there to give you instructions on how to make it through each obstacle safely. It is important to listen closely to everything the instructor says while white water rafting, especially in the beginning when he is teaching proper paddling technique and what to do if you fall out of the raft. Overall white water rafting is a safe experience, especially when paired with an experienced whitewater rafting guide.

Another important thing to decide and have worked out before signing up to go white water rafting is who exactly is going to be with you. While you can sign up by yourself in most places, and doing so provides a fantastic experience to get to meet others, many find it better to go with a friend or a group of friends. Especially, if they have not gone whitewater rafting before in the past. The rafting experience is all about bonding with others around you, and going with friends, family or group members is a great way to strengthen bonds.

By fully understanding how to find the best places to go white water rafting, deciding who is going to go with you and knowing what to expect on the day you arrive to go rafting, you can eliminate anxiety that may otherwise exist beforehand. Therefore, you can instead focus on having a good time with other members of your rafting crew.

The goal of whitewater rafting is to have fun and experience a unique, outdoor adventure that is breathtaking. In addition, it’s imperative to stay prepared at all times.

Best Places to Go White Water Rafting

Almost every state in the US offers various places to go white water rafting. From state parks to independent organizations, there are a wide variety of places that offer white water rafting trips. For those who prefer to go rafting locally, more often than not you can find a place near you that offers quality rafting trips with an experienced guide on a river.

The most important thing to take into account when choosing a place to go white water rafting for the first time is the level of the river, or the grade as to how dangerous the river or body of water is. It is highly recommended to go with a more scenic route the first time you raft. Save the more extreme, fast-paced whitewater rafting experience for later.

For those who like to go white water rafting outside of their local region, there are many places to try out. All of which should provide a fun experience in some of the most scenic and adventurous places in the United States, and beyond.

The following are ten of the best places to go white water rafting inside the United States. Some organizations presented below even offer rafting trips in Europe and various other parts of the world as well.

 

10 of the Best Places to Go White Water Rafting

1.   Destination Backcountry

White Water Destination Backcountry is located in New York and provides amazing white water rafting trips from New York City to Brooklyn and Manhattan. While New York City can be exciting, sometimes it is best to get outside of the bright lights and experience outdoor life on the water.

Destination Backcountry offers skilled guides that teach each individual everything they need to know before setting off on a whitewater rafting trip. Plus, you can customize your own trip. They welcome all skill levels, ranging from beginners who want a simple and easy route, to experienced rafters seeking more of a challenge.

2.   Sourced Adventures

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Sourced Adventures is a very interesting organization that offers white water rafting trips in close to twenty different locations. Whether you want to go white water rafting in the northern part of the United States in cities such as Baltimore, Boston and Chicago or in an international area such as Latin America or Europe, Source Adventures has you covered.

Sourced Adventures offers much more than a whitewater experience. Their rafting is top notch and led by very experienced and skilled trip guides who work hard to ensure the entire group remains safe and has a fun time.

3.   Renaissance Adventure

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Renaissance Adventure also offers a really cool whitewater rafting experience, although they mainly specialize in training those who want to go rafting by themselves. Their classes take place on the Colorado River in Denver, and they welcome anyone of any current skill level.

Renaissance Adventure offers a number of different services, including white water rafting classes, kayaking classes, and swiftwater rescue training. Regardless of whether you want to simply go rafting with a group or learn to go whitewater rafting on your own, Renaissance Adventure has you covered.

4.   Clear Creek Rafting

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Clear Creek Rafting offers some of the best group white water rafting in the state of Colorado, and it is definitely an experience to try out when in the Denver area. Clear Creek Rafting can accommodate the desires and needs of groups of various skill levels, including families with children.

From the exhilarating experience of navigating through the free-flowing rivers to the beautiful scenery surrounding the entire experience, going white water rafting on Clear Creek is definitely an experience not to miss out on. They also have experienced guides to help beginners learn proper technique and stay safe on their first trip out on the river.

