Find Your Flow

Chattooga River, Georgia, and the North Fork of the Kern River, California


Get Your Paddle On

Knowing where to go is the first step. Now learn how to build the necessary stamina into your paddle stroke with high-intensity, three-week, lunch-hour workouts and get the lowdown on the latest in aquatic footwear.

whitewater rafting: Georgia

HOW LONG: Section III, one day, 13 miles; Section IV, one day, seven miles
WHEN TO GO: March to October

WHEN DIRECTOR John Boorman needed a river both beautiful and menacing enough to be the fictitious Cahulawassee in his 1972 backwoods shocker Deliverance, he chose the Chattooga. Ned Beatty ("Squeal, boy!") has never been the same, but the 40 miles of river that form the border of South Carolina and Georgia remain Wild and Scenic. The Chattooga offers two distinct runs—the mellower 13-mile Section III, from Earl's Ford to Highway 76, and the hair-raising seven-mile Section IV, from Highway 76 to Lake Tugaloo. Technical rapids like Seven-Foot Falls and Sock-'Em-Dog require challenging boofs and split-second paddle skills, but your biggest thrill is Section IV's Five Falls, which drops almost 80 feet in less than a quarter-mile. »OUTFITTER: Southeastern Expeditions rafts both sections over two days, with a night of catered camping 11 miles downstream at Thrift's Ferry ($240; 800-868-7238, »DIY: No permit needed; register at the parking-lot drop box at any put-in. Southeastern rents rafts ($100 per day) and duckies ($35 per day), but you'll have to run your own shuttle. Boaters new to Section III can get instruction and a river guide through Nantahala Outdoor Center, in Bryson City, North Carolina ($300 per day, $400 for two people; 800-232-7238, Those attempting the more technical Section IV are on their own.

HOW LONG: Three days, 23 miles
WHEN TO GO: April to July

IN 1981, BILL McGINNIS, California boatman and author of the 1981 river handbook The Guide's Guide, convinced the Forest Service that he could safely run the Forks of the Kern with clients. Twenty-three years without serious injuries later, he's still doing it. McGinnis leads thrill seekers down some of the hairiest commercially run whitewater in North America: You'll kick off with a three-mile mule pack through giant sequoias to the put-in, where you'll take on the Forks' 61-foot-per-mile vertical drop, past 200-foot waterfalls and the hulking granite Needles, pricking the sky 1,500 feet above. On day three, hike up picturesque Dry Meadow Creek, which cascades down to the Kern in a series of teacups linked by 10- to 25-foot waterfalls run only by world-class kayakers. Later that day—18 miles and a full 80 Class IV and V rapids after the put-in—you'll reach the finale, 12-foot Carson Falls. The drop is big, but, thankfully, so is the pool at the bottom. »OUTFITTER: Whitewater Voyages ($762; 800-400-7238, »DIY: For solid Class V paddlers with their own gear, permits are issued for $2 via a March 15– April 15 lottery. Contact the Cannell Ranger Station (760-376-3781,

Idaho and Colorado

whitewater rafting: Idaho

HOW LONG: Six days, 100 miles
WHEN TO GO: June to September

YOU COULD RUN the Middle Fork of the Salmon on a private permit, but then who would roast Cornish game hens and bake pineapple upside-down cake while you unwind in riverside hot springs? Gourmet and dirtbag blend seamlessly on North America's classic whitewater trip, where wild sagebrush desert combines with a four-to-one guide-to-client ratio and five-star alfresco accommodations on river-polished gravel bars. The first 20 miles feature long, roiling Class IV rapids and an insidious five-foot drop at Velvet Falls; after that it's sweet Class III and IV action in the clearest water north of the Caribbean. Keep your fly rod handy: Even beginners can catch (and release) cutthroat trout by the dozen. On the last day, after Impassable Canyon's ten drop-pool Class III–IV rapids, you'll have earned some hang time in the misty cavern behind 200-foot Veil Falls. »OUTFITTER: River Odysseys West ($1,775; 800-451-6034, »DIY: The Forest Service issues private permits by lottery in December and January ($6 application fee, $4 daily fee per person; 208-879-4101, Idaho River Sports, in Boise, can rent gear—$80 per day for a 16-foot self-bailing oar raft—and help arrange shuttles (800-936-4844,

