The Best Rapid in Each State: Western U.S. Edition
Our incredibly scientific formula for determining the best rapid in the state takes many elements into consideration:
Obviously, the best rapid in the state should be technically challenging and hopefully soak you and your passengers along the way. By these criteria, we could easily choose the biggest, gnarliest, hardest Class V+++ each state could throw at you. But only three people run those rapids every five years, so how could they be the best? The best rapid is also one that is accessible to a non-professional, allowing more people to share in the fun. Rapids on this list must have you telling stories about them a day, a week, a month, or even a year later. And finally, and almost most importantly, how does it feel when you're bobbing through the tailwaves, right-side-up and with the worst of it behind you?
Oregon - Green Wall Rapid on the Illinois
The Class V crux of an incredible wilderness trip in southern Oregon, Green Wall Rapid is a technical challenge peppered with large holes. You need to nail the tricky entrance move to avoid a long swim. The feeling of isolation from a wilderness trip on the Illinois amplifies the importance of success, making it that much sweeter to get to the bottom upright.
California - Clavey Falls on the Tuolumne River
California is filled to the brim with epic class IV+ rapids to choose from, but Clavey Falls is certainly the most notorious of the bunch. Everyone who has run Clavey Falls has a story of how it went, especially if it involves a tango with Clavey's Hole. This infamous hole has a habit of grabbing unassuming boats and holding them long after all the passengers have been bucked out.
Idaho - Tappan Falls on the Middle Fork of the Salmon
This short rapid packs a lot of punch! A steep drop into a big hit frequently knocks people out of the boat. The river wants to pull you to the left at the entrance, but entering too far left makes the already steep drop completely sheer. The feeling of success from the rapid is compounded by the fact that you're on that Middle Fork Trip you've been waiting for for YEARS!
Honorable Mention: Jacob's Ladder on the North Fork of the Payette River
It would be hard to talk about classic Idaho whitewater without a nod to Jacob's Ladder. This famous rapid is the party piece of an incredible class V run.
Washington - Ram's Horn on the Wind River
Ram's Horn is a long class V packed with action. It requires precision as you zig-zag back and forth between the rapid's many obstacles. The hardest rapid on an action-packed section, Ram's Horn forces you to warm up quickly as it's only a mile in from the put-in. The rapid culminates in a series of steep, fun drops.
Honorable Mention: Husum Falls on the White Salmon
This 12 foot waterfall finishes out the Middle section on the White Salmon. People come from miles around to run Husum, and it always makes for a great story.
Utah - The Big Drops on the Colorado River
Buried in the heart of Cataract Canyon, these three legendary rapids come at the tail end of a mile of nearly continuous class III and IV whitewater. Each rapid offers something different, so the combo of the three covers just about every whitewater base you could think of. Big Drop 1 warms you up with huge, 20 foot tall waves breaking over the bow of your boat. Big Drop 2 presents a technical challenge, forcing you to weave your way through a field of massive boulders while attempting to hit the huge waves straight. Finally, Big Drop 3 forces you to enter with needle-sharp precision. A foot too far to the left or to the right, and your fate is in the hands of the rapid.
Colorado - Gore Rapid on the Colorado River
Gore rapid is a no-joke class V in Gore Canyon, the first stretch of whitewater on the headwaters of the Colorado River. A tight line between a nearly river-wide keeper hole and a large boulder must be nailed after a tricky entrance move. The "easy" line is a 10 foot waterfall that can be snuck by kayaks. Gore kicks off over a mile of continuous class IV, making for a consequential swim out of this difficult rapid.
Arizona - Lava Falls on the Colorado River
You knew this one was coming. Arguably the most notorious rapid in the country, Lava Falls comes deep into a Grand Canyon trip. Lava is the biggest and baddest rapid on a stretch of river filled with big and bad rapids. The feeling of elation in the tailwaves of Lava is unparalleled, because you've probably been thinking about it for four days before you finally get to run it.
Wyoming - Leap of Faith on the Clark Fork
Leap of Faith is an un-portageable, un-scoutable 15 foot waterfall on the Box section of the Clark Fork. Towards the end of a multi-day class V+ kayaking trip, this rapid forces paddlers to throw themselves over the ledge without being able to take a look first. More class V moves follow the waterfall, so be on your toes and ready to paddle hard.
Montana - Three Forks Rapids on the Middle Fork of the Flathead
The Three Forks series of rapids is a two mile stretch of continuous class IV on a fantastic wilderness trip through the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Most of the rapids are fun, read-and-run class IV forcing you to make technical maneuvers to avoid the many obstacles. The series ends in a large drop with several options through narrow channels.
Comment below what your favorite rapids are!