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Top Whitewater Rafting Destinations For Large Groups In The U.S.

Top 10 river rafting spots in the U.S

Want to skip going solo this season and enjoy rafting with your crew instead? A group whitewater rafting adventure is an unforgettable experience. When done with friends or family, the thrill of negotiating challenging rapids is even more amplified.

When planning a rafting adventure with many friends or family members, you can’t pick just any destination. While many rivers in the United States offer an unforgettable rafting experience, when it comes to accommodating larger-than-average party sizes, some are better than others. For this reason, we’ve compiled a list of the best group-friendly rafting destinations in North America. Read on to find out more about all their specific and unique offerings.

Criteria for Group-friendly Whitewater Rafting Destinations

a group of people enjoying rafting on the Ocoee River

How did we decide the best destinations for you? No, we did not throw darts in the dark. In picking the best whitewater rafting destinations, we used the following criteria, to make sure that we cover everything for you to make an informed decision:

  • Popularity: If a river attracts many rafters from all over, there’s often a good reason for it. Many of the destinations we listed draw rafters from all over the country and around the world.
  • Reputation of the outfitters: A river may have breathtaking views and thrilling rapids, but without experienced and fun guides, along with clean and reliable equipment, your experience can be significantly less memorable. In some cases, it can even be ruined. We will discuss how to find a good outfitter in the sections below.
  • Group rates and accommodations: In searching for group-friendly destinations, we also researched the group discounts the local outfitters offer. Since most whitewater rafting for groups is in fairly remote locations and requires visitors to spend the night nearby, we checked to see if there were nearby accommodations that were both comfortable and reasonably priced.
  • Variety of levels: Finding the right balance of adventure and leisure is crucial. In group travel, it becomes harder to please everyone as the group size increases. That’s why we’ve chosen rivers that offer a range of difficulty levels. Taking a large group to a river with only Class IV and V rapids can lead to some participants getting overwhelmed. The best whitewater rafting destinations for large groups offer a mix of thrilling and more relaxing stretches, ensuring that everyone can have an enjoyable experience.
  • Availability of other activities: As mentioned above, many of the best rivers for rafting are in remote areas, which means if you spend the time and money to get there, you’ll probably want to stay for a while. Luckily, whitewater rafting destinations usually offer other outdoor activities that don’t involve getting soaked. These commonly include hiking, horseback riding, and zip lining.

Top 10 Whitewater Rafting Destinations

Now that we have listed out our criteria for choosing the top 10 destinations, let’s look at our picks. Do keep in mind that these are compiled from an adventurer’s perspective, so they deal mostly with the activities that you can expect in the areas. Each location offers unique experiences, from the Grand Canyon’s breathtaking Colorado River to the thrilling rapids of the Gauley River. While some have more name recognition than others, they all have something to offer to every member of the group.

i. Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Arizona

beautiful view of the Colorado River in Arizona

The section of the Colorado River that meanders through the Grand Canyon is perhaps the most famous rafting excursion in the world — and the reasons are not hard to understand. It offers exciting waves, great holes, and, of course, stunning views of the canyon towering above. Even if you’ve already seen this magnificent canyon from the rim, taking this rafting trip would be worth it just to view the canyon from this dramatic new perspective.

Large groups considering a rafting trip to the Grand Canyon have no shortage of group-friendly outfitters to choose from, as nine companies operate on the river. However, keep in mind you’ll have to book your trip here far in advance, as trips can sell out up to two years ahead of time.

If your group consists mostly of beginners — or if you would prefer a more relaxing experience — you can choose the single-day trip that runs through the Hualapai Reservation. This stretch offers rafters stunning views of the canyon walls’ rich orange colors, and the rapids tend to be either Class II or III, both of which are fairly moderate.

Recommended outfitters: Outdoors Unlimited, Western River Expeditions, Arizona Raft Adventures
Other activities: Hiking, mountain biking, sightseeing in Grand Canyon National Park

ii. Tuolumne River, California

scenic  view of the Tuolumne River near Yosemite National Park in California

Many adventurers consider the Tuolumne River as offering the best rafting in California — and this state is by no means lacking in thrilling rivers. This scenic river first flows through the breathtakingly beautiful Yosemite National Park, after which it plunges into the Cherry Creek section, which many consider to be one of the most intense whitewater rafting destinations in North America. Of course, if your group wants to enjoy thrills with slightly less intensity, you can opt for an 18-mile trip on the Main Tuolumne section, which is less difficult, but just as scenic.

