Extreme Paddling Destinations

Can’t wait for a hair-raising ride across some of the world’s most extreme paddling destinations? If you’re super skillful with your yak, get set to tackle raging white rapids that seriously challenge your techniques. If, like many of us, you’d rather paddle in the shallows and watch from the sidelines, these top spots are fantastic for spectator sport too. 

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Where to find extreme paddling destinations

Chilko River, USA

extreme paddling destinations

Tackle the boulder gardens, jagged rocks and huge breaking waves of Lava Canyon on the Chilko River. About 14 miles of action awaits on one of the longest commercial stretches of Class IV whitewater in the country. The river flows out of the glacier-fed Chilko Lake and, in the fall, look out for wildlife such as eagles and black bears along the shores as salmon runs up the river. If you’re looking for a new whitewater kayak that’s easy to travel with, check out the Sea Eagle

Wairoa River, New Zealand

extreme paddling destinations nz

Thrilling whitewater action awaits on New Zealand’s Wairoa River. Take the challenge of Mothers Nightmare with a technical rock garden followed by a two-meter drop and tackle The Rollercoaster. With an exhilarating three-meter drop, The Waterfall plunges you into a tumultuous pool through the dramatic rock canyon. If you’re not up for the expert Grade V rapids, you’ll find simple Grade II cascades to play in. To make the most of the whitewater excitement, stay in the picturesque town of Wairoa. For those visiting in the colder months, don’t forget a full wetsuit, like the Henderson Thermoprene

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

extreme paddling destinations victoria falls

If you’re traveling to Africa, you’re in for an adrenaline-boosting treat on the continent’s top rapids. In fact, this whitewater is often considered the best in the world. Just below Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River launches the action with Class IV and V rapids across 24-kilometers of thrills. Get set for the ride over The Terminator, The Washing Machine, Stairway to Heaven, Oblivion and Devil’s Toilet Bowl. The names alone give you a pretty good indication of what’s in store. Local rafting operators supply lifejackets. However, if you’d rather take your own, check out the NRS Vapor

Royal Gorge, USA

extreme paddling destinations

World-class rapids are surrounded by dramatic granite cliffs at the Royal Gorge. Carved by the Arkansas River, this deep canyon offers more whitewater than any other river in Colorado, with Class III to IV challenges. Between fantastic whitewater adventures, discover the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. It encompasses one of the world’s highest suspension bridges, stretching an incredible 1,270 feet above the mighty river. 

Ottawa River, Canada

whitewater kayaking

One of the globe’s best extreme paddling destinations, Ottawa delivers the goods from Class III to IV rapids. The time to go is from May to September for tumbling waves, swells and heart-pumping action. Take a deep breath for the ride of a lifetime over Lemming’s Leap, Butcher’s Knife, Hell’s Half Mile and the five-meter waterfall at Gavin’s Chute. Though it’s best to avoid taking anything with you when you’re tackling extreme paddling destinations, don’t forget a waterproof bag for any valuables.  

Futaleufu River, Chile

whitewater kayaking

Daredevils arrive in the tiny town of Futaleufu from all over the world to ride the wild rapids in the midst of soaring mountains. Infamous Class V rapids include the aptly named Terminator, the Himalayas and the Macal section. If you don’t have much paddling experience, there are plenty of companies offering whitewater kayaking lessons, so you can make the most of the thrills. Just be aware that the rapids are more challenging in a kayak, so a guided rafting trip is best for beginners. 

Ready to take on the world’s most extreme paddling destinations in your own yak? Here are four of the top playboats on the market today:

Dagger Phantom

Dagger Mamba

Riot Kayaks Astro

Driftsun Rover

Looking for a more chilled out kayaking adventure? Check out where to go kayaking with kids
Nicole West

Nicole Leigh West is an internationally published travel and lifestyle writer. She's traveled to more than 60 countries and you'll most often find her kayaking, diving and swimming across the globe.

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