If you’ve rafted before, you know the feeling. Floating on crystal clear water, surrounded on both sides by untouched wilderness. Bald eagles circle lazily over a sheer cliff. A fox and its litter drink from the river’s edge. The earthy smell of pine and dirt mixed with the babble of water – so grounding that for a moment, you almost forget that you’ve got a thousand emails waiting for you when you get home. And then, your guide tells you that it’s time to start paddling …
Suddenly you remember why you’ve got a helmet on your head, plus you already have a bruise on your cheek from a flailing limb earlier in the day and you vaguely recall that, during the pre-trip safety meeting, someone mentioned a former guest and a snapped femur. Now a class four rapid awaits – what you fear the most, but also what you’ve come for. Before you know it, the current catches you and the next few seconds are an odd amalgamation of yelling and exhilaration with a smattering of blacking out. Faster than you can say “dry bag,” the water smooths out. Your heart pounds, and you are more alive than you can ever remember. The hiking and biking and the fresh air are great, but this is why you’ve come to the mountains.
When it comes to adventure vacation, rarely is there a higher pinnacle for the trip than the day you decide to hit the rapids. No matter what part of the country you’re in, or how many days you’re on the water, river rafting is a must for every mountain-bound adventurer. Here are a few of our picks for the most incredible rafting adventures across the country.
When thinking about rafting, Colorado is, more often than not, the first state that comes to an Okie’s mind – and with good reason. A day’s drive away, Colorado offers countless opportunities to get into the water. Among our favorites is Echo Canyon River Expeditions on the Arkansas River. One of the largest in the state and celebrating 41 years in business, Echo Canyon runs not only half-day to multi-day white-water rafting opportunities, but also the 8 Mile Bar and Grill, private outdoor event spaces and an outdoor game area. Last year, they also opened the luxury Royal Gorge Cabins, in addition to four glamping tents.
The Mountain Lakes region of South Carolina is one of the country’s greatest wilderness areas. The lakes and streams are ripe with outdoor adventure opportunities, and rafting is certainly one of them. This year, the Chattooga River celebrates its 50th anniversary as a “Wild and Scenic River,” and “wild” and “scenic” describe it perfectly. WildWater Rafting offers zip-line canopy tours and on-site yurt lodging, and their guides create some of the best rafting opportunities on the east side of the country.
Few states offer as many unique travel opportunities as Oregon, and Southern Oregon is exploding with incredible things to do. Quaint towns such as Medford and Ashland boast innovative farm-to-table restaurants, and the wine country is unrivaled. Crater Lake is one of the country’s most striking national parks, but if you want to really get down and dirty in Oregon, rafting the Rogue River or the Upper Klamath are the best ways to do it.
Both Momentum River Expeditions and Indigo Creek Outfitters offer a variety of rafting opportunities. Momentum focuses on high-end trips that are as short as half a day or that run up to nine days. Momentum’s effort in organic cuisine and the camping experience is as great as the rapids you will raft. Indigo Creek Outfitters offers an assortment of opportunities to get on the water and incorporate local brews, wines and stand-up paddle boarding into their adventures.
► Tips for Your Trips
The 405 travel team talked to Riversport OKC rafting manager Andre Reyes for tips on how to make the most of your river rafting adventure, and here is what he had to say:
• Be prepared. Wear the right gear. This includes clothes you’re comfortable getting wet in and secure shoes, such as tennis shoes or secure sandals.
• Remember sunscreen. And wear it. Nothing ruins a trip more than a sunburn.
• Gear up. The organization you’re rafting with may provide personal floatation devices and a helmet. If not, bring your own. Make sure you get the right size, and have a friend help you tighten the straps for a snug fit.
• Safety first! Be clear regarding levels of difficulty. This isn’t the wild river ride at your local theme park. Rivers are classified on a scale from one to six – one being a meandering river to six being an intense waterfall. Before you head out, call a local kayak center or your guide and ask about the conditions of the river.
• If you don’t want to lose it, don’t bring it. Don’t bring anything that you wouldn’t mind losing overboard. If you’re going to wear sunglasses, get a strap to keep them on your head, or be prepared to lose them forever.
• Paddle! It takes a team to get a raft safely down the river. Be ready to work! Your guide should teach a series of commands before hitting the water; do as you’re told and everyone will be fine. If your guide feels like he or she can’t rely on the crew, they’ll avoid the most exciting rapids.
• Raft (almost) all year long. Whitewater rafting is just as much fun in the spring as it is in the summer. On cooler days, wear non-cotton clothing or a wet suit. We rent splash jackets at Riversport Rapids.
• Get ready to have fun. You wouldn’t be on the river if you didn’t want to have fun! Relax, get to know your raft mates and your guide and enjoy your trip.
► Elaine Warner is… Adventure Grandma
The soubriquet “Adventure Grandma” is about half right: I am definitely a grandma. Most of the wildest things I’ve done have been to score points with my three grandsons, and since the boys are grown now, I don’t have to do those things. But I don’t mind watching others do them. That’s what I did when I visited Columbus, Georgia.
Columbus is on the Chattahoochee River. When I was there in 2007, there wasn’t much going on along their riverfront, but by the time I visited again in 2016 – wow, what a change.
That year, they started construction on what is described by USA Today as “one of the top 12 man-made adventures in the world.” Two dams were breached to create the world’s longest white-water urban rafting venue. By changing the amount of water released from the existing dams, they can create a 2.5-mile run with Class I to III rapids or a wilder ride with Class III to V rapids. More placid places on the river are perfect for even beginning kayakers.
In 2008, the only thing that got exercised for me was my patience, when I visited the Columbus Museum. I’m usually a gracious guest, but I was put off when the first thing I saw at the museum was a list of rules. No photography … and no pens. They handed us stubby golf course pencils. No way! If I couldn’t take pictures and I had to write with a tiny pencil, I would not write about them. And I didn’t.
A few years later, I needed an idea for an article and I remembered the museum. “Maybe I was just having an off day when I was there,” I thought. I went to the website and watched a video. The museum looked great – until the middle of the video, when they read out all the rules, and I got cheesed off all over again. So, no article!
Now, remembering my second visit and the great tie to this month’s travel theme, I thought about Columbus. In addition to the river, they have other great attractions. I called the museum. The staff has changed and the rules have relaxed a bit. Marketing Director Brigette Russell was charming and invited me back, promising me a personal tour.
I’d like to go back, and maybe I will choose the museum instead of the Class VI rapids. But if anyone hands me a stubby little pencil, someone’s going to get stabbed with it.