Neilson River Race 2016 St Raymond Quebec Best Whitewater Kayak Race

As the snow covered mountains begin to melt this spring/summer, the creeks are transforming into rushing whitewater rapids. A perfect way to cool off with summer fun in the mountains. These spots become a hotbed of fast-paced kayaking and rafting all over North America. Here are the 6 best whitewater kayak races in a ski-town near you.

The Best Whitewater Kayak Races In North America (in order of appearance):

Don’t watch all the excitement on TV or YouTube this season. Get out there and enjoy the best whitewater kayak events in person!

Neilson River Race 2016 St Raymond Quebec Best Whitewater Kayak Race
Paddler about to drop-in his kayak before the Nielson River Race – Image taken by: Gilles Baribeau Photo

Little White Salmon Race – White Salmon, Washington

March 30th, 2024

Little White Salmon Race Best Whitewater Races In North America
Image appears courtesy: Little White Salmon Race

In kayaking circles around North America, the Little White Salmon River is the stuff of legends. A tributary of the mighty Columbia, it’s considered one of the most difficult regular run rivers on the West Coast. It makes sense that the Little White Salmon race, named after this river, is thought to be the Pacific Northwest’s marquee extreme race due to its challenge.

Neilson River Race – Saint Raymond, Quebec

May 18-19th, 2024

Neilson River Race 2016 St Raymond Quebec Best Whitewater Kayak Race
Kayaker taking the famed Double Drop Rapid, the last one before the finish line – Image taken by: Gilles Baribeau Photo

Another home grown grass roots kayak event, this race is located off a dirt road 30 minutes outside of Saint Raymond, Quebec. It starts at the Big Eyes Rapid and follows the river for approximately 6 km. Filled with class IV and V rapids, the race finishes up at the famed Double Drop. A little different from the other races mentioned, teams consist of two racers and the time trial ends when BOTH members cross the finish line.

Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival – Estacada, Oregon

May 18th – 19th, 2024

Image appears courtesy: Upper Clackamas River Festival

Started in 1984, this shindig is a fun and exciting way to enjoy all whitewater related activities including SUP endurance events, inflatable kayaking, and head to head races! There’s a smorgasbord of contests to watch. But that’s not all. They also demo equipment and host advanced rowing clinics to bring your skills up to the next level.

Bigfork Whitewater Festival – Bigfork, Montana

May 24-26, 2024

Bigfork Whitewater Festival Vintage Sign Best Whitewater Kayak Race Montana Northern Rockies
Graphic and Photos Courtesy of the Bigfork Eagle

In its 49th year, the Bigfork Whitewater Festival is the oldest running whitewater race on our list. Located in Flathead Valley, not far from Whitefish Ski resort, this last mile of the Swan River is all class IV rapids! Nicknamed the “Wild Mile”, this segment of river flows through the town of Bigfork which has a nature trail following the river, giving spectators the perfect venue to watch from. Over the years, this event has even been part of professional circuits such as the Kayaking Pro Circuit and the Western Whitewater Championship series.

GoPro Mountain Games

June 6-9th, 2024

Image appears courtesy: Mountain Games

Vail might be known for its skiing, but its outdoor adventures any time of year are off-the-chain. To celebrate its vast array of activities each summer they throw arguably one of the biggest displays of sport, art, and music with the GoPro Mountain Games. As more than 70,000+ spectators descend upon this mountain town to take in all the fun. Within the schedule you’ll find a medley of kayaking events from downhill sprints to an old-fashioned  freestyle throw down in the Vail Whitewater Park 

The Green Race

Early November, 2024

Green River Race
Image appears courtesy: Green River Race

Compared to the rest of these frothy kayak events that are fed by snowmelt, this southern bell is surprisingly held in Fall. Located just outside of Asheville North Carolina on the Green River narrows, more than 2,000 spectators hike into the Gorge. With a 170+ racers battling it out at the end of the North American season, it’s no wonder they call themselves the “Super Bowl of Kayaking.” 

North Fork Championship – Banks, Idaho


North Fork Championship best whitewater kayak races Banks Idaho Pacific Northwest
North Fork Kayak Championship – Image taken by: Kevin Rank

When we visited McCall, ID, we heard rumors about the North Fork River. Little did we know this river was home to an extreme kayak race called the North Fork Championship. Halfway between McCall and Boise in a place named Banks, Idaho. With three races and a whitewater kayak film event called the Melt Awards, this is a true breeding ground for serious kayakers. Sadly, as of January 2023 the family who put it on were forced to cancel it. The primary reason? Their insurance company refused to renew their insurance coverage and they couldn’t find a replacement. The sad part is this might be the beginning of the end for all major whitewater kayak events moving forward if other class V races are unable to find an alternative liability coverage.

Reno River Festival – Reno, Nevada

No Longer Hosting Whitewater Races

Reno River Festival 2011 best whitewater kayak races Lake Tahoe Nevada Truckee River
From the women’s freestyle finals – 2011 Reno River Festival – Image taken by: Ken Drozd

Located smack dab in the center of Reno, since its inception kayaking was the main headliner with over 60 professionals from France, Great Britain, and Austria competing for over $10,000 in prize money. Due to a few reasons from the whitewater park deteriorating to supposedly professionals not calling Reno home, sadly the Reno River Festival will no longer host any kayak races. Is this the end for competitive kayaking in northern Nevada?

Out of all the whitewater kayak events, these are our favorites. Is there another event that belongs on this list?

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