5 Whitewater Trips Perfect for New Paddlers

Rapids across the U.S. that offer big thrills for beginners

Spring is in full swing and that means it’s prime time for paddling. Maybe you’ve heard that paddling can be a great trip and a major thrill, but it’s tough to know where to start. The whitewater that gets the most attention is often the dangerous class V and VI rapids, but that’s certainly not where beginners belong. If you’re looking to take on some introductory rapids, consult our list of the best trips, complete with outfitter info and specific spots. Then put your paddle in and enjoy the bumpy ride.

Yellowstone River, Montana
Running nearly 700 miles though Yellowstone National Park and out into the Missouri River, the Yellowstone River provides paddlers stunning scenery, ample wildlife and a variety of rapids for all skill levels. Run by a few different outfitters, beginners have their choice of great guides, Flying Pig Adventure Company, who offers eight-mile beginner rides or Montana Whitewater Rafting and Zipline Company, who runs half and full day trips on the class II and III rapids of the Yellowstone River are both great options.

Pigeon River, North Carolina and Tennessee
Once too polluted to be used for anything other than waste disposal, the Pigeon River made a major comeback in the 1990s. Now safe for wildlife, the river also attracts rafters and kayakers from all over. Of the many guide companies on the river, Smoky Mountain Outdoors has a great reputation and a range of trip options. Families and novice paddlers will likely want to raft the class I, II and III rapids of the Lower Pigeon, but if you’re looking for a bigger thrill the Pigeon River offers that too.

Snake River, Wyoming
The 1,078-mile-long Snake River winds its way through Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, with rapids for all skill levels along the way. New paddlers should find a quality outfitter like Lewis & Clark Expeditions, based in Jackson Hole, which offers trips from West Table Creek to Sheep Gulch (class III rapids) and scenic float trips just south of Grand Teton National Park.  

Photo of the Snake River in Wyoming, courtesy of Shutterstock.

Youghiogheny River, Maryland and Pennsylvania
The “Yough” is one of the best and most diverse whitewater rafting rivers in the Northeast, offering everything from challenging class V rapids on the upper portion and beginner-friendly class II and III rapids on the middle and lower sections. Families with little ones will want to raft the class II rapids of the Middle Yough, while new paddlers looking for a bit of a challenge should head to the Lower Yough. For great guides, check out Wilderness Voyageurs.

Salmon River, Idaho
Known for nearly endless trip options, stunning scenery and abundant wildlife, the Salmon River works its way through middle of the largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48 and offers some intense rapids. What you may not know, though, is that the Salmon River also offers easier rafting trips along the Main and Lower Salmon sections. Beginners looking for big thrills should take a look at the outfitter O.A.R.S., who offers great trips along these routes with qualified guides.


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