Advanced Paddlers: What are the best rivers to SUP?

If you're an intermediate or advanced paddleboarder, you might be asking yourself: where are the best river SUP destinations? 

Luckily for you, we've had the fortune of paddling all over and have determined the top 5 rivers to take your stand up paddleboard on. These places are epic for SUPing and will certainly challenge you.

Whitewater Paddleboard

The Upper Colorado River

The Upper C is great for all paddling beginners, especially stand up paddleboarders. This run is super versatile with several options for put-ins and take-outs. For longer floats with a bit of splash, we love running Pumphouse to Rancho. If you're looking for more of a cruise, we recommend Rancho to Catamount.

The Upper C isn't tremendously difficult, but it isn't a gimme either. It's perfect for a group of mixed abilities. You can feel confident bringing someone new to SUP on this float without fearing that more advanced paddlers will be bored. 

If you wanted to try your hand at river camping, the Upper C is a great spot to test your self-support SUP skills. Just load up your board, rig it to flip, and get an early start because campsites fill up quickly. Need help finding a campsite? Bring along the Upper C River Maps to guide you. 

Pro tip: Pack a lightweight sleeping pad in your drybag and lay on top of your inflated SUP when you're ready to sleep


The Grand Canyon

Admittedly, this is the least accessible of all the runs featured, but hear us out: once you're down in the Big Ditch, there is a rapid for every single skill level.

Even if you're a complete beginner, it's easy to hop off a raft and give paddleboarding a go in the flats. We've even seen people who have never SUPed a day in their lives become class III level paddleboarders in the span of one trip. The water is deep and the flows are consistent, allowing for anyone to progress a tremendous amount in two or three weeks.

It's also one of the few places where class IV (on the traditional scale) SUP runs exist without completely wrecking your body. The Grand Canyon is the hardest run out there that paddlers are consistently sticking on a paddleboard.


Grand Canyon SUP Are you a beginner paddleboarder? Check out our top 5 rivers for beginner SUP


The Nolichucky River

The remote section of the upper Noli Gorge is, without a doubt, one of the most stunning places we've ever paddled. Located high up in the mountains of NC, the Noli flows west through a dozen or so class III + IV rapids before crossing the border into TN. 

We often describe the Nolichucky as a "technical" river; certain moves have to be made at the exact right time to have a safe and enjoyable run. For this reason especially, the Noli definitely will challenge any intermediate or advanced paddler during their first float.

Even more, the Nolichucky has a few well known play waves to test out your river surf skills. The people are great, and the stoke is always high on the Noli.

Want to get fully kitted? See what you need to stay safe on the river


The Deschutes

This central Oregon river really does have it all. 

If you're interested in finding a community of like-minded SUP surfers, the Bend Whitewater Park is the place for you. Day and night you can find people waiting out on the lineup with their surf SUPs, hoping to catch a decent wave.

If you're interested in cutting your teeth on multi-day SUP support trips, the Deschutes is also great for getting your feet wet (literally). 

Near the town of Maupin, the lower Deschutes offers playful rapids, fun wave trains, and great sections to build river paddle boarding confidence.

Overall, the Deschutes, It is a marvelous river with many different sections. From technical whitewater in alpine forests, to scenic desert canyons, the Deschutes is a bucket-list river that you can spend everyday of the year exploring.

Looking for a new SUP paddle? Read this first!


The McKenzie River 

Another PNW hitter!  The McKenzie River between Eugene, Oregon and Bend, Oregon is always high on our list of my rivers to paddle board.

The whitewater section near the mountain town of McKenzie Bridge is about 12 miles of busy Class l and non-stop Class II rapids with bumpy wave trains and rocky navigation.

It’s a real test piece river for paddlers who want to increase their skills before moving to more technical whitewater on rivers like the White Salmon, WA.


Honorable Mention: Your Local Playpark

You knew we'd include this but seriously - whatever's close to you is guaranteed to give you a challenge. 

Wherever you are, your local play park will one of your best spots to grow in the sport of surf paddleboarding because you have strong eddies, built out features, and low danger.

Did we miss your favorite river? Let us know in the comments.

Photos courtesy of Austin Sun @austin_sun + Robbie Prechtl @alltoothbob.

1 comment



Great list! Thank you for sharing this with us. The Grand Canyon looks so dreamy, I cannot wait to check it out! I’ve been exploring different outdoor activities lately and paddle boarding is a new favorite of mine. Love how it’s both mentally and physically relaxing. Read here why you too should try it out:

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