Anytime the word “Falls” comes up in a rapid name, you know you’re in for an exciting time. There are a lot of unique variables that come into play when your inflatable vessel goes vertical when you raft waterfalls, making it a must on any whitewater enthusiast’s to-do lists.
An average height for most of the grand finale falls on commercial rafting trips is 8 feet. This is the point where the raft length vs. drop height can start to make the effects of gravity a little interesting. Carson Falls on the Forks of the Kern, Louis’s Leap on Cherry Creek, Clavey Falls on the Tuolumne River, and Chamberlain Falls on the North Fork of the American River are a few of the notorious 8 foot falls. Running these invokes the sensation of a buzzing excitement mixed with an element of fear. Looking at a horizon line while moving towards it without brakes is a unique feeling. You may have studied what is at the bottom, but you know it will look and feel different from the raft. And once you’ve picked your line and paddle off the edge, there’s not much more you can do in that moment than GET DOWN and hope that the river is working with you.
Amongst these well known and often challenged waterfalls, there are a handful of commercially rafted waterfalls that have become world famous.
Meet the over-8-club…5 of the tallest commercially rafted waterfalls in the world
- Class V
- Kaituna River – Okere Falls, New Zealand
- 23 feet
Pictures of rafts dropping down Tutea Falls on the Kaituna tend to evoke the reaction of “why?!” No matter how you line these falls up, 23 feet still provides a lot of hang time for gravity and physics to do some funny things. The Kaituna is a popular rafting destination during the winter months, and many guides make the commute each year to work and play on this beautiful river.
- Class III
- Bottom Moose River – Lyons Falls, NY
- 18 feet
Easily the steepest class III rapid that we’ve ever heard of, Lyons Falls can be run practically anywhere as long as you’re pointed forward. This drop is actually a break from the rest of the run, most of which is rated class V and has unreliable water flows most of the year.
- Class V
- Gauley River – Fayetteville, WV
- 14 feet
The Gauley River is a dam released river with reliable flows for 6 weekends each September and October. Boaters flock from all over the world, making it a one-of-a-kind run full of festivities, whitewater, and carnage. There are 5 major class V rapids, ending with Sweets Falls. Named after John Sweets for his first descent in 1968, it has accumulated fame and spectators as years have passed. The rapid itself isn’t a straight drop, but more of a 14 foot slide into an interesting hydraulic. It is fun and certainly exciting when done right, but much of the excitement of Sweets Falls comes from things other than a clean line. If you find yourself a foot off line to the left, you’ll find your raft pummeling a rock and creating quite the explosion as boat, paddles, and people fly in a variety of directions. A foot to the right and your boat will be stuck in the Energizer – a steep drop into a very sticky hydraulic. If all goes well, Postage Due – a large rock crowded with boaters giving unfriendly advice – waits immediately downstream, with an area called Box Canyon – yet another undesirable place to be stuck – to the left.
Sound carries well here, and part of prepping your crew for running Sweets Falls is to listen to your guide’s voice, and only your guide’s voice. Advice from people wanting a show, ranging from paddle commands to swim instructions, will be coming from every direction.
Husum Falls may come in at #4 in height, but it is certainly the steepest commercially run waterfall that is available each summer to run.
- Class V
- White Salmon River – Husum, WA
- 12 feet
Husum Falls is a notorious rapid located on the White Salmon River, offering a 12 foot vertical drop into a large hole with a boulder garden to navigate just downstream. Unique on its own – located at the mouth of a collapsed lava tube that boats raft through before arriving at Husum – it is also unique in its ease of access. Portaging is an easy and practical option for many boaters who would rather watch the show than be the show, and often times a large crowd is gathered at the bridge to cheer on the rafts as they make their way through. Thanks to a relatively straightforward lead in and plenty of support at the bottom, the option to plummet over the falls is presented to rafters at its proper water levels. Due to the ferocity of the water hydraulics at the bottom, in any other scenario Husum Falls would not be commercially runnable.
Husum is extremely exciting at all water flows. At higher flow, there is often an element of luck involved. Perfect lines can go poorly, and horrible lines can come out clean. As the water flows drop and the available line becomes more constricted, there tend to be less flips and boats just going really, really deep into the hole at the bottom. It isn’t unusual to see multiple photo frames where the raft isn’t visible before popping back into the air.
- Class V
- Gore Canyon, Upper Colorado River – Grand County, CO
- 10 feet
Gore Canyon is not a stretch for the faint of heart, and very few companies commercially raft this stretch. Physical tests are a pre-requisite, with flip drills and swim tests demanded of each participant at the beginning of the trip. While Tunnel Falls comes in at #5 in height, it is without a doubt the most difficult of these waterfalls to navigate. This entire run requires incredibly precise maneuvering, and the falls are no exception. This stretch runs in the late summer in Colorado, and is the place to go if you feel like you’ve run everything else that whitewater has to offer.
Running waterfalls is not for everyone, and it is often just as fun to watch others plummet over them as it is to run it yourself. Ask your guides about their favorite waterfall on your next Wet Planet rafting trip, or let us know if you have a favorite of your own!
Feeling up to the challenge yourself? The option to run Husum Falls is a part of every trip on the White Salmon River with Wet Planet during appropriate water flows. You’ll have the opportunity to scout Husum with your trip leader at the beginning of your day, and have plenty of time to discuss the ins and outs of what running this spectacular waterfalls means for you and your group before making the final decision.