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7 Top-Rated White Water Rafting & Kayaking Adventures in Washington

Mar 13, 2017
Kayaking on the Skykomish River
Kayaking on the Skykomish River
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Among its wide array of recreational adventures, the state of Washington offers amazing white water rafting and kayaking opportunities. With plenty of rainfall on the western side of the state, and glaciated peaks contributing to the flow, Washington's rivers and gorges surge with access to some high-adrenaline adventure from early spring to late summer. Whether you hop in the kayak or raft with a commercial outfitter, be prepared to transport yourself into a fast-moving environment full of Pacific Northwest scenery and plenty of chances to get your feet wet. While all the white water adventures in Washington offer different rapids and views, the common aspect of the river runs is the flow that pushes you forward and provides a fantastic time on the water.

1 Methow River

Methow River
Methow River
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The Methow River is perhaps the best suited river for rafting and kayaking in the state and adds to the large amount of recreation found in the area. Just north of scenic Lake Chelan in eastern Washington and accessed through the tourist-friendly town of Winthrop, with waters gushing out from North Cascades National Park, the Methow River manages to be the main attraction for the entire Methow Valley. The prime time to ride the white water of the Methow River is between May and June, when the banks swell with springtime rain and melting snow, providing a wide range of rapids and amazing scenery as you splash your way down the river.

Dropping more than 500 feet in 19 miles, where most commercial guiding companies put into the water, you can expect Class II-III rapids to practice your paddle strokes. From here, the river slides into the impressive Black Canyon Gorge and treats rafters to some adrenaline-pumping action in the form of Class IV rapids and features, including the Giant Black Hole that will challenge you to stay in your vessel. In between the rapids, and with the sunny weather usually found in this region of Washington, it's usually worth jumping in the crisp, blue waters of the Methow River and taking time to appreciate the eye-popping scenery found in the surrounding Okanagan County.

2 White Salmon River

Husum Falls
Husum Falls Zachary Collier
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Designated as a federally protected Wild and Scenic River, the White Salmon River in south-central Washington provides some of the most unforgettable white water action you'll find, not only in the Columbia River Gorge but perhaps in the entire country. Fed by the glacier melt of Mt. Adams and surrounding underground springs, the White Salmon River rushes with clean water and is full of commercial outings and personal excursions from April through September.

Most commercial trips start you right in the action of Top Drop, a Class III-IV rapid that will get your heart pumping fast. From there, the Class III-IV rapids don't stop, and right in the middle of it all is Husum Falls, a Class V, 14-foot waterfall that only a few guiding companies have a permit to navigate. Whether you hop in a boat that's going over the falls or simply spectate from shore, if the white water doesn't draw you back to the White Salmon River, the lush scenery surrounding the river will.

3 Skykomish River

Skykomish River
Skykomish River
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Rafting on the Skykomish River, also referred to simply as the "Sky," can be accessed in less than an hour from Seattle, but this challenging river section isn't recommended for your first white water outing. Most commercial trips on the Sky take place from April to July, and start from the small town of Index. Rafters and kayakers can expect to hit a good handful of Class III rapids right off the bat, just to prepare you for the real challenge, the Class V Boulder Drop, where you navigate around house-sized boulders. It is often said to be the longest and most challenging rapid in the state.

Though the crystal-clear waters of the Skykomish River are inviting, the white water and rapids of this raging river should be tackled by experienced paddlers who know their way around the water. But if you are scouting out your next big rafting or kayaking challenge, the Skykomish will provide you with the froth and excitement you're looking for.

4 Wenatchee River

Wenatchee River
Wenatchee River
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Many things add up nicely to make the Wenatchee River one of the most popular white water rafting and kayaking spots in the state. Just outside the West Coast rain shadow and most commonly accessed in the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, the Wenatchee River gets plenty of sunshine and clear weather, drawing legions of paddle strokers to the river from April through October. In addition to the beautiful weather and outstanding scenery, the Wenatchee River also offers something for every level of white water enthusiast, from casual floats on class I rapids to expert-only runs in Tumwater Canyon. The most popular section to work through is the 19-mile stretch running from Leavenworth to Monitor, containing iconic Class III features, like the Rock and Roll wave series and Drunkard's Drop, and solidifying the Wenatchee River as some of the most fun white water you'll find in the state.

5 Skagit River

Skagit River
Skagit River
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Accessed from the Ross Lake Recreation Area of the North Cascades National Park Complex, the Skagit River provides some of the most scenic rafting and kayaking experiences in the state, and with moderate rapids ranging from Class I-III, it's a great place to start your white water river experiences. Not only can you explore the emerald-green water and pristine wilderness of the Upper Skagit River in the summer months and late fall, but the winter time is also popular for the lower section and surrounding Skagit River Bald Eagle Natural Area, which provides Class I rapids to navigate plus some of the best views of bald eagle populations you'll find anywhere else in the state.

6 Green River Gorge

Green River, Kanaskat-Palmer State Park
Green River, Kanaskat-Palmer State Park Chelsea Nesvig
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Despite its proximity to Seattle, the Green River Gorge is one of the best-kept secret stashes of fantastic rapids in the state. The predominantly Class III & IV rapids, like the notorious Pipeline, Paradise, or Nozzle rapids, may lend to less people tackling the Green River Gorge, as does the relatively short rafting season of just March and April. But what makes the Green River Gorge so great is what you'll find in that short window of time. Most commercial trips span the section of the Green River between the scenic Kanaskat-Palmer and Flaming Geyser State Park and take riders and tourists into an adventure full of high canyon walls; thick moss; and colorful, otherworldly terrain. The Green River Gorge might not cater to the first-time white water experience, especially if you're hesitant about your abilities to stay calm in the water, but with a few paddle strokes already practiced, the Green River Gorge belongs on the top of your must-do Washington white water trips.

7 Tieton River

Tieton River
Tieton River Zachary Collier
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For eleven months of the year, the Tieton River is virtually ignored by kayakers and river rafters alike. Come September though, when the waters from Rim Rock Dam are released, the big waves and steep decline of the Tieton River make for some of the best white water action in all of Washington. Located on the east side of White Pass, only 45 minutes from Yakima, the Tieton River is easily accessible by enthusiasts traveling from Seattle, Tacoma, and afar for this usually last run of the entire paddling season. With memorable Class III & IV features, like the High Noon and Waffle Wall rapids, and continuous whitewater action until trip's end at the confluence of the Naches River, the Tieton gives a glimpse of the best white water rafting and kayaking in all of Washington, despite its short season.

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