The world’s six wildest rivers

The world’s top whitewater kayakers select the best rivers for getting wild on. Enjoy the ride.
By Josh Sampiero

There are a lot of rivers in this world, and picking your favourite isn't easy – especially when you're a professional kayaker. But nevertheless, we put the challenge to six boaters who get paid to paddle, and this is what they came up with...

 1. Rafa Ortiz

Red Bull Illume 2013 Top-250 Mike Leeds
Baptism by whitewater © Mike Leeds/Red Bull Illume

Location: Little White Salmon, Washington, USA
Key pull: Continuous white water

"To put the Little White Salmon River (AKA Ldub) in a few words, it's the most quality, continuous piece of whitewater I've ever paddled. People live here because of this river; others drive hours; others of us fly here just to paddle it."

So says Mexican kayaker Rafa Ortiz of the river in the state of Washington that few outside of the whitewater industry have ever heard of. But you'll need to know what you're doing – this is dangerous territory for paddlers who aren't highly experienced.

For more epic shots of kayakers going over crazy waterfalls, check out this gallery with some classics from the Red Bull Illume photo contest.

 2. Nouria Newman

Nouria Newman kayaking
Nouria Newman on Canada's glacial Clendening © Eric Parker

Location: Clendening, BC, Canada 

Key pull: Remote, cold water and granite slides

"This place is without doubt the most beautiful I've ever paddled on. It takes some effort to get there – you have to take a hydroplane, paddle across a lake, and hike up with your kayak, but it's totally worth it," says the French slalom canoist.

"You have a stunning view and the river comes straight from the glacier. It's an incredible feeling to stand next to huge ice packs and realise that you are at the very source of the river. There are also a few good runnable granite slides, which recently appeared with the glacier's retreat."

 3. Aniol Serrasolses

Aniol Serrasolses chasing the white water in Mexico.
Aniol Serrasolses on Santo Domingo's white water © Marcos Ferro/Red Bull Content Pool

Location: Santo Domingo, Chiapas, Mexico
Key pull: Steep, technical and hard

"Far down south in the beautiful region of Chiapas, Mexico, is the craziest river I've ever paddled on – so steep, so technical, and so hard – nothing really compares to it."

Sporting waterfalls that go from seven to 30m high, and warm, blue, water, it's not hard to see the appeal. Says Serrasolses: "This is a place to go if you want to push your limits with extreme kayaking."

 4. Maxime Richard

Maxime Richard kayaking
Paddling rapids in a sprint canoe is WAY harder © Maxime Richard

Location: Noguera Pallaresa, Spain
Key pull: Big waves and nostalgia

"My favourite whitewater river is in the north of Spain: the Noguera Pallaresa," says the sprint canoeist. "It's a famous river, with big waves, frozen water, and technical lines." It's also no short stroll – it's 25km long, and requires focus the entire time.

But in the end, it's not just the whitewater that keeps Richard traveling back – it's history and nostalgia. "I scored my first wild water sprint world championship gold medal there in 2010!" The river may be cold, but it holds a warm place in his heart.

5. Dane Jackson

Dane Jackson kayaking at a large waterfall.
Dane Jackson drops a waterfall in Veracruz © John Rathwell/Red Bull Content Pool

Location: Veracruz, Mexico
Key pull: Perfect waterfalls

"My favorite place to kayak for steep whitewater and waterfalls is Veracruz, Mexico," says Jackson. "This place is paradise and it has – and some perfect waterfalls."

His favourite waterfall to run there is the Truchas waterfall. It requires a 50m rappel into the gorge, right along side this big waterfall. From there, it's a multi-drop line to the finish. The final drop – nearly 20m – has a tricky exit to add to the excitement. But in the end, it's worth it. "Once you finish the drops and make it to the bottom. It's pretty surreal looking back up. As if the waterfalls weren't epic enough, you hike out of the gorge and finish the hike at a nice restaurant and enjoy an awesome meal."

6. Ben Brown

Ben Brown traverses Huka Falls in his home country of New Zealand.
Over the edge © Graeme Murray/Red Bull Content Pool

Location: Wainui River, New Zealand
Key pull: Takes a hurricane to come into force

Despite travelling the world on kayak expeditions, Brown's favourite river run is in his home country. "My favourite place to paddle is New Zealand. If I had to pick a favourite waterfall I would say the Wainui Waterfall on the Wainui River in the North Island's Bay of Plenty."

The river is unique in that it only flows after heavy rains, giving existence to such drops as the Wainui Waterfull. Good to know hurricanes are good for some thing! But despite a bit of a rarity in opportunities to run the river, Brown loves it. He concludes: "In my mind is very close to the perfect river and a spot I always get super fired up to get back to."

This story is part of our #AdventureLists. Don't miss our compilations of the world's most epic adventures. Check out our previous #AdventureLists below and stay tuned every Monday.

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