Whitewater Adventure Courses

Camera Kirk Rasmussen

Whitewater Adventures

Explore Whitewater Kayaking, Rafting, and Canoeing Courses

On a whitewater kayaking, canoeing, or rafting course, you’ll gain the skills you need to travel whitewater rivers using these watercraft. You’ll learn how to paddle, read and assess whitewater conditions, manage ropes, tie knots, and what it’s like to lead a small group on the river. Depending on your whitewater course, you may use a variety of watercraft, including river kayaks, paddle rafts, canoes, and oar rigs. Every course will give you opportunities to work on different types of challenges, both physical and mental.

Whitewater Adventures with NOLS

Whether you have experience navigating rapids or you're used to flat water, our dedicated instructors will help you develop the leadership, risk management, and wilderness adventure skills needed to tune in to wild rivers while having an amazing time.

Students navigate a rapid while whitewater canoeing.

Immersive Whitewater Wilderness Curriculum

Our whitewater curriculum offers a holistic learning adventure. From learning fundamental paddling techniques to becoming a proficient trip leader, our program covers all aspects of whitewater exploration. You'll acquire hands-on skills, including reading water, assessing river flow and water levels, rolling kayaks, navigating rapids, and more. Plus, you'll enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and cooking great food on a camp stove!
Group of rafters traversing the raging whitewater in Teton Valley

Experienced Whitewater Adventure Instructors

Our instructors are more than just skilled kayakers, rafters, and canoeists. They are dedicated wilderness educators with a passion for sharing their knowledge. Their vast experience with running rivers will help you develop the skills needed to become a confident boater. You'll benefit from their wisdom as they share their years of experience with whitewater, river navigation, and outdoor leadership.
Smiling NOLS staff member paddles an oar rig on the Salmon River in Idaho with mountains behind.

Access to Stunning Whitewater Locations

Our courses grant you entry to remarkable and otherwise hard-to-reach whitewater kayaking, canoeing, and rafting destinations. Take our Salmon River courses, for example. The Salmon River is renowned for its majestic beauty and thrilling rapids. It’s a coveted destination among adventure enthusiasts with a limited number of permitted launches. Taking a Salmon River course with NOLS offers an opportunity that is hard to come by!
A smiling student demonstrates a cross bow draw while whitewater canoeing in the Yukon.

Transferable Leadership Skills

Our whitewater experiences are about more than just paddling. We nurture your leadership qualities, instilling a sense of responsibility both on and off the water. Beyond whitewater paddling techniques, we help you to develop transferable leadership skills such as self-awareness, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication while filling various leadership roles. Our courses are designed to foster resilience, adaptability, and problem-solving skills, making you a capable and responsible leader in all aspects of life.

Prioritizing Whitewater Risk Management

Risk management is at the core of everything NOLS does. Our instructors are well-versed in assessing and managing risks. We provide comprehensive risk management protocols and emergency response systems. Your NOLS experience will empower you with the knowledge and tools to navigate the unpredictability of the wilderness by employing standard methods for risk assessment, mitigation, and management.
Students pull their boats onto shore while river rafting in the Teton Valley.

Honoring the Rivers Through Environmental Stewardship

Our students and instructors are champions of responsible outdoor ethics. We teach and embody the Leave No Trace philosophy, instilling a deep respect for the environment. Our commitment to preserving pristine landscapes extends to every river we navigate and every campsite we establish. Leading by example, NOLS participants actively contribute to the conservation and protection of our natural world for generations to come.

Explore Whitewater Courses

Course participants white water rafting at the Gates of Lodore in Colorado.

Whitewater River Expedition

Embark on a journey to develop leadership and boating skills amidst the breathtaking Green River canyons in Utah. Paddle and row over 100 miles, mastering kayaks, paddle rafts, and oar rigs while navigating challenging rapids like Disaster Falls and Hell's Half-Mile. Delve into river-reading and local ecology during weeks in the wilderness. This expedition offers daily leadership opportunities, from decision-making about rapid assessments to conflict resolution through effective communication. These experiences shape your personal leadership style.
Two students whitewater canoeing rapids on the San Juan River.

Whitewater Canoeing Expedition

Embark on a summer adventure, exploring Utah's Green River canyons, one of the birthplaces of whitewater boating. Develop skills in whitewater and hone your leadership in a tight-knit community. Master river navigation, scout rapids, and deepen your understanding of the river’s historical and ecological impact. Embrace leadership roles, and refine your decision-making, communication, and resilience. These experiences shape your unique leadership style, equipping you for any future leadership opportunity.
Teenage students smile for a group shot on a Salmon River rafting course.

Youth Salmon River Adventure

Embark on a two-week adventure designed for 14 and 15-year-olds along Idaho's Main Salmon River. Explore the wilderness while honing your kayak, paddle raft, and oar rig skills. Master essential guiding techniques, against a backdrop of abundant wildlife, including gray wolves, peregrine falcons, black bears, and bald eagles. At lower water levels, this adventure is perfect for novice boaters. Camp on sandy beaches, relax in natural hot springs, and immerse yourself in this awe-inspiring natural classroom.
Students navigate a whitewater rapid on the Salmon River in a paddle raft.