HOW LONG: Four days, 44 miles
WHEN TO GO: May to September

JOHN WESLEY POWELL DESCRIBED the Gates of Lodore, on the Green River, as "a dark portal to a region of gloom" when he paddled through the 1,400-foot varnished-quartzite feature en route to the Grand Canyon in 1869. In truth, the sun shines 300 days a year on this astonishingly scenic four-day float through Dinosaur National Monument. Your daily adrenaline hit comes on Class III rapids like Disaster Falls and Hell's Half Mile—where the river tilts to 30 feet per mile. Stretch your legs on any of a dozen side hikes, including the five-mile round-trip up trout-rich Jones Hole Creek through a 1,200-foot-deep canyon to petroglyphs left by Fremont Indians. The rest of the time is pure chill: Pitch your tent on white sand and race western whiptail lizards down the shore. »OUTFITTER: OARS ($585; 800-346-6277, »DIY: The National Park Service issues 300 private permits via lottery each winter ($15 application fee, $185 for a multi-day permit; 970-374-2468, Salmon Air provides round-trip transportation from Salt Lake City for $153 (800-448-3413, River Runners' Transport rents 16-foot self-bailing oar rafts for $120 per day; they'll also provide food for the cost of groceries plus $20 per person (800-930-7238,

Wisconsin and Maine

whitewater rafting: Wisconsin

HOW LONG: Five days, 45 miles
WHEN TO GO: May to September

RAPIDS REQUIRE both flow and gradient, two things hard to come by in the Midwest. So the Flambeau's five days of solitude and summer-long whitewater are no small wonder. If you're still not impressed, consider that early last century, the Flambeau was a wood highway, as Paul Bunyan types filled this and other Chippewa River tributaries with millions of logs a year. Now that the 90,000-acre Flambeau River State Forest has returned to health, it's a perfect paddle tour, with a 300-foot buffer of pine, birch, and maple between you and civilization. Launch from the campground at the folksy Nine-Mile Tavern. You'll start in flatwater but pick up the pace during the next 45 miles, ending with a slew of technical but easily navigable Class II rapids near the take-out at the Flambeau River Lodge. Along the way, commune with deer, eagles, and, after a few fireside toddies, a rare giant blue ox measuring 42 ax handles across the shoulders. »OUTFITTER: There are no commercial operations on the Flambeau; do-it-yourself is the only way to go. »DIY: You don't need a permit, and camping is free. The Nine-Mile Tavern rents canoes for $20 per day and runs a shuttle from the take-out at Flambeau River Lodge back to the Tavern for $60 for up to 14 people and their boats (715-762-3174,


HOW LONG: Five days, 50 miles
WHEN TO GO: June to September

IN LATE SUMMER, WHEN NEW YORK and Boston are stifling, make like Henry David Thoreau and head to the Maine woods, where the brook trout are hungry, the blackflies absent, and the night breezes soporific. "Wherever there is a channel for water, there is a road for the canoe," Thoreau wrote of the Allagash, his favorite watery Maine highway. The road turns bumpy north of Churchill Dam, where, for 50 miles downstream to Allagash Village, you'll enjoy intermittent and user-friendly Class II. The canoe-swamping Chase Rapids are just past the put-in, but a friendly Allagash Waterway Park ranger can shuttle your dry gear so you don't end up with a sopping sleeping bag. That hurdle dispensed with, you'll float 45 Wild and Scenic miles through the North Maine Woods management area, 3.5 million multiple-use acres of cedar, spruce, and maple forest, with one portage around 40-foot Allagash Falls. Though Thoreau never made it to the tannic waters beyond Churchill Dam, aspiring transcendentalists can. The Maine Woods: Part 2, anyone? »OUTFITTER: Nicatou Outfitters offers a five-day paddle for $630, including meals, canoe, gear, and transportation (866-746-3253, »DIY: You don't need a permit, but the North Maine Woods management area charges a $16 usage fee (207-435-6213, and a $5-per-person-per-night camping fee. Arm yourself with longtime guide Gil Gilpatrick's The Allagash Guide ($12; 207-453-6959, and make another call to Nicatou Outfitters. They also set up independent trips, providing canoe rental, food, and camping gear for $485 per person for five days. For an additional $160, they'll shuttle you the 60 miles back and forth from the Bangor airport.

