Deerfield River, Zoar Outdoor
More than 20 years ago, a power facility controlling the local dam met with recreational interest groups to determine a water-release schedule that worked for both hydropower purposes and whitewater rafting. Since this meeting, the Deerfield River has become an acclaimed rafting route for both beginners and veterans.
Zoar Gap guides lead groups down the Classes II and III rapids in western Massachusetts every year from mid-April to mid-October. The six-hour Zoar Gap trip takes paddlers over the age of 7 down a 10-mile route full of rapids and pools for swimming.
Participants paddle through rapids with names such as Microwave, Freight Train and Pinball before the grand finale rapid of Zoar Gap.
“You are coming in from a wide part of the river with a beautiful view of the valley,” said Karen Blom, public relations director for Zoar Outdoor. “Then it narrows down when you get to Zoar Gap. Guides maneuver the raft down the technical part of the rapids.”
After enjoying the drops in Zoar Gap, groups stop to swim, relax and dine on a picnic-style lunch in a state forest. The rest of the route runs through calmer waters while participants digest and learn about the natural, Native American and railroad history of the area.
“The trip has a lot of variety,” said Blom. “You have stunning vistas and quiet sections where you can see wildlife. Then we have rapids with people screaming.”
Larger church groups can have guides organize rafting challenges, water fights and other water-related activities. The outfitter also offers zip lining, kayaking, rock climbing and lodging.
Flathead River, Glacier Raft Company
West Glacier, Montana
Iconic scenery, featured in the film “River Wild,” mixed with rapids named Bone Crusher and Jaws invites church groups to soak in the beautiful panoramas of West Glacier, Montana — when they’re not furiously paddling. In the midst of 3 million acres of protected land, the Glacier Raft Company takes groups along the middle fork of the Flathead River for a family-friendly rafting ride past mountain peaks and canyons.
“Every year we have many church groups come raft with us,” said Jeff Baldelli, co-owner and outfitter of the Glacier Raft Company. “The river borders Glacier National Park, so the whole time you are rafting, you are looking at views of Glacier National Park.”
Half-day and full-day rafting trips offer Classes II and III rapids for those seeking a more exciting ride. Guides can also navigate the river for a leisurely whitewater-free trip for those looking to sit back and take in the views.
A lively stretch of the river goes through John Steven Canyon, which holds the wildest rapids of the route. Participants break for a Montana-style barbecue lunch midway through, which guides prepare using camp stoves and firewood from the riverside.
Throughout the trip, guides provide commentary on the area’s early settlers, local Native American tribes and other major natural events that occurred in the park, such as huge fires and floods.
“We can take five or 150 people down the river,” said Baldelli. “The trip goes as smooth as it would if there were 10 people. We’re taking kids ages 5 to senior citizens.”
The outfitters can also combine rafting trips with guided horseback riding and fishing excursions.
U.S. National Whitewater Center
Charlotte, North Carolina
To help train Olympians for water sports that usually require certain weather conditions, the U.S. National Whitewater Center pumped 12 million gallons of well water into a recirculating, artificial whitewater river. Groups can take plunges down the same rapids on which Olympians train at the center’s whitewater channels.
The $38 million facility sits amid 700 acres in Charlotte to train athletes in a wide range of outdoor sports. The whitewater rafting channels create Classes II through IV rapids, diverted by both natural boulders and movable plastic pieces attached to the bottom of the man-made riverbed.
With the help of a guide, groups can paddle either the Adventure Rafting course’s Class IV rapids or the Family Rafting course’s Class III rapids, depending on the desired level of difficulty.
Groups can choose from a plethora of guided activities at the center, including stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, eco-trekking, mountain biking, rock climbing and zip lining.