The rivers of America have long been a source of life and center of civilization, where wildlife flourished and Native Americans explored. Coursing throughout the nation, these winding waterways are a means of expedition and irrigation. Over the centuries, they've also provided a setting for aquatic play. Push off from the shores of America and paddle through tranquil eddies or dive into roaring rapids, witnessing surreal natural landscapes from the water. For adventures and views that no train or car journey can provide, take a trip down one of these eight rivers of America.
The Colorado River is famed for carving the steep vermillion walls of the Grand Canyon and the dramatic desertscapes along the 1,450 miles of river are a favorite setting among nature photographers. Spanning seven states and 11 national parks, the Colorado River flows from Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and empties into Mexico’s Gulf of California. Experience the 277-mile stretch of the Colorado River in solitude on a multi-day rafting journey, paddling past rugged mesas and deep canyons and plunging through world-class rapids before camping beneath the desert’s night sky.
Forming in the Sierra Nevada Range and converging into the Sacramento River, the 119-mile American River is California’s favorite locale for whitewater rafting. Embodying three main forks, the American River includes the South, Middle, and North Forks, which exhibit unique traits that cater to varying classes of rafters. Easily accessible via a short car ride from Sacramento, the South Fork is beginner friendly, and its Class II and III churning rapids are ideal for a half-day trip. Expert and experienced rafters gravitate towards the Class IV and V rapids of the North and Middle Forks and the rugged canyon trails and secluded swimming holes of the North Fork also see a slew of avid hikers.
Formed on the slopes of Mount Wai'ale'ale on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i, the Hanalei River flows 16 miles north into crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay and discharges into the Pacific Ocean. Lined with swaying palm trees and vibrant hibiscus shrubs, the river meanders past Hanalei town, a popular destination for stand-up paddle board rentals. As a temperate waterway year-round, visitors can paddle through the Hanalei’s winding lower mile on any visit and glide gently past taro fields and stunning landscapes of silvery waterfalls backed by lush mountains.
The soaring pink and cream pinnacles and rich collection of slot canyons at Zion National Park owe thanks to the gently-flowing Virgin River that carved some of southern Utah’s most dramatic natural features. The Virgin River forms one of Zion’s most popular hikes — the Narrows — a backcountry journey through 1,000-feet tall canyon walls in the narrowest portion of the Zion Canyon at 20 feet wide. Wade upstream in the Virgin River from the Temple of Sinawava and trek as far as Big Spring 10 miles north. Intrepid canyoneers can also conquer the 12-hour hike downstream in the Virgin River’s North Fork and cover the demanding 16 miles over a span of two days before ending the journey at the Temple of Sinawava.
Coursing through the western edges of Yosemite National Park in central California, the 145-mile Merced River is a stunning setting for river rafting. Originating from Mount Lyell and culminating in Lake McClure Reservoir, a scenic half- or full-day rafting experience is a popular way to visit famed landmarks like Yosemite Falls and El Capitan during the warm summer months. Glide at a gentle pace and witness a wild landscape of alpine meadows and glaciated peaks.
From upstate New York’s Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondack Mountains, the Hudson River flows for 315 miles through the Hudson Valley and divides New York and New Jersey until it reaches the Atlantic. Kayak on the waterway named after English explorer Henry Hudson who sailed along in 1609 for the Dutch East India Company. Journey to Pollepel Island 60 miles north of Manhattan to explore the grounds of the abandoned Bannerman Castle that was constructed in the 19th century to store military arsenal. For a low-energy Hudson River experience, embark on a leisurely stroll across the 1.3-mile Walkway Over the Hudson, which was constructed on an old railroad track that extends from Highland to Poughkeepsie.
Originating in Wyoming, the 1,078-mile Snake River meanders through Jackson Hole and flows beneath the snow-dusted peaks of the Grand Tetons. The river continues into Idaho, Oregon, and Washington where it joins the Columbia River and empties into the Pacific Ocean. For a rustic western experience, row a drift boat on the Snake River from Jackson Hole to the placid waters of Grand Teton National Park. As a source of life for wildlife, the park allows you to witness elk, bison, and mule along the banks of the river while contemplating the grandeur of the surrounding pristine mountains.
Taking form in the Rocky Mountains of southeast British Columbia, the 1,243-mile Columbia River carves its way through Washington and Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. The deep blue hues of this waterway are best witnessed from the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, a landscape carpeted in tumbling waterfalls and colorful wildflower fields, and boasts pristine conditions for kiteboarding and windsurfing. For adrenaline junkies seeking a white-knuckle experience, raft the Columbia River Gorge, spinning over rapids and plunging over Husum Falls, a daring 12-foot dive into frigid waters.