Adult Salmon River Rafting

Journey through the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness on our 10-day Salmon River rafting expedition. This course welcomes all, novice and experienced alike. You’ll start each morning rigging rafts and planning your day. Challenge yourself in rapids, camp on sandy beaches, and soak in natural riverside hot springs. The goal of this course is to develop your rowing and paddling skills to progress toward rafting harder whitewater, while simultaneously developing the leadership skills you need to know to run your own rafting trips.
Course participants canoe through rapids on the Salmon River

Adult Salmon Whitewater Canoeing

Unleash your adventurous spirit on a captivating adult canoe expedition through the beauty of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness whitewater rapids, sandy beaches, and riverside hot springs. Learn canoeing basics, rescue techniques, risk management, and Leave No Trace camping. Beyond whitewater canoeing skills, you'll focus on leadership development—making decisions in challenging situations and tuning in to group dynamics. Rotate through leadership roles, understanding your style and how it supports your team. Leave ready to lead canoe expeditions and apply your leadership skills in any group context.
Two students whitewater canoeing rapids on the San Juan River.

Whitewater Canoeing Expedition - 16 and 17 Only

Embark on a summer whitewater canoeing expedition exclusively for 16 and 17-year-olds along Utah's Green River, the cradle of whitewater boating. Begin with basic paddling techniques and community living principles, then advance to navigating and scouting rapids. Learn essential leadership skills through daily roles, tackling challenges like rapid assessment, conflict resolution, and adapting to adverse weather.
Students kayaking on the calm waters in a section of Desolation Canyon.

Whitewater River Adventure

Explore the Green River in Utah with an unforgettable whitewater river adventure tailored for 14- to 15-year-olds. Starting at the NOLS River Base in Vernal, Utah, you'll master basic kayaking techniques before progressing to more advanced rafting and kayaking skills on the Green River. Learn to navigate thrilling rapids, cook on a camp stove, and work as a team. Gain confidence and an appreciation for the natural environment by exploring local geology, ancient petroglyphs, and the water in the region.
Two students whitewater canoeing rapids on the San Juan River.

San Juan Canoeing Expedition

Join us on this 12-day adventure along Utah's San Juan River! Perfect for those who thrive on teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership, this course challenges you to navigate Class III rapids while immersing in nature. With a sense of adventure, a curious mind, and a love for the natural world, you'll feel right at home. Experience the thrill of the rapids, the camaraderie of teamwork, and the serenity of the canyons.

Whitewater Adventures FAQs

  • Is whitewater kayaking difficult?

    Whitewater kayaking can be challenging for beginners. It requires paddling techniques, river-reading skills, and handling turbulent water. Training and practice are crucial for success. A NOLS whitewater course will give you the skills and experience you need to be successful paddling class II and III whitewater.

  • How is a whitewater kayak different from regular sea kayaking or lake kayaking?

    Whitewater kayaks differ significantly from their sea and lake counterparts. They are shorter, around 6-8 feet, for agile river navigation, while sea and lake kayaks are longer and built for stability. Whitewater kayaks feature rockered hulls for quick turns, reinforced construction to withstand rough conditions, smaller cockpits for water resistance, and outfitting for control. Sea and lake kayaks prioritize lightweight materials, larger cockpits for easy entry, and comfort features. These distinctions make each kayak type ideal for its intended environment – whitewater kayaks for turbulent rivers and sea/lake kayaks for open water exploration.

  • How do you teach whitewater kayaking to beginners?

    For beginners, start with professional instruction. At NOLS, you can learn paddling techniques, whitewater risk management, and practice on calm water before progressing to challenging rapids.

  • Can you canoe in whitewater?

    Yes, whitewater canoeing is a thrilling sport. Specialized canoes designed for stability and maneuverability are used in rough river conditions.

  • What kind of canoe is best for whitewater?

    Look for canoes specifically designed for whitewater. Whitewater canoes are shorter boats, with rockered bottoms for agility. They have high sides with reinforced materials for durability and cockpits that are covered with neoprene “spray skirts” to keep out water. Options include solo playboats and tandem river runners.

  • What is whitewater kayaking?

    Whitewater kayaking involves navigating rivers with turbulent, fast-moving water in a specialized kayak, often designed for extreme maneuverability.

  • What is whitewater rafting?

    Whitewater rafting is an adventure sport where participants use inflatable rafts to navigate rivers with rapids, emphasizing teamwork, fun and exhilaration.

  • What is the difference between rafting and white water rafting?

    "Rafting," or flat water rafting, can refer to traveling on a flat water river via raft. "Whitewater rafting" specifies the activity involving navigating challenging whitewater rapids on a raft.

  • Is whitewater rafting strenuous?

    A whitewater rafting trip can be physically demanding, involving paddling and bracing against strong currents. However, many whitewater adventure trips are suitable for a range of fitness levels.

  • Is whitewater kayaking safer than whitewater rafting?

    Both activities have inherent risks, but managing these risks largely depends on factors like skill level, equipment, gear, and river conditions. Proper training and safety measures are essential for both. NOLS whitewater instructors are well-equipped to manage these inherent risks and teach you how to assess and mitigate these risks.