The History of Whitewater Rafting

Rafting and canoeing was an ancient tradition for Native Americans who were the first to navigate North America’s rivers. They transported people, food, and supplies along rivers and also rafted rivers to hunt and find the best places to fish.

Native American were skilled in building wooden rafts and canoes. They passed their knowledge down through generations. Their expertise was later passed on to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who were given both boats and guidance by the Nez Perce tribe.

1811 – The first recorded whitewater rafting trip was planned on the Snake River in Wyoming. The expedition was quickly abandoned as those attempting to raft the river realized they didn’t have appropriate gear and they needed more training and experience.

1842-1843 Lt. John Fremont and Horace H. Day built the first rubber raft

1844 – 1845 Peter Halkett of Great Britain improved upon Fremont and Day’s raft design

1869 – The Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869 was the first thorough cartographic and scientific exploration of the Green and Colorado River

1925 – Amos Burg is the first person to raft the Snake River all the way into Portland, Oregon

1940 – the first commercial rafting trip took place through Snake River Canyon lead by Clyde Smith

1950s – John D. Rockefeller, Jr. opened a resort hotel in the Grand Teton National Park and eventually the lodge began offering float trips using surplus war rafts.

1960s – 1970s – The first commercial rafting companies begin to open as more people show interest

1972 – Whitewater rafting became an Olympic competitive event for the first time!

1981 – French Broad Rafting was ‘born’! We later added ziplining, canyoneering, and rock climbing to our offerings, and became French Broad Adventures!

It might seem funny to include ourselves in the history of whitewater rafting, but we are so proud of what we do and our small place in the outdoor industry. Just as our present experience was informed by early whitewater rafting trailblazers, perhaps what we are doing now will influence the rafting experience in the future. After all, whitewater rafting trips are safer now than ever before because gear has become so sophisticated. And a safe trip is a fun trip! We also can’t say enough about our capable and well-trained staff who make every trip down the French Broad a memorable, and often hilarious, adventure. In fact, we take rafting so seriously, we teach a class on it! Owners Mitch, Korey, and Michael Hampton, along with some of their Senior Guides, teach a Whitewater Rafting class at nearby college, AB Tech.

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