Going Wild for America's Rivers: The 10 Coolest Waterway Adventures

From whitewater rafting to kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding, discover rip-roaring river adventures.

By Amy Whitley, Contributor |Jan. 12, 2018, at 3:08 p.m.

Going Wild for America's Rivers: The 10 Coolest Waterway Adventures

Slideshow

Test your limits on thrilling rafting, floating and kayaking trips.

People rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River through deep canyons. Idaho, USA.

(Getty Images)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Wild and Scenic River Act, which protects and preserves the country's most prized waterways. In honor of the occasion, we've rounded up can't-miss water adventures across remote and popular rivers – whether you want to enjoy floating on a tranquil tributary or explore a rural waterway by kayak or canoe. So, if you're ready for an exhilarating water-based adventure, grab your paddle and escape on a river adventure to remember in 2018.

Raft the Rogue in southwestern Oregon.

Raft the Rogue in southwestern Oregon.

Scenic view of river and forested canyon

(Getty Images)

The Rogue River's Wild and Scenic lower section runs from 7 miles west of Grants Pass at Grave Creek to about 11 miles east of Gold Beach, not far from where the Rogue spills out into the Pacific Ocean. Dotted with Class I, II, III and IV rapids, the Rogue makes for an excellent entry-level multiday river-rafting adventure for families seeking a guided tour. Raft with reputable outfitter O.A.R.S. on a two- to five-day adventure and let its experienced guides do the heavy lifting.

Fish along the Trinity in California.

Fish along the Trinity in California.

A boy puts a fishing net over his grandfather's head.

(Getty Images)

A major tributary to the Klamath River, the Trinity River begins in the rugged Trinity Alps of Northern California and runs through some of the state's most scenic wilderness areas before connecting with the Klamath. Aside from excellent salmon and steelhead fishing along the Trinity, there are many fishing lodges, cabins and rustic resorts dotting state Route 299, with river access at various spots. Trinity River Adventure Inn River Cabins offers an ideal home base, where outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking when they're not hooking a line.

Canoe across the Loxahatchee River in Florida.

Canoe across the Loxahatchee River in Florida.

Jonathan Dickinson Florida State Park in Martin County showing Loxahatchee River and rows of blue kayaks on wooden dock

(Getty Images)

Florida's first Wild and Scenic River, the Loxahatchee's 8.5 mile designated paddling trail runs from Palm Beach County's Riverbend Park to Martin County's Jonathan Dickinson State Park. You can opt to tackle the Loxahatchee in one downstream run or paddle back from one of the two parks in either a canoe or a kayak. Paddling across the entire trail takes between five and seven hours, with stops at points of interest along the way, like Juniper Beach. If you're unfamiliar with the area's tidal flows and current, it's wise to go with a reputable outfitter based in Florida.

Camp along the banks of the Salmon River in Idaho.

Camp along the banks of the Salmon River in Idaho.

Idaho, White water rafting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

(Getty Images)

Raft amid the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness along the Main Salmon River in Idaho and enjoy 80 miles of untouched wilderness. Each evening is spent camping riverside on soft, sandy beaches that slope toward the lapping water. This Wild and Scenic section requires extensive permits for overnight camping and rafting, a logistical hassle that can be avoided by reserving a trip with a venerable travel company like O.A.R.S. Plan to spend up to six nights navigating the Main Salmon River, with plenty of side trips to hot springs, abandoned cabins and deserted gold panning sites.

Float along the Flathead River in Montana.

Float along the Flathead River in Montana.

Glacier National Park, Inside the Northfork Road, Montana

(Getty Images)

The entire north and middle forks of the Flathead River in Montana is designated as Wild and Scenic, with many stretches suitable for lazy spring and summertime floating. Consider timing your floating experience in conjunction with a visit to scenic Glacier National Park; half-day and full-day float trips are offered by many outfitters in proximity to the park. Float through canyons on emerald-green waters and plan to see osprey, eagles, deer and beavers, among other wildlife.

Kayak in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park.

Kayak in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park.

Scenic View Of River And Snowcapped Mountains At Grand Teton National Park.

(Getty Images)

Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park is large enough to easily get lost in. It can feel like a quiet oasis, despite the number of motorized boats that flock to this scenic body of water. Guided kayaking services will take you onto the water for two- to three-day expeditions. Or if you're an experienced kayaker, you can opt to go it alone. Campsites dot the banks along the lake, all with gorgeous views of the Tetons in the foreground. Outfitters like O.A.R.S. will offer side trips to nearby smaller lakes and streams, allowing you to feel a world apart from the park crowds.

Explore the Klamath River in Oregon and Northern California.

Explore the Klamath River in Oregon and Northern California.

Boy river rafting with family.

(Getty Images)

Oregon and Northern California's Klamath River is one of the best waterways for beginners, with long stretches that are ideal for families with young children. This part of southern Oregon remains warm and dry in the summer months, and the Klamath's sandy banks make for ideal campsites. Stargazing is excellent here, as the skies stay clear and bright, and it remains relatively easy to snag a permit for this river, ensuring your summer vacation won't hit a snag.

Get an adrenaline rush on Washington's White Salmon River.

Get an adrenaline rush on Washington's White Salmon River.

Spirit Falls is the most beautiful and popular fall at Columbia Gorge, WA.

(Getty Images)

Located in the Columbia River Gorge in Washington, the White Salmon River can run fast, depending on the time of year. Operations such as Wet Planet Whitewater can take you and your group on a daylong adventure for all ages. Thrilling as much as invigorating, the journey includes a series of rapids before floating under majestic pines and along waterfalls tumbling into the river canyon that was once a lava tube. In fact, you can make a brief stop into a shallow basalt cave formed by lava as it cooled millions of years ago.

Take a plunge on the Deschutes River in Oregon.

Take a plunge on the Deschutes River in Oregon.

a view of the Deschutes River in Oregon

(Getty Images)

Central Oregon may be known for beer and snow sports (don't skip sampling both during your visit), but the Deschutes River cuts through the lava fields and dry forests of this part of the country to make for an invigorating adventure. Outfitter Sun Country Tours will take your party on a half-day trip that warms up on Class I and II rapids before tackling the Class III rapids known as Big Eddy. Afterward, you'll laugh your way through a few smaller rapids.

Float along the Deerfield River in Massachusetts.

Float along the Deerfield River in Massachusetts.

Laughing family embracing before swim in river on summer afternoon

(Getty Images)

Located in the heart of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, the Deerfield River offers a scenic float through one of the most picturesque destinations along the East Coast. Book a trip with adventure outfitter Zoar Outdoor, which can guide you through a daytrip peppered with information about the local natural landscape and wildlife. If you're craving more excitement, the Deerfield River is also a prime spot for swimming and floating along calmer stretches.

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Amy Whitley is a family travel writer, editor, and columnist based in Southern Oregon. An avid traveler, backpacker, skier and hiker, Amy has written about family and outdoor experiences for local and national publications since 2009. Amy authors the NWKids column in OutdoorsNW Magazine, is the Southern Oregon ambassador for Travel Oregon, works as a gear reviewer for multiple outdoor brands, and is founder of family travel site Pit Stops for Kids. Amy has been a U.S. News Travel contributor since 2015. Follow her on Twitter @pitsopsforkids.

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