The Most Beautiful River in Every State

Sandstone Falls on the New River in West Virginia

Tim Pennington /istockphoto

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Sandstone Falls on the New River in West Virginia
Tim Pennington /istockphoto
Cahaba River

Alabama: Cahaba River

The 194-mile Cahaba, Alabama's longest free-flowing river, is special not just for its beauty, but its biodiversity. The river claims more native fish species — 128 — than any other river of its size in North America, according to the Cahaba River Society. It's also easy to access, with canoe and boat launches right outside Birmingham.

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Kenai River
Jodi Jacobson/istockphoto

Alaska: Kenai River

Turquoise waters make the glacier-fed, 80-mile Kenai one of the most picturesque of Alaska's many stunning rivers. While too popular with salmon fishermen to afford much of the state's trademark solitude, the Kenai is also more accessible than many of Alaska's rivers. It also offers plenty of chances for rafting and bear watching.  

Related: Best Fishing Spots in All 50 States

Colorado River

Arizona: Colorado River

The Colorado River figures heavily into Arizona's most stunning vistas, cutting a path through deep gorges in the northwestern corner of the state that include the Grand Canyon. The Colorado actually passes through 11 national parks and monuments on its 1,450-mile journey to the Gulf of California, providing water to 36 million people along the way. For one of the most iconic views of this iconic river, head to Horseshoe Bend in Arizona's Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  

Buffalo National River
Stephan Hawks/istockphoto

Arkansas: Buffalo National River

America's first designated national river is a bucket-list attraction for anyone who finds themselves in the Ozarks. Unencumbered by any dams, the 135-mile, bluff-lined river is popular with kayakers, canoeists, anglers, tubers, hikers, and campers. It also has scenic swimming holes where visitors can cool off during sweltering Arkansas summers.

Merced River

California: Merced River

The 122-mile Merced River is the stuff of any outdoorsy person's dreams, flowing through alpine forests and meadows, and past peaks including Yosemite National Park's iconic Half Dome. Hiking, camping, and rafting opportunities abound, and you may even catch a glimpse of the limestone salamander, a threatened species that lives nowhere else in the world.

Related: The Best of California For Budget Vacations

Cache La Poudre

Colorado: Cache La Poudre

You'll find the headwaters of Colorado's only federally designated Wild and Scenic River high in Rocky Mountain National Park. From there, it tumbles about 7,000 feet through stunning forested canyons until it joins the South Platte River, about 140 miles later. It's a popular spot for campers, anglers, hikers, hunters, and rafters. Wildlife watchers may spy elk, black bears, bighorn sheep, bobcats, mountain lions and the distinctive tassel-eared squirrel.

Related: 21 Places to Safely See Wild Animals Up Close

Farmington River

Connecticut: Farmington River

This federal Wild and Scenic River flows about 47 miles through picturesque northwestern Connecticut, and it's one of the state's go-to spots for fly-fishing and tubing. In fact, it offers three sets of rapids that make floating down the Farmington more than a lazy way to beat the heat on a summer day. The river has also hosted nesting bald eagles. 

Brandywine Creek, Delaware
Brandywine Creek, Delaware by Ad Meskens (CC BY)
Loxahatchee River
Craig Cooper/istockphoto

Florida: Loxahatchee River

What this 7.6-mile river lacks in length, it makes up for in scenery. Just a short drive from West Palm Beach, paddlers will find a thick canopy of cypress trees, plentiful ferns, and tangled branches lying low over the water. Expect to spot turtles on logs, alligators, ospreys, and maybe even manatees or bald eagles.

Tallulah River

Georgia: Tallulah River

Though it begins in neighboring North Carolina, the 48-mile-long Tallulah River reserves some of its most gorgeous stretches for the northeastern corner of the Peach State. It cuts a 1,000-foot-deep path through the spectacular Tallulah Gorge State Park, where visitors must obtain a permit to carefully hike their way down to the river's edge. A suspension bridge provides a bird's-eye view for anyone not up to the challenge.

Related: Gorgeous Vintage Photos of Bridges Across America

Wailua Falls

Hawaii: Wailua River

You'll find this 20-mile-long river on Kauai, which boasts Hawaii's only navigable rivers. Wailua is the largest, and the waterfalls and thick rainforests along the way also make it one of the prettiest. Visitors can explore via kayak, canoe, paddle board or boat tours, some of which also show off the romantic lava-rock Fern Grotto.

Related: The Best of Hawaii on a Budget

Salmon River
Melissa Kopka/istockphoto

Idaho: Salmon River

"The River of No Return" may have an ominous nickname, but this 420-mile river offers some of the most pristine scenery you'll find in the Gem State. One of North America's last undammed mountain rivers, much of the Salmon is surrounded by towering pines and rocky canyon walls. A variety of rapids make it an ideal choice for rafters of all skill levels, while hot springs, swimming holes, and wildlife viewing are slower-paced diversions.

