During the summer months when the sun is beating down and the weather gets warmer and warmer, there is no better way to cool off than with a refreshing—and sometimes thrilling—whitewater rafting trip. Many of our top ski towns reside near large rivers, and the early-summer snow melt helps to create perfect conditions for rafting. Whether you’re just looking for an easy float to check out the surrounding scenery or are hoping to embark on a thrilling ride through some Class III rapids, there is a river and experience perfect for all levels and interests. Here are our top seven mountain destinations for whitewater river rafting this summer:
Aspen Snowmass, CO
Photo: Aspen Snowmass
Whether you're a first-time whitewater rafting or seeking out the biggest thrill, Aspen Snowmass has it all! Boasting some of the biggest rafting varieties in Colorado, most Aspen Snowmass guides offer several different trip options, ranging from half-day to multi-day trips. A calm trip down the Roaring Fork River offers scenic views of 12,000-foot Mt. Sopris, while more difficult classes of rapids can be found on the Colorado and Arkansas Rivers. The "Shoshone" area of rapids on the Colorado River really comes to life in July, evident with sections named "Superstition," "The Wall," and "Pinball." If you're an experienced rafter, you'll want to check out the Slaughterhouse Falls on the Roaring Fork River, where a professional photographer will capture the moment you charge over a six-foot waterfall.
Jackson Hole, WY
Photo: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
River rafting trips in Jackson Hole take you through the heart of the Rocky Mountains along the Snake River while guides point out local flora and fauna and provide unique facts about the area's fascinating history with fur trappers and early Nineteenth century hunters. Also referred to as the "Mad River," the Snake River has been classified from a Class I–III, which means you can relax on a mild float or embark on an exciting adventure through the rapids that inspired the name. Jackson Hole also has several sections of river that are perfect for families who are just looking to experience the scenery at a leisurely pace with no areas of rapids.
When it comes to options, there is no better place for whitewater river rafting than Breckenridge. With over five rivers to choose from (Clear Creek, Arkansas River, Blue River, Colorado River and Eagle River), it's easy to find an experience best suited to your needs. The Eagle River is great for early-season rafting, as the waters run the wildest May–July. For an extra adventure, rafters on Clear Creek can add a Cliffside zipline tour before lunch, which includes a short nature hike and six zips through the forest. The Arkansas River is known to be Colorado's greatest river adventures, descending nearly 5,000 feet in the first 125 miles, and rafters will get views of wildlife and many 14-ers along the way. Both furious and a rafters paradise, the Colorado River is perhaps the most famous—and longest—river in the Southwest. Boasting mellow streams, pockets of rapids and the extreme Gore Canyon, the Colorado River can satisfy all levels of boaters.
Photo: Vail Resorts
Vail is a great place for visitors to launch out of for their whitewater rafting trip, as they boast their own Whitewater Park right in the middle of the village at Gore Creek Promenade, as well as access to the Eagle, Arkansas and Colorado Rivers, ranging from Class I to Class IV. Known for being a local freestyle rafting haven, Vail's rafting park is also home to the annual Teva Mountain Games, and provides entertainment for visitors all summer long. Rafters can also add some extra fun on the Arkansas River with a zipline tour through the mountains before having lunch alongside the river, and then finishing the day with a half-day rafting tour.
Sun Valley, ID
Just an hour away from the iconic ski town lies Stanley, ID, where locals from the Sun Valley area are known to frequent for some of the best whitewater rafting in Idaho. Rafters can then blaze through the breathtaking Sawtooth Wilderness on the Salmon River, where trips cater to every type of rafting trip. From family-friendly rafters to adrenaline junkies to fishing enthusiasts, there is a rafting rip for everyone on the Salmon River. Sawtooth Adventure's also offers a unique Twilight Float, perfect for group dates or family outings, which includes a BBQ and dutch oven dinner alongside the river as the sun sets.
Explore the remnants of the old Wild West the right way—on a raft. Visitors can travel 40 minutes away to the Colorado River near Kremmling to experience a calm day of floating, perfect for families and first-timers, or some Class III rapids that will leave you with amazing stories to bring home as a souvenir. Floaters going through Little Gore Canyon will also get the opportunity to hop out and take a soak in the hot springs located right next to the river during the trip. A little bit farther away lies the Eagle River, where the rapids are rigorous and you are guaranteed to get wet! Rapids in this section of the river range from Class II–III, but during early June when the water is high the river can reach a Class IV+ rating, making it a great spot for advanced rafters.
Big Sky, MT
If you've seen the movie A River Runs Through It, then you've seen the iconic Gallatin River near Big Sky. Rafting the Gallatin allows you to soak up incredible scenery while passing through rapids that are sure to make you giggle out loud. The Gallatin River passes through a narrow, rocky canyon that is spotted with dramatic rock outcroppings and thick, pine forests that stretch up from the river. Depending on class level, the Gallatin can smooth and easy or full of rapids. The easier section is known as "Upper," and includes short sections of Class III rapids. The more challenging "Lower" includes the Mad Mile—a legendary section of rapids.