White Water Rafting

White water rafting is a thrilling way to connect with nature. It can be challenging and adrenaline-inducing, testing your bravery and limitations, or it can be calm and quiet. Typically, you’ll careen down a river in a large inflatable boat using oars for steering, while splashing through white rapids and dodging rocks. Depending on the difficulty level you choose, you might find yourself relaxing on serene waters or plunging into whitewater waves. Fortunately, if you are inexperienced, you can bring along an expert tour guide. What is whitewater rafting? Simply put, it’s the adventure of a lifetime.


Although the rafts that will take you down the river are inflatable, they are actually quite durable and designed for this purpose. All the riders will be equipped with life jackets and seated on stable cross tubes inside the boat. There are handles and ropes, and sometimes even footholds, that passengers can use for support.

You will also have an expert river guide who knows how to control the raft and navigate through varying water conditions. Your guide will sit in the back of the raft, in the center, and have the most steering power, as well as a good view of what’s ahead. He or she will instruct the group members along the way as everyone helps to paddle the boat.

As long as the members of the group pay attention and follow directions, your rafting experience will be both safe and extremely fun.


River rafting tour companies use a scale to label the difficulty and danger level of the rapids. Class I rapids are the most gentle, and Class V are the most intense. You may occasionally hear of Class VI rapids, which are considered “unrunnable.” If weather conditions cause the rapids to reach this stage, your trip will be rescheduled. Check out some other popular rafting terms below.

  • Cartwheeling – A technique used to spin around a rock when hitting it is unavoidable.

  • Dig in – Your guide may instruct you to “dig in,” or put your paddle deep in the water for more power.

  • Dump truck – When a raft dumps out its occupants, but doesn’t flip over.

  • Gnarly or Hairy – These words are used interchangeably to refer to a difficult move or section of the river.

  • Line – The best route through the rapids.


As mentioned earlier, with the right tour guide and equipment, any hardworking and attentive group should be able to experience the joys of whitewater rafting safely. However, there are also specific safety measures that can help you prepare.

  • Sunscreen – Yes, protecting your skin from harmful UV rays and heat is an important safety measure.

  • Life jackets – Every rider will be required to wear a life jacket, regardless of swimming ability.

  • Helmets – Riders will also wear helmets to protect them in case of a fall.

  • Paddles – Paddles are used to steer away from rocks and guide the boat safely.

  • Close-toed shoes – Water shoes or close-toed tennis shoes are important in case you do end up in the water. There are rocks on the bottom of the rivers that can easily hurt you.

  • Proper clothing – Avoid heavy clothing that will weigh you down in the water. In colder temperatures, wear layers and choose fabrics that dry easily.

  • Reputable guides – Always choose a company with experienced guides who are familiar with the area.

  • Weather – Check the weather reports before heading out on the river.


Now that you know what whitewater rafting is, you need to decide where to go. One of the most popular locations in the U.S. for whitewater rafting trips is Yellowstone National Park, beginning in Gardiner, MT.

Elsewhere in the U.S., you can:

  • See the Grand Canyon while floating the Colorado River.

  • Brave over 35 miles of Class V rapids on the Gauley River in West Virginia.

  • Watch for wildlife in granite canyons on the Salmon River in Idaho.

  • Glide along the glacial Nenana River near Mt McKinley in Alaska.

Check out Wild West Rafting to start planning your next adventure, complete with whitewater rafting and lodging. Plus, find other fun activities you can enjoy nearby for a complete outdoor vacation.