5.   Mad Adventures

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Mad Adventures also provides an amazing white water rafting experience on Clear Creek, which drops in the mountains just west of Denver. Mad Adventures offers rafting trips for every skill level, including beginner, intermediate and advanced rafters.

Whether you are with a family and want to simply take in the amazing beauty of being out on Clear Creek, or are with a group of your friends who want to take on the most challenging rapids the river has to offer, Mad Adventures is willing and able to provide exactly the experience you are looking for.

6.   Oregon River Experiences

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The Oregon River is one of the most scenic areas to go white water rafting, and Oregon River Experiences offers guided trips down. They help to ensure safety and an overall fun experience along the way. The trip sets off near Portland and provides one of the most scenic white water rafting experiences in the United States.

Whether you are on vacation or live locally, rafting with the Oregon River Experience is a great way to get out with nature and enjoy a good time out on the water. Oregon River Experiences is the only full-time state-wide river rafting outfitter.

7.   North Woods Rafting

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North Woods Rafting provides white water rafting opportunities for groups of varying skill levels, from families with children to advanced groups of rafters. North Woods Rafting is well known for providing a safe, reliable rafting trip down the river while ensuring every member has a great time along the way.

North Woods Rafting is located in Milan, NH. The drop-in point for white water rafting trips is located on the Androscoggin River. North Woods Rafting is also much more than a white water rafting organization; they offer year-round activities, delicious meals and lodging as well.

8.   Dave Hansen River Trips

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Anyone visiting Wyoming on vacation has to go on a Dave Hansen River Trip, which is one of the most exciting rafting adventures there is. Located in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Dave Hansen River Trips offers whitewater rafting trips for various ages, skill levels and desires. Whether you are a first-time rafter with children or an experienced rafter wanting to try the most intense rapids possible, Dave Hansen River Trips has something for you.

Anyone visiting Wyoming during the summer months should consider rafting with Dave Hansen River Trips. Choose between their scenic routes and their adventure package, and then be sure to check out their other fun outdoor activities as well.

9.   Grand Canyon Whitewater

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The Grand Canyon offers much more than a wonderful hiking experience, and they have one of the best white water rafting experiences in the country with Grand Canyon Whitewater. Grand Canyon Whitewater allows you to customize your trip however you want it, choosing between a more scenic or adventurous experience.

Regardless of the exact route chosen, you are sure to be blown away by the amazing beauty of the Grand Canyon Whitewater and the surrounding aesthetics that the Grand Canyon offers to every visitor. For national rafters, Grand Canyon Whitewater is certainly a place to add to the bucket list.

 

10.   Salt River Rafting

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Arizona is home to many amazing rafting experiences. The Grand Canyon is certainly a great place to try, but many find Salt River – which is located near Phoenix – to be the most amazing experience. Salt River Rafting offers amazing group trips for varying skill and confidence levels.

Salt River Rafting is most recommended for experienced rafters who are not afraid of fast-moving rapids that pose a great challenge, although they also offer more scenic rafting experiences as well. You can also pick a half day, full day or two-day rafting trip.

Things to Consider When White Water Rafting

There are certain things to consider before going white water rafting to ensure you are able to properly prepare for the conditions and environment you and your group members are going into. By knowing every element of the trip that can be expected, you can minimize any anxiety that exists, allowing you to focus more on the trip and having a good time with the other group members.

While there are certain elements of any trip that are essentially unpredictable and surprises can always occur along the way, there are certain things you can do to prepare beforehand. As a result, you can properly plan for potential obstacles during the trip.

Here are the most important factors to consider before going white water rafting:

  • Weather
  • Time
  • Level of difficulty
  • Group members

By having a full understanding of each of these four factors, you can ensure you dress appropriately, keep others with less experience safe and mentally prepare for the obstacles that lie ahead. To further understand how to determine each of the four factors, let’s go into further depth with each one.

