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Where to Experience a River Rafting Adventure in Oregon and Washington

By the Ablis CBD Team

Here at Ablis, we’re big fans of outdoor adventures. Hiking, trail running, rock climbing, skiing—You name it. One of our favorite ways to blow off steam (when the weather is right) is river rafting in Oregon and Washington.

Are you looking to find excitement in the class five rapids? How about a scenic float through the glaciers? 

Whether it’s your first time on the river or your hundredth, you won’t want to miss a rafting adventure in the Pacific Northwest along these four rivers: the White Salmon, the Skykomish, the Rogue River, and the Skagit.

1.White Salmon River

Class III – IV

This gorgeous area of the Pacific Northwest is protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act and includes a winding river that spans almost 30 miles, with rapids ranging from class III difficulty (rapids with irregular waves) to class IV (where you’ll have to perform complex maneuvers over difficult rapids). 

Some sections of this narrow river are suitable for all levels, but some, you’ll want to be able to swim! Fortunately, there are plenty of guided rafting experiences available. Wet Planet WhiteWater boasts an exciting trip that culminates with a plummet down Husum Falls (a waterfall drop that’s sure to make your heart race). 

White Salmon River is just north of the Oregon/Washington border, near the little towns of Hood River and White Salmon. The cities are across the river from one another, even though one is in OR and one is in WA. Both towns have an amazing little local scene, making this a great option for a weekend trip: rafting one day, exploring the next.

2. Skykomish River

Class IV – V 

One look at this river, and you’ll see why it was the first to be included in the Washington State Scenic River System. The Skykomish is giant compared to the White Salmon, and it contains house-sized boulders that create massive waves between its banks.

If you want an advanced whitewater rafting experience in the Pacific Northwest, this one is a must—especially the Boulder Drop rapid. Your heart is bound to start racing as you approach this stretch of river in your raft! 

After navigating the class V rapids that may or may not knock you out of your boat, take a moment to look up and soak in the views: River banks that are lined with lush trees like firs, cedars, and maples; Mount Index and Mount Persis’ snowy mountaintops towering above the treeline. 

For those who want to experience the views without the heart-pounding rapids, check out Alpine Adventures’ Family Floats, an 8-mile trip that flows downstream from Big Eddy State Park. You can even check both off your bucket list by making it a weekend trip with a cabin stay at Harmony Lodge or Skykomish River Lodge.

3. Rogue River 

Class II – IV 

Choose between a multi-day or one day trip down one of the first rivers to be protected by the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act: the Rogue River in southwestern Oregon. It’s an exciting whitewater rafting experience, whether you camp alongside the river, stay in lodges along the way, or only stay on the water for a day. 

In its past, this river was a go-to vacation destination for Hollywood stars like Clark Gable. Although he may not have gone rafting, it’s understandable why the remote wilderness was appealing to those of fame and fortune: Peace, quiet, and excitement of the rapids. 

The Rogue River is lined with old forests, canyons, interesting rock formations and several exciting twists and turns. You can join in a group adventure on the Rogue River, or (if you’re experienced) tackle the remote and challenging whitewater as a private, self-guided group.

4. Skagit River

Class II – III

If it’s your first time whitewater river rafting, or if you’re planning a trip with someone who’s nervous about taking a tumble in the rapids, take a scenic float along the Skagit River (another Wild and Scenic River). You’ll be able to test your skills navigating the class III S-curves along your 9 to 10 mile journey, but these waves are playful, unlike others that you might encounter on rafting trips in the Pacific Northwest. 

You’ll find the Skagit in North Cascades National Park, one of the least visited national parks in the country. It’s remote, and it’s gorgeous…especially Diablo Lake, the lake that feeds the Skagit River. The water is an unrealistic tint of blue, and it’s surrounded by 3,000 foot mountains covered with fir trees. 

Needless to say, it’s a sight to see, and it’s worth making your way through the rapids to get there. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest rafting adventures on this list, and there are plenty of groups that offer guided tours. Whether you’re introducing your kiddo to whitewater river rafting or you’re gathering a group of friends for a weekend adventure, the Skagit is a great river to explore. 

After exploring the rivers of Oregon and Washington, check out a few tips from our friend Renee about how to relieve sore muscles. It’s always important to unwind after a day of working out, whether it’s out on the slopes, or on the river. Enjoy your Pacific Northwest adventure navigating the rapids! 

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Rafting the Grand Canyon: An Epic, Month-long Adventure

Going back to civilian life after twenty-four days rafting the Colorado River felt even stranger than I imagined. 

I went from beautiful red rock canyons and miles of whitewater rapids to a Chipotle in Kingsman, AZ. What a buzzkill.

Existing in the outdoors for an extended period of time does something to your body and mind. 

This was the trip I had been dreaming of, and it could not have been better. 

Planning the Trip of a Lifetime 

I went on this adventure with sixteen people, half of whom I had never met before. Some were good friends that I started paddling with back in college and some were people that I’ve met along the way. 

