When river guides banter around the campfire, conversation usually turns to the biggest rapids and the best river trips in the world. Although everyone has their favorites, the list of legendary rivers is almost always the same.
1. Middle Fork of the Salmon River (Idaho)
In my opinion, the “Middle Fork” is the best river trip in the world due to its 100 miles of continuous Class III and IV whitewater, clean water, great camps, world class fishing, hot springs, and abundant wildlife. It ends in the famously beautiful Impassable Canyon that is unlike any other in the world. Typically done in 6 days (perfect!), this is a river trip that brings groups together like no other. ( Learn more about trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River )
2. Illinois River (Oregon)
The magical Illinois River flows through the northern end of Oregon’s Kalmiopsis Wilderness, an area known for uniquely wild rivers and emerald green water. There really is something special about this river and surrounding wilderness that cannot be described in words. Unfortunately the flows are erratic and the rapids challenging making it difficult to access. ( Learn more about the Illinois River )
3. Colorado River (Arizona)
The Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is special because you float through one of the seven wonders of the world and trips can be as long as 25 days! This is a big water river with pushy rapids and long pools in between. This is definitely the best river trip for side hikes. ( Learn more about the Colorado River )
4. Futaleufu River (Chile)
Patagonia’s Futaleufu (Foo-Two-Lay-Foo) River is well known for it’s huge rapids and turquoise blue water. The mountain scenery is stunning and the traveling through Chile is simply wonderful. This is the best trip for big rapids. ( Learn about the Futaleufu River )
5. Tuolumne River (California)
The Tuolumne River (or just the “T”) has a special place in my heart, so it was hard to not rank it #1. The Main Tuolumne sets the standard for Class IV and the Upper Tuolumne (aka Cherry Creek) sets the standard for Class V. Theses sections of the “T” cascade through a deep canyon in the Sierra Nevada Mountains just outside of Yosemite National Park. ( Learn more about the Tuolumne River )
6. Magpie River (Canada)
A trip on the Magpie starts by flying onto a wilderness lake via float plane. Like other legendary trips, the Magpie offers great rapids, side hikes, wildlife, and adds an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the mystical aurora borealis. The highlight is the last night camp where Magpie Falls plunges off an 80 foot plateau directly across the river.
7. Rogue River (Oregon)
The Wild Rogue River is the classic American West river trip and it’s the perfect trip for first timers. It has great Class II and III rapids and warm water in a thickly forested canyon. This is the best river trip for families and for viewing wildlife. ( Learn more about NWRC trips on the Rogue River )
8. Franklin River (Australia)
The Franklin River famously runs through the rugged wilderness of Tasmania. This remote expedition includes many portages and the added challenge of rapidly changing water levels. You’ll enjoy big rapids, deep gorges, and beautiful camps sites.
9. Selway River (Idaho)
The Selway is a remote trip on a beautiful Class IV river in Northern Idaho. Only one trip is allowed to launch each day making it hard to get on this gem. ( Learn more about rafting the Selway River)
10. Tatsenshini and Alsek Rivers (Yukon and Alaska)
These parallel rivers flow through some of the most remote regions in the U.S. and Canada. The whitewater is fairly easy (unless you run Turnback Canyon on the Upper Alsek) but the grizzly bears, cold water, and remoteness will present plenty of challenges. You can start on the Tatshenshini River and meet the larger Alsek River or run the Upper Alsek. Both trips end where the Alsek runs into the Pacific Ocean. ( Learn more about the Alsek from our friends at Wilderness River Outfitters )
11. Karnali River (Nepal)
Karnali means “holy water from the sacred mountain” since it starts at Mount Kailash in Tibet. It is the longest river in Nepal and the classic long river trip in a country full of long river trips. The Karnali ends in the lush jungles of Bardia National Park.
12. Kaa-Khem River (Siberia)
The Kaa-Khem starts as a creek near the Mongolian border and flows north into the Sayan Mountains of Southern Siberia. The Siberian region of Russia has more untamed wilderness rivers than anywhere else in the world and there are several rivers that would make this list (Katun, Bashkaus, Chuya, and Akishma), but they’re logistically challenging for Westerners. ( Buy Vlad’s book Rivers of an Unknown Land about rafting in Siberia to learn more )
13. Zambezi River (Zambia and Zimbabwe)
The famous whitewater section of the Zambezi River starts below Victoria falls and flows through the Bakota Gorge. This trip is normally done as a day trip, but can also be extended to a world class multi-day river trip through the entire gorge. Learn more about the Zambezi River.