Where there is fast-flowing water, there is more than likely an opportunity to try white water rafting. All over the world, rafting adventures deliver extreme experiences and rushes of adrenaline to people of all levels of ability, as they career downstream and use their paddles to navigate hazards and stay afloat.
It’s an ideal pursuit for sports and adventure tourists, as long as it’s carried out with safety front of mind. In this guide, we’ll tell you all the basics around white water rafting holidays: what makes them special, the best destinations to explore, and important things to bear in mind.
Why go on white water rafting holidays?
A white-water rafting adventure gives you access to a bit of everything: strenuous exercise, fresh air, jaw-dropping scenery that might otherwise be inaccessible, and the chance to bond with your friends and relatives. Rafting is normally a team endeavour, whether it’s in smaller groups or on bigger rafts that require skilled coordination of many people. Rafting is also a worldwide pursuit, and just about every major valley or mountain range you can think of will have opportunities to raft down a river and take on some rapids.
There is an internationally recognised classification system that helps people understand the strength, technicality and danger of different rapids, so that experiences can be matched to ability:
– Classes I and II are the gentlest sections, with few, if any, rapids or frequent hazards, therefore are suitable for all.
– Classes III and IV deliver more frequent waves and dangers and require a certain level of skill and experience (especially when reaching Class IV).
– Classes V and VI feature complex rapids, long and difficult routes, and a high level of danger – these should only be attempted by highly experienced paddlers.
You should also be aware that evolving river conditions through the seasons mean that class ratings on a particular section may vary at different times of year.
Best destinations for beginners
Rapids in the lower two classes might not deliver the most hardcore of experiences, but they can make for a thoroughly pleasant afternoon, especially if you have a group with varying abilities. You’ll be better off aiming for off-season rafting, when many of the rapids that are normally classes III or IV will be running smoother and therefore be far more accessible to a wider audience. For these kinds of runs, we recommend the Inn River in the Austrian Tyrol, the Vltava in the Czech Republic, or the Arkansas River in Colorado where there are 100 miles of rapids ranging between classes II, III and IV.
Best destinations for intermediates
Aim for classes III and IV and you’re spoiled for choice. If your group already has a bit of experience, then a resort that allows you to start with some class IIIs and move up towards some class IVs later in the week can give you a winning combination. Switzerland is a great destination to find this variety, especially around the Lutchine River, and the stretch of the Rhine near Reichenau. If looking at the US for a trip, the Rogue River in Oregon is a good place to balance your levels of difficulty, as the runs get tougher the further upstream you start from.
Best destinations for experts
If you’re experienced and aiming towards the tougher class IVs and the class Vs (we really don’t recommend class VIs unless you’re an elite rafter!) then your only limit is your ambition. The Corhu River in Turkey tends to be particularly challenging in late spring thanks to the melting of the winter snow boosting water flow, and the Wairoa in New Zealand is so testing that it’s only open to rafters 26 days a year. And for a test of endurance, how about trying all 540 miles of the Kazan River through the far north of Canada?
Key things to know
One of the first things to remember is that danger doesn’t necessarily translate to excitement, so don’t use the class ratings as a catch-all guide as you might do with ski runs for example. Lower-classed rapids are often more fun because of particular layouts or topographical features, so don’t discard the idea of a low-class run if it’s in the right location.
The other thing to bear in mind is safety. All good white water rafting companies and adventure providers will be able to provide full kit such as helmets and lifejackets, and will have mechanisms in place to respond in the event of an emergency. Nevertheless, it can be a dangerous activity, and because it often takes place in relatively remote locations, it can be difficult to get quick medical help if required. That’s why taking out insurance before you travel is essential.
Furthermore, if you’re rafting independently as part of your own group of people, make sure you know exactly what to do if an accident happens, and ensure you have plenty of food and water for your trip.
Get rafting insurance with SportsCover Direct
The danger and remoteness of the activity isn’t the only reason why you should take out insurance. If you’re rafting in Europe, then you have a certain level of medical care provision under your European or Global Health Insurance Card (EHIC or GHIC). However, the scope of this care is limited: if you require extensive healthcare, a long stay in hospital or emergency rescue, then you may be liable for costs that can easily run into the thousands.
Our specialist rafting insurance policies take care of those costs if they arise, so that you can enjoy your white-water rafting holidays with confidence. They can also protect you if your travel arrangements are disrupted, or if your luggage and equipment are lost, stolen or damaged. Take a closer look at our rafting insurance here.