Related: The Best Remote Vacation Spot in Every State

DSC_0012 by Eco-Justice Collaborative (CC BY-SA)

Illinois: Vermilion River

The only Illinois river to earn the federal Wild and Scenic designation, the sleepy 28-mile Vermilion's Middle Fork passes through a wide variety of landscapes, including high bluffs, forests, and prairie. There are plenty of sand bars for paddlers to hop out and observe hawks, turtles, and other wildlife, and the river valley hosts two dozen threatened or endangered species.

A Day on the Blue River
A Day on the Blue River by Jason Meredith (CC BY)

Indiana: Blue River

This southern Indiana waterway winds 57 miles before merging with the mighty Ohio. On the way, it offers some of the best paddling in Indiana, experts say, as well as eye candy including bluffs, caves, cliffs, gentle rapids, and lush tree-lined banks.

20110731 297 Canoe Down Upper Iowa River - 4 to Bluffton
20110731 297 Canoe Down Upper Iowa River - 4 to Bluffton by Michael Massa (CC BY-NC)

Iowa: Upper Iowa River

Winding 150 miles on its path to the Mississippi River, the Upper Iowa is best known for dramatic stretches that flow past imposing limestone bluffs. It draws paddlers, tubers, anglers, birdwatchers, campers, and hikers from around the region. On the Mississippi River Flyway, the Upper Iowa is also a fertile spot for birdwatchers, who can often spy bald eagle nests and hundreds of migrating species in the spring.

Kansas river, Lawrence, KS
Kansas river, Lawrence, KS by Aude Lising (CC BY-NC-ND)

Kansas: Kansas River

This major tributary of the Missouri River, the 148-mile Kansas River offers glimpses of the placid prairies that make the Sunflower State so unique. Officially designated a river trail, the "Kaw" has plenty of boat ramps, and camping is encouraged on the river's ample sand bars.

Related: 40 Under-The-Radar Boating Destinations Across the Country

Red River Gorge at Natural Bridge
Red River Gorge at Natural Bridge by hspauldi (CC BY-SA)

Kentucky: Red River

Chief among the Bluegrass State's many scenic waterways is the 97-mile Red River, the state's only river to earn the federal Wild and Scenic designation. Visitors will easily be able to see why: The boulder-studded Red is often surrounded by sandstone bluffs and lush trees. Its most famous stretch, the Red River Gorge, boasts natural arches, cliffs, and popular hikes.

Pearl River

Louisiana: Pearl River

The highlight of this wide-ranging river system on the Louisiana-Mississippi border is undoubtedly the Honey Island Swamp, where cyprus and tupelo trees grow out of the still water. Yes, there are alligators; no, there is probably not a gator-chimp hybrid with yellow eyes, despite local lore. However, the wildlife management area encompassing the Pearl is a great spot to spy bald eagles, egrets, herons, and wood ducks.

Penobscot River

Maine: Penobscot River

The 190-mile Penobscot has several claims to fame: It's the largest river entirely in Maine, the second-largest river in New England, and home to the largest remaining Atlantic salmon run. The river traverses pristine forests, tumbling through rapids suitable for everyone from beginning paddlers to whitewater experts. Anglers can catch not just salmon, but wild brook trout, small-mouth bass, and striped bass.

Related: 20 Things You Never Knew About New England

Patapsco Valley State Park

Maryland: Patapsco River

The Patapsco forms Baltimore's Inner Harbor before merging with the Chesapeake Bay, but follow it further upriver, beyond the city, and you'll find plenty of gorgeous scenery. Some of the best is in the 16,000-acre Patapsco Valley State Park, where visitors can get out on the babbling, tree-lined river to paddle or fish, or stay on dry land for hiking, camping, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

Related: The Best Things To Do In Baltimore

Westfield River

Massachusetts: Westfield River

A tributary of the Connecticut River that begins in western Massachusetts' Berkshire Hills, the 78-mile Westfield is noted for its whitewater canoeing and kayaking, fishing, and scenery that includes historic bridges and riverside villages. It also boasts Glendale Falls, the state's highest waterfall, and the dramatic Chesterfield Gorge.

pine river mirror
pine river mirror by Christian Collins (CC BY-SA)

Michigan: Pine River

In a state loaded with lovely rivers, the Pine stands out for both its beauty and abundant opportunities for recreation, including canoeing, hunting, swimming, and hiking. The 53-mile river, much of which flows through the Huron-Manistee National Forests, is also a draw for anglers as a designated Blue Ribbon Trout Stream.

Temperance River

Minnesota: Temperance River

For a true taste of the northwoods, the Temperance River delivers. This 39-mile river is in Minnesota's uncrowded northeastern corner, ensuring that those who make the trek will find solitude. The river's rushing waterfalls and gorges are surrounded by the birch, pine, and cedar forests of Temperance River State Park, where visitors can camp, fish, hike, and picnic on the shores of Lake Superior.

