Wild and Scenic Multi-day Whitewater: A River Guides Rafting and Reading List
In 1968, congress passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Through this legislation, protections were outlined (however not guaranteed in perpetuity) to preserve key rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in their free-flowing and pristine state. The ultimate hope - to ensure access for current and future generations to come. Although, like the ever changing seasonality of river flows, the prioritization of adding to and maintaining Wild and Scenic designations has fluctuated with administration changes over the last 50+ years. Despite political seasonality, the act does set a bar and draw a line in the sand. The act gives river advocates a constant leg to stand on in pushing protections forward.
Because protections are to some degree ephemeral, it’s important to experience these rivers while they are still free-flowing and pristine. Here’s a top three wishlist of must-see multi-day Wild and Scenic Rivers and a listing of the popularized books that may have bolstered support for them to be named Wild and Scenic. What Wild and Scenic Rivers are on your bucket list?
The Chattooga River, North Carolina
Read about it here: Deliverance, James Dickey, published in 1970
One of the last entirely free flowing rivers in the Southeast, the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River, stretches over fifty miles beginning with its headwaters in the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains and then forming the border between Georgia and South Carolina. Along the way it drops through dense deciduous forests, towering waterfalls and rock choked channels before terminating at the Tallulah River. Much commercial attention was paid to the Chattooga in the 70s prior to and leading to its being granted Wild and Scenic status in 1972 through a whitewater descent by President Jimmy Carter and filming of the major motion picture Deliverance (based on the James Dickey novel).
In 1971, Wildwater outfitters pioneered commercial whitewater excursions on sections 3 and 4 of the Chattooga and have been active in local river advocacy since. Presently they offer multiday adventures on this stretch and are one of three outfitters selected to operate in the Chattooga’s wild and scenic corridor.
The Rogue River, Oregon
Read about it here: Rogue River Feud, Zane Grey, published 1929
I cut my teeth as a river guide on the Lower Rogue which was designated Wild and Scenic with original legislation, in 1968. For 35 miles from Grave Creek to Foster Bar and including many side creeks and tributaries, the Wild and Scenic Rogue riparian corridor is truly otherworldly. Madrone, wild azaleas, world class whitewater, birds of prey, bears and a shockingly resilient salmon population hypnotize and draw visitors in. Zane Grey’s Rogue River Feud, Chapter 1, exquisitely traces the Rogue, describing it from headwaters, all the way to its coastal outlet. The passage begins, “Deep and dark green, swift and clear, icy cold and as pure as the snows from which it sprang, the river had its source in the mountains under Crater Lake...”
Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho
Read about it here: River of no Return, Cort Conley & John Carrey, published 1954
The pinnacle of my guide career so far has been rowing the Middle Fork of the Salmon as a guide in training. From headwaters to the confluence, a little over 100 miles of read and run class III/IV draws visitors in. The Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Salmon starts with traditional pacific northwest shallow, rocky creek boating in alpine forest surroundings and quickly transitions into big water waves and holes funneled through the sentinel peaks of the Bitterroot mountains. Though nothing on this river is a constant (a likely a part of the appeal) including flow. Therefore my description may fail to capture the nature of the Middle Fork of the Salmon during early and late season. Among its outstanding features, the river is full of distinctive whitewater cultural tidbits. Many of these, including a detailed history of sweep boats are explained in River of no Return, both a histrionic book, major motion picture starring the infamous damsel in distress Marylin Monroe and a common colloquial reference to the Salmon River itself.
The best commercial trips on the Rogue and Middle Fork of the Salmon rivers are with Northwest Rafting Company who are active river advocates and champions of Wild and Scenic River legislation. See also Gear Garage Youtube series and Whitewater Guidebook, whitewater media tools created by Northwest Rafting Company owner, Zach Collier.
For a complete listing of Wild and Scenic Rivers in the US, check out the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Website.
For more reading and conversation from the author on Wild and Scenic Rivers:
- 50 Miles For The Wild And Scenic Rivers Act's 50th Anniversary, Source Weekly
- River Democracy, Source Weekly
- Wild and Scenic Rodhouse: A new wave of female paddlers, NRS Duct Tape Diaries