Weather

First and foremost, it is important to fully understand what the weather conditions are going to be. The first and best way to get an approximation of the weather is to consider the location. If the weather is typically cold in the area year-round, then there is a chance the weather is going to be colder.

It is also not enough to simply check the temperature before going white water rafting. Instead, it is important to consider the water temperature as well. There are various factors that affect the water temperature, including location, time and whether or not it is cloudy on that particular day.

Time

The time plays a large role in preparation for a white water rafting experience. The time you go affects the weather, particularly the temperature of the water. If you go early in the morning, you may want to dress warmer than if you go in the afternoon on a sunny afternoon.

Additionally, the time you choose to start your rafting adventure dictates the length of time you can spend rafting. If you go later in the afternoon or evening, then you may be limited to a half day event, whereas going earlier allows for more time rafting or possibly participating in other activities as well.

Level of difficulty

The level of difficulty is one of the most important things to consider. After all, it dictates the entire experience, including the level of safety. If you are a beginner or are going rafting with young children, then more than likely you want to choose a more scenic route with level I through level III rapids.

However, more skilled, experienced rafters may be better suited with level IV through level VI rapids, which are much more intense and fast-paced. Thus, providing a rough and real challenge regardless of how skilled you may be.

Group members

The group members you are going with play a large role on many different factors, including the route you choose, the time you go and how long you spend on the water. If you have children or elderly persons with you, then you may opt for a less extreme route that doesn’t go through the night.

If you are going with a group of friends, then you may prefer to stay longer and try out a more adventurous route. Be sure to consult with the other members of your whitewater rafting group before deciding on the details of the trip.

Each factor plays a role in your overall rafting experience along the way. By fully understanding the most important factors to consider, you can ensure everyone has a good time while rafting.

Additionally, it may also be helpful to bring some snacks and sandwiches on the trip, especially if you plan to be out for an extended amount of time. By taking the time in advance to plan every detail, you can know exactly what to expect and not become overwhelmed at any point during the white water rafting trip. Bonus perk: you’ll be able to help others who may be less prepared.

What to Wear White Water Rafting

After determining the various factors that contribute to the conditions of your next whitewater rafting experience, it is then time to determine exactly what you are going to wear on the trip. Choosing the right outfit is more difficult than simply picking clothes that match and look good. Instead, you should dress according to the weather and ensure safety by wearing the proper headgear and shoes.

In order to fully understand what to wear when white water rafting, let’s go over each layer and what is appropriate in various weather conditions.

Top

Most white water rafting takes place when the weather’s warm, which makes preparing for the conditions much easier. However, there are times when the weather may be much colder, and more precaution needs to be taken to ensure you stay warm while out on the water when rafting.

In the event the weather is cold, it is best to wear long sleeves and layer up as much as possible. If the weather conditions are very cold, you may want to consider wearing either a drysuit or a wetsuit. It is important to check both the temperature and the projected water temperature when determining if the conditions are going to be cold.

If the weather is warm, then choosing a top to wear is much simpler, and the most important thing to strive for is comfort. For many, wearing a sleeveless shirt is a good route when white water rafting in warm weather, although a bathing suit is often the best route for many.

Bottom

If the weather is warm and you do not mind wearing a bathing suit, then wearing a bathing suit is probably the best route. For men, this would be in the form of swimming trunks, whereas women may prefer to wear a bikini bottom, although a one piece is recommended. Shorts may work well for mild conditions as well.

If the weather is cold, however, things become much trickier. Most wetsuits and drysuits are full body, so the choice is simple if deciding to go with either of those. However, you can also wear dry pants alone if you would prefer to pair it with a long sleeve shirt on top.

Regardless of the exact bottom chosen with your outfit, the important thing is to ensure you plan properly for the weather conditions and know what to expect heading in, especially on the bottom in order to keep your legs warm.

