Fun comes in degrees with whitewater rafting. You can choose a calm ride, where your river guide does the rowing and you relax and take pictures, or you can choose a trip where you’ll assist the guide by paddling frantically while he or she shouts “four forward,” or “five backward,” so you won’t high-side the raft on the huge rocks right in front of you. Here are 10 memorable and adrenaline-inducing rafting trips.
Grand Canyon, Arizona, U.S.A.: Observe eons of colorful history, etched into the steep walls of the Grand Canyon gorge, when you raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. On a rafting trip here, you’ll alternately float downstream or plunge through massive rapids. After a day on the water, you’ll sleep on a sandy beach under a star-bright sky. Rafting the Grand Canyon & Utah ( 800/222-6966 or 702/655-6060; www.raftingthegrandcanyon.com). Western River Expeditions ( 866/904-1160 or 801/942-6669; www.westernriver.com).
Apurímac River, Peru: On Peru’s Apurímac River, you can raft beneath steep canyon walls until you reach pastoral valleys and a tropical rainforest. Expect lots of Class III and IV rapids, and an occasional Class V. These trips usually last about 4 days. If you can escape for 12 days, raft on the Tambopata River, which runs through the Tambopata-Candamo National Park. www.andreantravelweb.com/peru.
White Nile, Uganda: This river flows from vast Lake Victoria, and has both wild and mild stretches. Float past untouched woodlands or rock and roll in rapids reaching Class V. Here, you’ll find some of the most outstanding technical rafting through sustained rapids in the world. Don’t be surprised if you flip, race over waterfalls, or high-side on huge rocks. You’ll lunch on islands in the middle of the river, and camp where there is African music and dancing. A trip down this part of the Nile should only be part of a trip to Uganda. Nile River Explorers ( 256/772-ADRIFT ; www.raftafrica.com). Adrift ( 256/312-237-438; www.adrift.ug).
Rafting in Croatia: The rivers near Croatia’s coast are lined with lush vegetation and karstic canyons. Much of the rafting is on rivers with Class II and II rapids, and the occasional IV rapid. The season on the dam-controlled Dobra River is May to November. On the Cetina river you’ll pass by caves and waterfalls while rafting by verdant shores. A raft trip on the Neretva starts right below one of the highest waterfalls in Europe. Hidden Croatia ( 44/207-594-0600; www.hiddencroatia.com). Dalmatia Rafting ( 385/21-321-698; www.dalmatiarafting.com).
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, U.S.A.: The first part of the 8-mile (13km) trip through the Grand Canyon of the Snake River is a good warm-up for the big waves on the second half of the ride. On the 16-mile (26km) Upper Canyon Continuous Combo, you float down the river through eagle-nesting habitat for half the trip, then paddle through the Grand Canyon of the Snake for the final 8-mile (13km) stretch of rapids. Dave Hansen Whitewater and Scenic River Trips ( 800/732-6295 or 307/733-6295; www.davehansenwhitewater.com).
Gauley River and New River, West Virginia, U.S.A.: The snowmelt from the Appalachian Mountains fills the Gauley River and the New River, making this an exciting rafting spot. The 26-mile (42km) stretch of river drops 650 feet (195m), so you’ll be rafting through big holes and waves that will drench you. Consider the drops and big waves on the Lower Gauley stretch a warm-up. The upper Gauley, where the rapids drop 15 to 35 feet (4.5–11m) in less than a 1⁄4 mile (.4km), is technically demanding. Some of the rapids are rated V+. Rides on the Gauley begin the first weekend after Labor Day and continue for five 4-day weekends and a 2-day weekend. New & Gauley River Adventures ( 800-SKY-RAFT [759-7238]; www.gauley.com).
Royal Gorge, Colorado, U.S.A.: On this stretch of the Arkansas River, you raft through rapids with names like Sledgehammer and the Narrows, which can reach Class IV and V when the water is high. The river flows through sheer 1,100-foot-high (330m) cliffs during this stretch. If you want to do lots of paddling, ask about the adrenaline rafts that only hold four people. Families might enjoy the raft and ride trip, which includes a ride on a passenger train with dome and dining cars that runs along the top of the gorge. Echo Canyon River Expeditions ( 800/755-3246; www.royalgorgerafting.com).
Tuolumne River, California, U.S.A.: The 27 miles (43km) you can raft on the Tuolumne River, which originates in Yosemite National Park, blends a wilderness experience with the excitement of challenging Class IV and V rapids. On one trip, you can start with big jolts, as you go over rapids with names like Nemesis and Rock Garden, then hone your paddling skills as you descend over drops, through chutes and maneuver around boulders. You’re getting ready for a swift ride through Clavey Falls, a series of three staircase drops. Occasionally, there will be calmer water, where you can catch your breath. Peace comes at night while camping alongside the river. Outdoor Adventure River Specialists ( 800/346-6277 or 209/736-4677; www.oars.com).
Pacuare River, Costa Rica: The Pacuare River winds through pristine rainforest in the Cabecar Indian Reservation. The Upper Upper, the Upper, and the Lower—the three sections of the river that are rafted most often—vary in degree of difficulty. The 26km (16-mile) long stretch called the Upper Upper has Class II to IV rapids, while the more technical Upper, a 16km (10-mile) stretch of whitewater with waterfalls, portages, and Class IV and V rapids, is more commonly run in kayaks. On the Lower, with its Class III and IV rapids, rafters see waterfalls flowing into the river. Trips range from 1 to 4 days and can include stays at a remote eco-lodge, where guests can go ziplining and hiking with a nature guide. Rios Tropicales ( 866/722-8273; www.riostropicales.com).
Zambezi River, Zimbabwe/Zambia: The Zambezi River is considered one of the top-10 rivers in the world for whitewater rafting enthusiasts. Below the thundering Victoria Falls, rafters encounter long stretches of technically difficult rapids, big drops, and massive holes as the Zambezi flows through the narrow Batoka Gorge. Safari Par Excellence ( 44/845-2930512; www.whitewater.safpar.com). Bio Bio Expeditions Worldwide ( 800/246-7238 or 530/582-6865; www.bbxrafting.com).