Embrace your adventurous spirit, challenge your physical endurance and bond with friends or family on a whitewater rafting excursion. In addition to being a fun, physical activity and a great way to build camaraderie, navigating the rapids also offers one more serious perk –breathtaking scenery. West Virginia, Tennessee, Colorado, Costa Rica … no matter the destination, rafting rivers deliver exhilarating adventure and natural beauty.

What you need to know

If you haven’t experienced this adventure yet, check out some tips for first timers, including what to do if you fall out of the boat, what to wear and how to help your guide navigate the river and rapids. Check out this great list of safety tips to keep in mind before you head out on your excursion. Also familiarize yourself with the whitewater rafting lingo so that when your guide indicates that you will be cartwheeling the boat or executing a double-oar turn, he isn’t met with blank stares.

When researching your trip, take note of a river’s classification. Classes refer to the intensity of the ride with Class I being the easiest and Class V testing the skills of even experienced rafters with raging rapids, drops and obstacles. If this trip is a family affair with young children or grandparents, consider dipping your toes in the Class I or II waters first.  

Picking your destination

There is no shortage of adventurous destinations from which to choose, including the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon or the Salmon River in Idaho. Arizona has nine different rafting companies offering adventures through the Grand Canyon from half-day trips to two-week journeys. But make sure you plan ahead, as a lot of trips sell out in advance. Check out a few other top rafting destinations for families from Family Vacation Critic.

If you’re not heading west, there are plenty of spots in the east and Midwest, including the Youghiogheny River outside of Pittsburgh and Deerfield River in Massachusetts. Both destinations have a relatively long season and a variety of classes for rafters of all ages. And, if you want to plan other fun family adventures, the Youghiogheny River is only 30 minutes south of Pittsburgh and the Deerfield River is about two hours outside of Boston so you can add some city exploring to your itinerary.

For the more experienced rafters, this roundup of 20 legendary destinations should be added to your bucket list. The list includes the Zambezi River bordering Zimbabwe and Zambia, Futafeufu River in Chile and Ottawa River in Canada (which includes a 15-foot waterfall).

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