Alaska and West Virginia

whitewater rafting: Alaska
whitewater rafting: West Virginia

HOW LONG: Four days, 90 miles
WHEN TO GO: July to September

EVEN BEFORE YOU get to the put-in at Murder Lake, you'll be stunned by the floatplane views of the Talkeetna far below, cutting a white line through the Alaska Range. Offering an unmatched density of wildlife, whitewater, and epic landscape, the trip starts with a whimper on little Prairie Creek, but soon cranks up to a roar. You'll charge 90 miles, skirting Denali National Park, to your take-out at the confluence of the Susitna. Cowboy up for 14-mile Talkeetna Canyon, where the Class IV Sluicebox will batter you for ten miles, one of the longest commercially run rapids in North America. When you relax the death grip on your paddle, watch feeding grizzlies, hook Dolly Varden trout, and crowd-surf on the backs of spawning salmon. »OUTFITTER: Class V Whitewater ($1,200; 877-783-2004, »DIY: No permit required; no rentals available. Serious paddlers must haul their gear to Willow, Alaska (71 miles from Anchorage), where Susitna Air will fly four people and equipment to Murder Lake ($545; 907-495-6789).

HOW LONG: Upper Gauley, one day, nine miles; Lower Gauley, one day, 17 miles
WHEN TO GO: September to October

"YOU CAN ALWAYS tip over, but you can never overtip," goes the old guide's maxim. On the Gauley, guides have turned that adage on its head: "More flips equals bigger tips." Each September, releases from the Summersville Dam pump flows up to 2,800 cubic feet per second, attracting more than 50,000 river runners for ass-smacking Class IV–V action. Rapids like the Upper Gauley's Iron Ring and Sweet's Falls, which begin as dull roars on the horizon line, are as close to pro bull riding as most of us will ever get. If that's too terrifying, the 17-mile Lower Gauley takes the tooth-loosening ride down a notch. Crowded? You bet. But the mist hanging in the fall foliage makes you feel happily removed from civilization. »OUTFITTER: North American River Runners offers a two-day trip, covering 14 miles on Saturday and 12 on Sunday ($270; 800-950-2585, www.narr .com). »DIY: Expert kayakers and rafters can put in at the dam, paddle to the take-out at Mason Branch, and self-shuttle.

The Right Helmet, Sunglasses, and PFD

Buyer’s Guide 2004

You’re only getting started—for Outside’s complete must-have gear items, from kayaks to shades, CLICK HERE.

whitewater rafting gear
whitewater rafting gear
whitewater rafting gear

Say so long to floppy fabric bills poking out from under your lid. SWEET's STRUTTER helmet borrows the sun-shading simplicity of the classic American ball cap and beefs things up with a carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic shell. ($179; —JOSEPH CARBERRY
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game estimates there are some 3,000 trout swimming in every mile of the Middle Fork. Viewed through KAENON's polarized and snug-fitting RHINOS, those cutthroats might as well have bull's-eyes painted on 'em. Available in seven variable-tint lens options. ($170; 949-574-7918, —G. S.
ASTRAL, a new venture from the founder of Lotus Designs, specializes in comfortable, well-made PFDs like the new WONDERVEST. It's snug enough to support quick movements in the surf, but it's still beefy and buoyant for those sudden unplanned swims. ($136; 828-255-2638, —J. C.

The Right Canoe, Knife, and Top

whitewater rafting gear
whitewater rafting gear
whitewater rafting gear

Tackle the Flambeau's assorted rapids and drops in the MAD RIVER FREEDON 16 RX. Thanks to its bomber Royalex hull—a sandwich of superheated vinyl, ABS plastic, and foam—this canoe can handle bumps, even when brimming with gear. ($1,099; 336-434-7470, —J. C.
River knives need to be as efficient at cutting fruit for salad as they are at cutting rope during an emergency swiftwater rescue. In a pinch, the serrations on the BENCHMADE 100SH2O chew right through tough material, while a clean edge halfway up makes short work of salami. ($95; 800-800-7427, —J. C.
It gets cold up in Alaska. Thankfully, the thin rubber outer layer on the LOTUS DESIGNS WATER HEATER top absorbs the sun's rays like a solar panel, while the fleece lining and functional, form-fitting cut keep the heat close to your body. ($110; 800-638-6464, —J. C.

The Right Playboat

whitewater rafting gear

The DAGGER KINGPIN: ICON is a customizable spud boat. Add or remove plastic "pods" on the front and back to help generate lift for aerial loops and other freestyle moves. Similar removable fins control carving on the waves. Tow it along on your Gauley adventure and show off at play holes along the way. ($1,150; 800-433-1969, —J. C.

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