Recommended outfitters: All-Outdoor California Whitewater Rafting, Sierra Mac, OARS, ARTA River Trips
Other activities: Hiking, climbing, and sightseeing in Yosemite National Park

iii. Arkansas River, Colorado

scenic view of the Arkansas River near mountains  in  Colorado

This river offers its most thrilling whitewater rafting destinations in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and many consider it to be the Rocky Mountains’ premier rafting adventure. The great Arkansas River begins in Colorado and travels all the way to the Mississippi River in Arkansas, passing through Kansas and Oklahoma on the way. Rafting on the Arkansas River is a great way to take in the dramatic landscape Colorado is known for.

Many outfitters on this river offer half-day, full-day, and multi-day trips. The upper stretch, which is just downstream of Buena Vista, offers a calmer, easier rafting experience. Farther downstream, where the river passes through the Browns Canyon, rafters will encounter Class II and III rapids, including the Big Drop and the Zoom Flume.

Recommended outfitters: Browns Canyon Rafting, Arkansas River Tours, AVA
Other activities: Fishing, hiking, biking, ATVing, gold panning, horseback riding, rock climbing, and tubing.

iv. Nenana River, Alaska

beautiful view of the Nenana River  near mountains  in   Alaska

Alaska is well-known for many outdoor activities, and whitewater rafting is an all-time favorite. Its premier rafting destination is on the Nenana River, a glacial river that originates at Mt. McKinley and flows through the iconic Denali National Park. As it meanders through the canyons, it offers unforgettable views of landscape and wildlife, including sheep on the hills and golden eagles in the sky.

One of the most popular sections of the river is called Canyon Run, a day trip offered by the Denali Outdoor Center. Parts of this river vary significantly in difficulty and offer something for all rafters, including Class IV rapids for those who want an exhilarating full-body workout.

Recommended outfitters: Denali Outdoor Center
Other activities: hiking, visiting the Denali Visitor Center, attending sled dog demonstrations, and taking a Denali bus tour.

v. Gauley River, West Virginia

Gauley River near Gauley Mountains in West Virginia

The Gauley River in West Virginia is made for whitewater rafting adventures. It’s the site that gave birth to whitewater rafting culture on the East Coast, and it is home to one of the most famous annual rafting events: On the weekends in the fall, an upstream dam releases water that creates world-class whitewater rapids, attracting visitors from around the world.

This river features a 35-mile section with big rapids rated Class V and higher, and more than 100 of them are among the most difficult in the United States. That challenge, paired with the stunning natural scenery, attracts many avid rafters to this river every season. Groups wanting less excitement can enjoy a more laid-back trip on the nearby Upper New River, which is mostly calm but offers an option to experience Class III rapids.

Recommended outfitters: New & Gauley River Adventures, ACE Adventure Resort, Adventures on the Gorge
Other activities: Hiking, mountain biking, fishing, horseback riding

vi. Salmon River, Idaho

people rafting in  Salmon River near Galena Summit in Idaho

Idaho’s Salmon River, beloved internationally for its unrivaled views and exhilarating whitewater sequences, offers a wide variety of scenery and rapids. Rafters pass through granite canyons, grasslands, and high country forests, and may even spot animals such as bighorn sheep, bears, mountain lions, and moose. This river cuts through the largest expanse of untouched wilderness in the lower 48 states and is ideal for those who want to disconnect from civilization for a while.

The river has three sections — the Middle Fork, Main Salmon, and Lower Salmon — and offers a wide variety of options in terms of trip length. The Middle Fork, for example, has five- to six-day trips that begin on a turbulent alpine river and end by passing through a stunning arid canyon. The Main Salmon section offers everything from seven-day to half-day trips.

Recommended outfitters: Holiday River Expeditions, Rocky Mountain River Tours, Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures
Other activities: Hiking in the alpine forests, bathing in the hot springs, driving along the Salmon River Scenic Byway, visiting the Lewis and Clark Trail, visiting the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural and Education Center

vii. Rogue River, Oregon

tourists wandering near the Rogue River in  Oregon

The Rogue River in Southwest Oregon flows through the Klamath Mountains until it reaches the Pacific Ocean. In 1968, the river received protection from Congress as one of the country’s eight “wild and scenic rivers,” and it’s not difficult to see why. This river offers gorgeous views of forested canyons and is home to eagles, herons, ospreys, otters, and bears. The Rogue River has rapids of varying difficulty, including the Class II Argo rapids, the Class III Black Bar Falls, and the Class IV to V Blossom Bar.