Headwear

In almost every instance – especially when white water rafting in level IV and up rapids – you are going to be required to wear a helmet while rafting. As a result, you are limited to how much freedom you have to wear a cool hat or other accessory on your head. However, if the weather is a little nippy, then you may want to consider keeping your ears warm in the event you go overboard. You can simply wear earmuffs to keep your ears warm.

If the weather is warm, the important thing is to stay comfortable. Consider wearing a ball cap underneath your helmet if allowed. Also, ensure you wear enough sunscreen on your face and neck to prevent getting burned while out on the water, even if it’s not sunny or hot.

Most importantly, be sure to choose a helmet that fits very well and is protective. Be sure to strap your helmet on tight and secure. Take the time to make every other member of the group does so as well.

Shoes

The key in choosing the proper footwear for whitewater rafting is to ensure you do not come home with fewer shoes than you started with. When white water rafting, it is very easy to lose a shoe, especially when navigating through fast rapids.

Therefore, it is often best to invest in a pair of water shoes that tie up securely to your feet. That way, they stand little to no chance of coming off in the event you fall out of the raft on multiple occasions.

It is important to also choose shoes that keep your feet protected. There are going to be times when you may be required to walk across rocks or expose your feet to damage if you fall out of the raft. Wearing strong, secure shoes is a great way to prevent any damage to your feet – or the loss of a good pair of shoes – during your whitewater trip.

It is important to dress properly for your white water rafting trip. Not only for added safety but also to stay comfortable the entire time. When not wearing the proper attire, you put yourself at risk of being uncomfortable during the trip.

On the other hand, dressing appropriately helps you worry less about what you are wearing and feeling uncomfortable. Therefore, you can focus more on having a good time with your group members the entire time.

Accessories for White Water Rafting

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Along with dressing appropriately, there are various accessories you are going to want to bring with you on your white water rafting adventure. By coming prepared with the necessary accessories, you can ensure you have a fantastic rafting experience without worrying about missing items along the way.

Here are the most important accessories to bring white water rafting, along with various optional accessories based upon preference:

  • Water bottle
  • Snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Change of clothes
  • Extra towels
  • Sunglasses
  • Waterproof camera
  • Headlamp

By accessing all accessories, you want or need to bring with you on the trip, you can create a checklist so you don’t forget anything.

Water bottle

Water is the most essential element to a great white water rafting experience. Not only is it responsible for propelling you down the river, but it is also responsible for keeping you hydrated on a hot, sunny day. Most rafting adventures require great effort to paddle and make it down the rapids. You are likely to sweat a lot and become thirsty from the hot sun, which is why sipping on water throughout the trip can be very helpful.

Sunscreen/bug spray

Sunscreen and bug spray are two of the easiest items to forget to bring on your whitewater adventure. However, it is important to remember these items as forgetting them can lead to discomfort after the trip. By simply lathering up with sunscreen, you can prevent sunburn on a hot sunny day. Since bugs can become annoying on a whitewater trip as well, it is also helpful to use bug spray beforehand.

Change of clothes/towels

There is nothing worse than forgetting to bring a towel to dry off with and a change of clothes. It can cause you to feel very uncomfortable in your wet bathing suit or clothes. Plus, you’ll get your vehicle wet on the way back home. Be sure to properly plan ahead by bringing extra towels and determining what you are going to wear after the whitewater rafting trip is over.

Sunglasses

The sun can be brutal while out on the water. Not only can the sun lead to sunburn, but it can also reflect off of the water and cause a glare that makes it hard to see. This can be avoided, however, by wearing a pair of sunglasses while rafting. Of course, it is essential to ensure the sunglasses have a retainer strap to keep them from falling off your head and into the water. Sunglasses are incredibly useful when rafting on a hot, sunny day.

Waterproof camera

Lastly, a waterproof camera can be a fantastic way to capture the memories you create out on the water. While it is important to ensure the waterproof camera is well secured and does not get lost in the water, it can be incredibly useful while out rafting. For best use, try using a GoPro- the hands-free waterproof camera that attaches to your body. You may also want to consider wearing a headlamp as well.

