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Ah, the heart-pounding thrill of plunging over raging rapids and feeling the cool spray of water in your face as you paddle furiously to stay on course. Whitewater rafting is a thrill for travelers of all ages, but enthusiasts can have a significant commute to don their life jackets and raft rivers located hours away.

These five whitewater adventures are located in cities, so you can go right from urban sidewalks to an adrenaline-filled water adventure that doesn’t take an entire day of your vacation.


RELATED: 5 adventure-packed cruises you can book now

Whitewater Express in Columbus, Georgia | Photo courtesy of Visit Columbus

1. Whitewater Express: Columbus, GA

Located about 100 miles southwest of Atlanta, Columbus is home to the longest urban whitewater rafting course in the world. Dams dating back to the 1800s were blasted away and mother nature’s roaring waters were guided a bit to create the 2.5-mile course that opened in 2013, and described as “Wild as the Colorado and warm as Costa Rica.”

Two types of trips are possible on the same stretch of water. In the mornings, the waters are more controlled for the gentler Classic ride with class I-III rapids. At one point during the trip, rafters disembark and float slowly on their backs down a section constructed like a lazy river. For a wilder ride, the more adventurous can opt for the Challenge ride in the afternoon when more water is released and rapids amp up to class III-V.

RIVERSPORT Rapids, Oklahoma City

RIVERSPORT Rapids in Oklahoma City | Photo courtesy of Visit OKC

2. RIVERSPORT Rapids: Oklahoma City, OK

Twenty years ago it was an eyesore, an ugly weed-filled drainage ditch. But the citizens of Oklahoma City and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers partnered to transform a seven-mile stretch of the Oklahoma River and in 2006 created the Boathouse District. A few years later RIVERSPORT Adventure Park opened, and last year it was joined by RIVERSPORT Rapids, a $45.2-million man-made whitewater center that features class II-IV whitewater rafting and kayaking.

After a safety talk and being outfitted with helmets and life jackets, rafters hop on board with their guide and make several runs down the rapids course to repeat the thrills of the waves.

RIVERSPORTS Rapids is a U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Site with many rowing and kayak athletes who have their eyes on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo training here.

RELATED: Looking for an equally thrilling travel rewards program? Find it here—it’s free to join!

U.S. National Whitewater Center

The rapids at U.S. National Whitewater Center | Photo from

3. U.S. National Whitewater Center: Charlotte, NC

Whitewater enthusiasts can kayak or raft on class ll-IV rapids at this 1,300-acre center built adjacent to the Catawba River in Charlotte, which boasts the world’s largest man-made recirculating whitewater river. Experienced kayakers are welcome to bring their own equipment, while rafters have their choice of two experiences: the easier Family Rafting and the most popular selection, Adventure Rafting.

Guests may share a locker room with aspiring Olympians, who come here to train; the USNWC is an official Olympic Training Center for whitewater slalom racing.

The center also has a climbing center, trail center, adventure courses, mountain biking, a restaurant and beer garden.

Confluence Park, Denver. Photo from Visit Denver

Confluence Park in Denver, Colorado

4. Confluence Park: Denver, CO

A section of the South Platte River that was polluted and being used as a dump 40 years ago was restored, ending at the popular Confluence Park in downtown Denver in the popular LoDo area. Boat chutes and locks were added and now kayakers and rafters can make their way through the rapids at the intersection of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River in this city park. Take your own boat for a free adventure, or rent them from the nearby outfitter Confluence Kayaks.

Construction on Confluence Park was just completed and includes a restoration of Shoemaker Plaza, first built in the 1970s. As part of the restoration, access to the river has been improved with updated boat ramps.

The James River in Richmond, Virginia | Photo courtesy of RVA Paddlesports

5. The James River, Richmond, VA

The James River runs right through the capital city of Virginia, giving it one of it nicknames as the River City. Richmond is one of the few cities where you can raft or kayak on natural class III and IV rapids in an urban environment. Because the rapids are compliments of mother nature, their level depends on the day’s water level.

The largest rapids are on the lower James River, including the class lll-IV Hollywood Rapids, named not for that famous movie neighborhood in Los Angeles, but rather for the historic 19th-century cemetery that got its name from all the holly trees on the property. Prepare for a few spectators as you navigate these rapids, as they are located directly in front of Belle Isle, one of the most popular hangout spots in town.

Several outfitters operate on the river offering rentals, lessons and day and overnight trips. These include Riverside Outfitters, RVA Paddlesports and River City Adventures.

Travel tip: Some rafting opportunities are seasonal or dependent on the weather; check hours and open dates before you go.





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Jan Schroder
An award-winner writer based in Atlanta, Jan Schroder is an editor, book author, publisher of Girl on the Go and a really pathetic packer for a travel writer. She is also editorial director of The 100 Companies, a publishing platform with 100-word stories and 100-second videos.
Jan Schroder
Jan Schroder
Jan Schroder

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