Recommended outfitters: Northwest Rafting Co., Morrisons Rogue Wilderness
Other activities: fishing, zip lining, wine tasting

viiii. Kennebec River, Maine

beautiful  Kennebec River in Maine

Maine’s 170-mile-long Kennebec River flows south into the Atlantic Ocean and passes through some of the state’s most rugged, remote wilderness along the way. The 12-mile whitewater stretch of the Kennebec River in Maine features Class III and IV rapids and some more challenging stops, including Magic Falls and the Three Sisters.

Recommended outfitters: Three Rivers Whitewater, Northern Outdoors
Other activities: ATV tours, rock climbing, mountain biking, moose safaris

ix. Chattooga River, South Carolina, and Georgia

Chattooga River flowing through  South Carolina  and Georgia

The famous Chattooga River forms the border between South Carolina and Georgia and boasts some of the Southeast’s most challenging rapids and stunning scenery. In the springtime, when waters are high, adrenaline-seeking rafters can enjoy Class V rapids, and when the waters go down in the summertime, the river offers more family-friendly options, although challenging rapids are still available throughout the season.

This river was the site of whitewater rafting events during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and since then has risen to international fame. Many of its rapids, including Bull Sluice, Five Falls, Sock-em-Dog, and Woodall Shoals, are known and loved by avid rafters around the country.

Recommended Outfitters: Southeast Expeditions
Other Activities: horseback riding, zip lining, tubing, mountain biking, hiking, fly fishing

x. Ocoee River, Tennessee

pleasing view of  Ocoee River in Tennessee

Rafters who choose the Ocoee River can tackle fun Class III and IV rapids while taking in the beautiful, wild scenery of the southern Appalachians. Unlike many other rafting destinations in the U.S., Ocoee’s rafting season is exceptionally long, lasting from March through October. The water is also typically warm, making it even more fun to splash through its raging rapids.

The Ocoee River was also one of the whitewater rafting sites for the 1996 Olympic Games, and now rafters have the opportunity to take the six-hour Olympic Course.

Recommended Outfitters: Raft1
Other Activities: mountain biking, zip lining

Choosing the Right Whitewater Rafting Outfitter

t’s important to consider factors other than pricing when choosing an outfitter. While price is an important aspect, there are other things to keep in mind to make sure your group has a pleasant and secure rafting trip. These are some of our recommendations:

a. Experience of the guides: Experience as a guide: A knowledgeable rafting guide goes through extensive training and hands-on experience. Experienced guides improve security and fun by deftly navigating the waters, avoiding hazards, and providing knowledgeable conversation all the while. Guides with more experience can also control the boat better, allowing them to avoid troublesome spots and hit all the exciting splashes.

b. Quality of the equipment: Clean and up-to-date equipment is essential for both your safety and comfort, so choose an outfitter that offers this. Make sure they sanitize their wetsuits after every use

c. Variety of difficulty levels: While it may be tough to figure out the ideal journey for every member of the group, an experienced outfitter needs to have a variety of adventures that are appropriate for various preferences and skill levels. A customized journey can be created by knowledgeable staff by considering variables like age, physical fitness, and swimming proficiency.

Final Word

Rafting offers not only a thrilling adventure full of adrenaline but also a great opportunity for you to bond with your friends and family. If your group is interested in a rafting tour in the Southeast, the Chattooga and Ocoee Rivers are the premier rafting destinations in the region, offering long seasons, unforgettable scenery, and a wide variety of trip options. There are a host of other activities to choose from, enabling you to make the most of your trip.

Groups of 12 or more can take advantage of amazing rates from Southeastern Expeditions, your go-to source for Chattooga River expeditions. Raft1 is the answer if you want to enjoy the Ocoee River to the fullest. For parties of 13 or more, we provide great group choices for you, and can easily fit big groups at one of our two luxurious lodges. Gear up your crew for a thrilling rafting trip, and Book your next adventure today!

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