White Water Rafting Safety Tips

One of the reasons white water rafting is such an amazing adventure is due to the exhilarating, adventurous nature of it. Even the mildest whitewater rafting trips contain some sort of risk that brings excitement and an adrenaline rush.

However, the most important thing is to stay safe while out on the water. In order to remain safe at all times, it is important to know useful safety tips.

Here are the six most important safety tips to remember while white water rafting:

  1. Choose your outfit carefully
  2. Always wear a life jacket
  3. Learn how to paddle
  4. Prepare for bumps
  5. Learn the commands
  6. Stay calm at all times

Choose your outfit carefully

As we have already discussed, it is very important to learn the various factors that affect the weather and dress accordingly. In order to determine the weather conditions, determine the temperature, water temperature, time and location of the event, which should give an indication of how cold the air and water is going to be.

In the event the water is going to be cold, be prepared by dressing in appropriate clothing to stay warm. If the weather is warm, staying cool and dressing light is likely a much better idea. The most important thing to remember is to dress for maximum comfort, rather than style.

Always wear a life jacket

Although it seems obvious, it is important to wear a life jacket. When white water rafting with a guide, she or he is likely to require you to wear the life jacket securely. Be sure to wear a life jacket that is in good condition and fits well to prevent the jacket from falling off during the trip.

If you are white water rafting on your own, then you may be tempted to go without wearing a life jacket, especially if you have a lot of experience and feel confident in your rafting and swimming abilities. However, anything can happen while out in the water, and it is important to stay safe at all times.

Learn how to paddle

It is very important to listen to the instructor before drop-in as they are likely to go over the proper paddling technique when rafting. When every member of the group knows exactly how to paddle and takes it seriously, making it through the river becomes much easier.

In the event you do not know how to paddle, and the guide or instructor does not cover it, be sure to ask the guide about proper paddling techniques. From holding the paddle correctly to the proper stroke motions, if you know how to use the paddle it will take less effort to make it down the river. Plus, you’ll have more fun and less stress.

Prepare for bumps

There are going to be bumps along the way when white water rafting, and there is a good chance you may fall out at some point during the trip. However, it is best to not try and fall out (not as obvious as that sounds) and stay in the raft whenever possible.

The trip guide is likely to have a command word (see below) for when a bump comes up that may carry a risk of propelling you out of the raft. Be sure to take proper precaution by bracing yourself and following the proper safety technique in order to stay in the raft.

Learn the commands

Before drop-in, your guide is going to go over a series of commands they may use during the trip to help keep you safe and communicate with you in a fast, effective manner when sudden obstacles present themselves. It is important to listen closely while your guide goes over the commands so that you know what to do when obstacles occur.

On a broader level, your guide is your friend, and it is important to listen to everything she or he says during the trip. Furthermore, make sure you listen carefully and know all of the commands. By doing so, you can prevent falling out of the raft and minimize your risk of injury during the trip.

Stay calm at all times

One of the things that makes white water rafting so exciting is that it can be very unpredictable. Unlike other trips, not everything is planned out and unexpected things occur that can change the course of your trip. It is easy to become overwhelmed when unexpected happenings occur.

The most important thing to remember while white water rafting is to stay calm at all times and handle each moment by slowing things down in your head. If you fall out of the raft, for example, do not panic. Instead, remember the proper procedure and realize that you are in good hands with your guide.

Conclusion

White water rafting is one of the most exciting adventures out there. Plus, it is a great way to bond with those you are close with, creating fun and meaningful memories.

By ensuring you know all of the conditions of the trip beforehand and properly plan for any obstacles that may occur during the trip, you can ensure your own safety and focus on having a good time.

 

Be sure to dress appropriately, bring the necessary accessories and follow the most important safety measures. That way, you will be ready for your time white water rafting. Most importantly, be sure to stay calm, listen to your guide and – above all else – have fun!

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