Costa Rica has become the adventure travel capital of Central America, thanks in part to its excelling whitewater rafting. One of the best stretches can be found along the Pacuare River. Rapids range from beginner-friendly Class II to challenging Class V, and no matter what your level of expertise, you'll likely spot exotic birds and monkeys in the lush rainforests lining the banks.
The Colorado River, running through the Grand Canyon in Utah and Arizona, is perhaps the most iconic whitewater rafting destination in the Untied States. The 225-mile river takes you through 42 thrilling rapids, and while the whole trip takes about two weeks, you can get a smaller dose of thrills on a half- or full-day excursion.
If you're going to test your paddle on the Gauley River in West Virginia, do so during the weeks following Labor Day, when the Summersville Dam releases water into the river, creating rapids that draw in rafters from around the world. It won't take long to understand why this stretch of river is ranked among the world's best for whitewater rafting.
Paddling along the Snake River will take you through Oregon's Hells Canyon wilderness, the deepest gorge in North America. The scenery is worth the trip alone, but the Class III and IV rapids don't disappoint either.
The upper portion of the Nahatlatch River offers the best rafting in the Vancouver area, with a 6-mile stretch of 25 Class III and IV rapids. The result is near-continuous white water exciting enough for intermediate rafters yet still suitable for beginners. For even more thrills, take on the rapids of Nahatlatch River Canyon.
The 105-mile stretch of the Salmon River known as Middle Fork includes a 3,000-foot elevation change, which means a whole lot of rapids! Pass through beautiful granite gorges with sheer cliffs to either side, and if you're feeling weary, stop for a soak in one of the natural hot springs found in the nearby hills.
New Zealand is rightfully considered one of the best destinations for adventure sports on earth, and if you want in on the action, ply the waters of Queenstown's Kawarau River. You'll feel like you're paddling through Middle Earth as you take on the Class II and III rapids, including the 1,312-foot Dog Leg rapid.
If you're new to rafting, or if you're looking for some family-friendly thrills, then the Nantahala River of North Carolina might just be the perfect place. Most of the rapids are Class II, so you'll have plenty of time to get your feet wet before plunging down the Class III Nantahala Falls at the end of your journey.
In Northern Thailand, you have a couple of options for Class III to V rapids: the Mae Tang River or the Pai River. Both rivers offer stunning views of the scenery of the Himalayan foothills as well as opportunities throughout the journey for swimming in a gorge, bathing under a waterfall or spotting wildlife on the banks.
Rafting the Futaleufu River – considered one of the best rapids in the world – is an exciting way to enjoy the scenery of Patagonia. Experienced rafters can tackle the entire river, and will find river camps complete with showers, hot tubs and beds all along the way.