The experience of a rafting trip is a thrill: flat water interspersed with rapids, exhilaration alternating with relaxation, the adventure undulating with every twist and turn of the river’s course. On a summer day, a float is one of the best things you can do to relax and shake off the summer heat. While some may choose to enjoy the waters within the comfort close to home, a much bigger venue for the ultimate summer float awaits in the canyons and gorges of the West.
To really appreciate a river’s power, scenery, and serenity, you need to float the river for more than a day’s time. With summer just around the corner, now is the time to plan ahead and put together the kind of multi-day float to remember. Well, you came to the right place. Although by no means comprehensive, here are seven of the best floats in the West.
- Lower Main Salmon River, 5 days: One of the longest free-flowing rivers in the U.S. in its second-deepest canyon, this 62-mile stretch of the Salmon in Washington is rugged, with difficult rapids peaking at Class IV. The area boasts one of the highest concentrations of nesting raptors in the world, and its white sandy shores make for excellent camping.
- Snake River, 2 days: Described as a classic multi-day, this is a mellower and shorter float in the nation’s deepest river canyon. The area is busy with jet boats, and be advised that permits are difficult to obtain, but the scenery is among the most striking you’ll find outside of the Grand Canyon.
- Grand Canyon of the Colorado, 16 days: Speaking of the Grand Canyon. This is the preeminent float in North America, with canyon walls that rise thousands of feet above the river’s edge. The waiting list for permits can take years, so unless you’re planning the journey on your own, go with a guiding service.
- Middle Fork of the Salmon River, 6 days: another fantastic float, this stretch of the Middle Fork of the Salmon runs 100 miles through three distinct forest ecoregions, alpine forest, Douglas fir and lodgepole pine, and ponderosa at lower elevations. The final 30 miles include the third-deepest river gorge in North America, Impassable Canyon.
- Owyhee River, 4 days: This 49 miles of the Owyhee includes some of the most remote territory in the Pacific Northwest. The Oregon Outback offers a striking desert ecosystem for birdwatchers and geologists who will marvel at the canyon colors and sage grouse, whose distinctive calls will resound from the leks where they strut. The float is mellow with rapids that peak at Class III+.
- John Day River, 5 days: From its source in the Strawberry Mountains of Oregon, the John Day River has only one significant rapid over this 70-mile stretch. Other than the Class III Clarno Rapid, this float cuts a mellow, non-technical course through central Oregon. It is one of Oregon’s most popular floats, peaking in May and June before the flows diminish in mid-summer.
- Rogue River, 4 days: The Rogue River is one of the wildest remaining in the Lower 48. Exiting the remote and isolated Klamath Mountains, this four-day, 34-mile stretch of river follows a stunning course on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Rapids peak at Class IV, and lower stretches of this section allow for the use of motorboats—be advised!