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Whitewater rafting safer, more accessible than imagined

Everybody Adventures
| Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, 9:51 p.m.
Opportunities to enjoy some pretty spectacular whitewater rafting exist all over the country.
Opportunities to enjoy some pretty spectacular whitewater rafting exist all over the country.

It's hard to think of more than 3.25 million people as an adventurous "few."

Yet, in many ways, they are.

The Outdoor Industry Association puts together an annual look at participation trends in various outdoor activities. In short, it examines who's doing what.

It determined, as of 2017, that more than three million people went whitewater rafting.

That's fewer than jogged, cycled or skateboarded, and only about 1.5 percent of the United States population. But it's a heck of a lot of people.

And almost all returned home alive.

That might surprise some. Whitewater rafting, after all, has the reputation of an extreme sport fraught with danger.

The reality, though, is it's a comparatively safe sport. It has its dangers, as do all outdoor activities. But, at least when it comes to guided trips, accidents are few and far between.

American Whitewater, a nonprofit group made up of paddling clubs, whitewater enthusiasts and others, estimates six to 10 people die for every 2.5 million that hit the water. That makes guided rafting safer than scuba diving, rock climbing, swimming and even bicycling.

There are plenty of opportunities to go whitewater rafting, too.

The peak of the rafting season around most of the country is spring through early fall. It's sometimes possible to get on the water before and after that but only with specialized equipment.

Always, though, there's opportunity.

From the Northeast to the South to the Rockies and to the Pacific Northwest, there are fast moving, challenging rivers.

Here's a look at 10 that really stand out"

• Salmon River, Idaho. The Salmon cuts through one of the largest contiguous, roadless wilderness in the lower 48 states. Trips of up to seven days are possible. It boasts more than 300 rapids overall.

• Chattooga River, on the South Carolina and Georgia border. Described as one of the longest and most spectacular free-flowing rivers in the Southeast and designated a national wild and scenic river, it flows through Sumter National Forest in spectacular, sometimes violent, fashion.

• Colorado River, Arizona. This flows through the Grand Canyon, so of course, it's going to be amazing, right? Plan ahead, though. Some rafting companies book tour dates two years in advance.

• Youghiogheny River. Located just south of Pittsburgh, the "Yough," as it's known to locals, is among the most dependable whitewater rivers in the Northeast, with consistent flows from March through October. It can be broken into sections, with the upper and lower Yough more challenging than the middle.

• Kennebec River, Maine. The Kennebec is not terribly long, offering only about 12 miles of whitewater. But when it come to fun day trips, this one is really nice.

• Gauley River, West Virginia. The Mountaineer State is also home to the Cheat River, another whitewater destination. But the Gauley stands out among hardcore rafters for its abundance and variety of technical difficulties.

• American River, California. This water, near Sacramento, offers a little bit of everything, from calmer water up to class V rapids in some of its branches.

• Arkansas River, Colorado. Some consider this river the ultimate whitewater destination in the Rockies. It's alternately surrounded by mountain peaks higher than 14,000 feet and flows through a slot canyon more than 1,000 feet deep.

• Upper Pigeon River, Tennessee. This river, flowing through the Great Smoky Mountains, boasts about 70 rapids from class I to IV. It includes some big waves and big drops.

• Deerfield River, Massachusetts. The most advanced, challenging water is in the beautiful Berkshires area.

So, in short, there's plenty of whitewater out there, and chances are you'll have lots of fun riding the waves and live to tell the tale.

So, who's ready to plan an adventure?

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

Article by Bob Frye, Everybody Adventures,

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