A Brief History of Whitewater Rafting

Water has been an important source of transportation for centuries, dating back to native Americans who used canoes and rafts to navigate North America’s vast waterways.

Modern whitewater rafting as we know it dates back to 1842 when Lieutenant John Fremont began exploring Colorado's Platte River. During this time, he and inventor Horace H. Day created a rubber raft featuring four rubber cloth tubes and a wrap-around floor to help survey the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains areas.

Early river rafting continued in 1869 when Major John Wesley Powell led ten men in four wooden boats on a scientific rafting exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Although their boats weren’t built for Colorado whitewater rafting, there were many times when the men had no choice but to hold on tight and ride the rapids.

In 1940, the first commercial whitewater rafting trip went down the Salmon River in the northwestern U.S.  At the end of World War II, surplus rafts became available and trips began to run down western rivers on a regular basis.

In the 1950’s, John D. Rockefeller Jr. constructed the Grand Teton National Park, which offered float trips down the Snake River.

However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that commercial whitewater rafting truly turned into a recreational activity for the masses. At first, outfitters used surplus military rafts to go whitewater rafting. Eventually, these were replaced by more modern inflatable rafts and rafting equipment.

In the 1970s, attention was brought to whitewater sports when kayak slalom was included in the Munich Olympic Games. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the equipment and tools used for whitewater rafting continued to evolve into what we use today.