The Outside Blog

Adventure : Jul 2012

The Best Whitewater Rafting: 6. Futaleufu River, Chile

This Class III-V roiling mass of whitewater is one Patagonian river that hasn’t been dammed—yet. Raft it before Chilean hydroelectric companies run a massive (and ugly) power transmission line through the valley.

This classic ride is singular not only in Patagonian scenery, but the Futaleufu is also unique in that the guiding company that pioneered it, Earth River Expeditions, has built permanent river camps into cliff dwellings with riverside stone hot tubs, hot showers, treehouses, and beds.

While it’s not necessary to portage any of the rapids, a horseback and hiking trail follows the entire length of the river, so at any point the option to walk is always there. And when you’re not rafting or kayaking, there’s horseback riding, rock climbing, rapelling, and canyoneering.

U.S.-based operators like ECHO River Trips offer trips on the Fu, but they are operated in conjunction with Earth River. $3,400; best time to go is February.

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The Best Whitewater Rafting: 5. Zambezi River, Zambia

If this Class IV-V stretch of Africa’s fourth-longest river were in the litigious U.S., it’s likely no outfitter would have enough liability insurance to commercially run it. But OARS, which financed the first descent of the Zambezi back in 1981, is back in Africa with a brand-new eight-day trip that combines a four-day paddle with a three-day Botswana Safari.

The ride starts at the base of 360-foot Victoria Falls, passes the sheer rock walls of the Batoka Gorge, and floats class V rapids like Stairway to Heavan, Oblivion, and Gnashing Jaws of Death, which swallow rafts whole. But at least it’s not a crocodile that’s swallowing the raft. A helicopter ride back to the start provides an excellent overview of massive Vic Falls, then it’s on to wildlife heaven in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, where lions, hyenas, zebras, wildebeest, elephants, and giraffe roam wild and free. $2,895; best time to go is September.

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The Best Whitewater Rafting: 4. Colorado River, Arizona

There are more counterintuitive rivers we could have put on this list, but there are very few with more geologic and hydrologic superlatives. In the 225 miles from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek, you’ll charge through 42 major rapids and pass Paleozoic walls that are a half-billion years old.

If you’re going to commit to this once-in-a-lifetime trip (and don’t have the skills to paddle your own kayak), float it the way one-armed explorer John Wesley Powell did—in a wooden dory. For 14 to 18 days you’ll float past geologic history, hike to Indian ruins like the famous Nankoweap granaries, and camp on soft sand. Watch OARS’ newly released Whitewater Orientation video—some of which was filmed on location on the Grand—before you go. From $4,898; trips offered May through October.

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The Best Whitewater Rafting: 3. Drigung Chu River, Tibet

Why not acclimatize for Base Camp by rafting a few rivers along the way? This unique 20-day itinerary, which starts and ends in Kathmandu, culminates in a visit to Everest Base Camp on the Tibetan side of the world’s highest mountain. But before you top out at that 16,900-foot barren oasis, you’ll raft the Drigung Chu and Tolung Chu, two rivers that offer up Class IV whitewater thrills and a unique riverine view of the surrounding Himalayan landscape. Between rivers you’ll visit the most storied architecture in Tibet, including Norbulingka, the Dalai Llama’s summer palace, the monasteries of Lhasa, and more. $5,900; offered April to October.

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The Best Whitewater Rafting: 2. Rio Cotahuasi River, Peru

The Cotahuasi is one of the last old-school river expeditions left on earth, with sheer canyons three times the height of the Grand and ancient Incan ruins accessible only via the river. From the town of Cotahuasi, it takes a full day just to trek to the put-in.

On the river for seven days, you’ll paddle 100 miles of stunning, intermittent class IV-V whitewater and canyons measuring 11,587 feet from river to rim. On some nights break camp near Incan ruins with potsherds and old masonry walls that only a handful of people have ever seen. One night you’ll stay in an Andean village adjacent to a local hot springs. Be sure to bring friends: The trip requires teamwork, from punching through tough rapids to lining the rafts around impassable ones. $2,950; best time to go is June and July.

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