River kayaking can be two things: immensely peaceful or so thrashingly intense your heart feels like it’s lodged in your throat. The latter is more Chris Korbulic’s speed. The world-renowned expedition whitewater kayaker is the king of first descents. One of his latest ventures was an unnamed 45-foot waterfall at Agnes Creek just off the Pacific Crest Trail, which culminated in paddling the mile-long gorge of Middle Fork of the Salmon River (read more about it below).
Inspired by his feat, we put together a list of five remote rivers across the U.S. that are what river kayaking dreams are made of. (Don’t worry, whitewater rafting is not necessary at all.) These are mostly intended for peaceful voyages—and while they may not be first descents, they’ll make you feel like you’re making the maiden float.
Experience the River Kayaking Voyage of Your Dreams at These Remote Destinations
Where to launch: Rome, Oregon. Or level up to whitewater by launching at BLM’s Three Forks Recreation Site.
Best outfitter: River Drifters
2. St. Croix
One of the original eight rivers protected under the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Minnesota-Wisconsin border river is relatively accessible from the Twin Cities. It’s renowned for wildlife and great riverside campsites before its terminus at the Mississippi River.
Where to launch: Taylors Falls, Minnesota
Best outfitter: Wild River Outfitters
3. Rio Grande
This wetland corridor cuts through desolate hunks of New Mexico and Texas. The Wild and Scenic Lower Canyons of Big Bend National Park offer high payoff with 80-plus miles of remote and infrequently run canyon.
Where to launch: Terlingua, Texas
Best outfitter: Big Bend River Tours
From Mount Katahdin, the Allagash undulates at a mostly peaceful pace through the North Maine Woods. In this moose-laden area you can travel for days with few signs of civilization.
Where to launch: Greenville, Maine
Best outfitter: Allagash Canoe Trips
5. Middle Fork of the Salmon
Part of the largest roadless area in the Lower 48, and riddled with continuous Class III–IV whitewater and hot springs, Idaho’s Middle Fork is a favorite among seasoned wilderness river trippers.
Where to launch: Stanley, Idaho. Launch permits are scarce.
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