In total, it took about three years since we started putting wheels in motion to obtain a permit.

There’s a lottery system for obtaining a permit. And since one permit, was good for all sixteen of us, we each applied separately to up our chances. It worked! 

Because the people who organized the trip were all “river people,” we wanted to offer this experience to our friends and people who wouldn’t normally do something like this. It was so cool introducing people to this! Our group included experienced rafters with twenty years of experience to people who had literally never been rafting before.

Teamwork is Key 

I know sixteen people seems like a lot and it could have easily turned into Lord of the Flies if we weren’t careful, but this group made this trip go off without a hitch. You have to get along and work as a team, so it’s important that everyone has a job and they stick to it.

Part of what made things run smoothly was going with people who had experience and knew the river. It also helped that most of us knew each other really well. But the novices that we didn’t know beforehand were down to listen and help out with whatever. 

With a little bit of direction from one dude that had been down the river around eleven times, everybody fell into their roles seamlessly! The leaders really stepped up and even the newbies were killing it; rowing these crazy, huge rapids. It was so cool to see everyone work symbiotically. 

Never Underestimate a Theme (Even in the Wilderness)

The teamwork started well before we even got there. 

Two rafters in our group, Christie and Brendan, decided that they were going to put together all the themes. We had a theme for basically every night. One night was an alien disco night club and another was a yacht club theme (captain’s hats and all). We all dressed crazy and learned all these great river games to pass the time. It was a total blast.

I would never have thought to make themed-days, so I’m very grateful to the experienced rafters who knew to plan ahead to make things more fun and exciting each day.

Related: 10 Best Hikes Near Bend, Oregon

Sleeping Under the Stars

It was perfect weather. At night, it was almost always warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt so you could just sleep on the boat under the stars every night. 

I didn’t even set up a tent. I posted up on my boat with my paco pad, which is a little waterproof sleeping pad, and let the water rock me to sleep. 

Having everybody be so “all hands on deck” and eager to help out was one thing, but what was really special was dealing with sixteen different people with unique emotions and perspectives all seeing the trip in a different way. It definitely expanded the experience to share it with old and new friends from all walks of life. 

Highlights & Close Calls 

One of the first special moments was at Red Wall Cavern, a giant cave that you can hang out in. It is one of the spots that you’re not allowed to camp at, but we spent the whole day in the cavern.

Another one of the most memorable locations was further down at Deer Creek Falls right along the river. You can actually float right up and see it, it’s hard to miss.

We decided to go the hard way, which started upstream and then became a ten-mile hike up and over to this other crazy waterfall feature before coming down. After this giant hike up and over, you end the hike by walking down through this little crack in the top of the waterfall. 

But the most memorable moment was after that excruciatingly long hike. You can walk right up to the base of this little pool that the waterfall is pounding into. The wind that’s coming off of the bottom of the waterfall is so strong and there’s mist blowing in your face and you’re doing everything that you can to get closer and closer, but it’s too powerful. It lights up all the senses being that close to nature’s intensity. It made me feel so alive.

We had a dicey moment going canyoneering down a very narrow canyon when we made the mistake of taking more people than time allowed for. We ended up having to keep setting up and resetting repels then passing some gear back up. We all assumed we can repel if we can climb. We just didn’t think through having eight of us in this little slot canyon with limited equipment and time!

We ended up being in this slot canyon called the Twenty Nine Mile Canyon until after dark. The sun went down and we only had lights from our cell phones. We definitely weren’t expecting to be out there that long and we didn’t come prepared with lights.

Some of these canyons have stagnant water. So, we were literally swim-walking around trying to find where our feet could touch. Mucking through that disgusting, stagnant, moth water that was pitch black and not being able to see the end of the tunnel, I definitely had several “mind over matter” moments, but we made it back. It was just a little later than we expected.

Talking yourself into diving into the water with zero visibility is a mental test in itself. By the end of that though, I was pretty comfortable with diving into the abyss.

Related: Camping in Oregon: A Guide to Bend & Central Oregon Outdoors

The Bigger Picture

Being on the river each day is something I’ll never forget. The whitewater was awesome; a total rafter’s dream. 

I took a Grand Canyon Field Guide with me to learn more about the area, which was a really awesome book to have at the end of every day. We would all try to remember the bugs, the lizards, and the birds to look them up in the field guide. 

Learning about the geology and the layers in the canyons made me appreciate it all so much more. 

When you start at the head of the river, you start at the top layer and as the river carves down, each new layer is exposed and you get to spend a couple of days in a different “time period” of the rock formations. 

Anytime you’re in this setting where the only important things that you have to do each day are to get down this river safely, set up the kitchen so that you can eat, and set up the toilet so that you can go to the bathroom, everything else just fades away. In the “real world,” it’s easy to take life’s necessities for granted.

Rafting a total of 280 miles of river and hiking upwards of 50 miles in 24 days was truly the trip of a lifetime. 

Sure, using a normal toilet is pretty cool, but I could’ve easily stayed out there another 24 days.