Black Creek @ Brooklyn
Black Creek @ Brooklyn by /\ \/\/ /\ (CC BY-SA)

Mississippi: Black Creek

The only Mississippi river to earn the federal Wild and Scenic designation, Black Creek is the beating heart of the 5,000-acre Black Creek Wilderness Area. As its name suggests, it's a blackwater river, which means the water has darkened from decaying vegetation; scenery includes low-hanging branches, bluffs, and lots of sand bars.

Eleven Point River
Colby Lysne/istockphoto

Missouri: Eleven Point River

This spring-fed National Scenic River in the Ozarks is a reliably lovely place to cool off during brutal Missouri summers, with its forested banks, bluffs, and mossy boulders insulated from rolling farmland nearby. Much of it flows through the Mark Twain National Forest, which offers access points for paddling, fishing, and tubing. 

Flathead River
David Butler/istockphoto
Niobrara River

Nebraska: Niobrara River

Seventy-six miles of the 568-mile Niobrara have been designated a National Scenic River, and the unique prairie scenery is certainly part of the reason. The water snakes along Nebraska's famous sandhills, tall bluffs, and Ponderosa pines, attracting visitors on rafts, canoes, kayaks, and tubes. The river valley also boasts a number of world-class fossil sites.

Truckee River

Nevada: Truckee River

This 121-mile river begins at neighboring California's famous Lake Tahoe, but soon crosses the border and eventually ends at Nevada's otherworldly Pyramid Lake. Along the way, Sierra Nevada scenery dominates until the river rushes through Reno, where a whitewater park brings a taste of the river's wilder reaches to the city. 

Related: Earth's Most Alien Landscapes

Pemigewasset River
Gerald G Gantar/istockphoto

New Hampshire: Pemigewasset River

"The Pemi" is 65 miles of clear, rushing waters and tree-lined banks in central New Hampshire. In Franconia Notch State Park, it surges through some of the park's most popular sites, including the picturesque Basin, a large granite pothole. Further down the river, opportunities for tubing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and fishing abound. Experienced hikers may also want to check out the 31-mile Pemi Loop for mountain views.

Related: The Best State Park in Every State

Great Egg Harbor River
Great Egg Harbor River by Admiral capn (CC BY-SA)

New Jersey: Great Egg Harbor River

The basis for one of New Jersey's few national parks, the 59-mile Great Egg Harbor River has been designated a national scenic and recreational river. Winding through mostly rural southern New Jersey, it's long been a draw for paddlers who want solitude (and don't mind navigating around the occasional fallen tree). Birdwatchers are also in luck, as the river is a major habitat for migrating birds.

Gila River

New Mexico: Gila River

While most of the 649-mile Gila runs through neighboring Arizona, it's at its most picturesque in New Mexico, near its headwaters. There, it flows through the pristine Gila National Forest and alongside ancient cliff dwellings at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Only a few stretches of this rushing mountain river are calm enough for paddling, but hiking, birding, hot springs, and petroglyphs provide plenty of other reasons to make the trip.

Related: Best Natural Hot Springs in America

Hudson River

New York: Hudson River

New York's most famous river remains one of its most scenic. The 315-mile Hudson rises in the Adirondacks and is at its most rugged there, particularly in the massive Hudson Gorge Wilderness, which offers chances for whitewater paddling. Further down, the river widens, but the lush Hudson Valley is no less spectacular, and scenic views are almost too numerous to list. Don't miss Poughkeepsie's Walkway Over the Hudson, the world's longest elevated pedestrian bridge.

Green River Narrows - Gorilla
Green River Narrows - Gorilla by Todd F Niemand (CC BY-NC)

North Carolina: Green River

Southeast of popular Asheville, the Green River tumbles through the lush Blue Ridge Mountains. Its upper reaches include expert-level whitewater, and every year, the river hosts the Green River Narrows Race, the "Super Bowl of whitewater kayaking,"  For a less death-defying experience, grab a tube and while the day away on the river's lower reaches, watching for herons along the way.

Little Missouri River
river sunset
river sunset by Cathy (CC BY-NC)

Ohio: Little Miami River

This lazy tree-lined river flows 111 miles through Southwest Ohio, drawing visitors from around the region for canoeing, kayaking, or biking on the adjacent Little Miami Scenic Trail, one of the nation's best rail trails. A nationally designated Wild and Scenic river, the Little Miami's origins are worth exploring on a hike through Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve. Follow it up with a trip to nearby Yellow Springs, a quirky small town with a hippie spirit you might not expect to find in the Buckeye State.

Loving Oklahoma
Loving Oklahoma by OakleyOriginals (CC BY)

Oklahoma: Illinois River

A tributary of the Arkansas River, the 145-mile Illinois River flows through stretches of Oklahoma's Ozark Hills that are far removed from the unyielding plains in the rest of the state. Paddlers will spy forests and bluffs, and maybe even some of the area's abundant bald eagles, while anglers can cast for walleye, sunfish, and bass.

Columbia River
Youghiogheny River

Pennsylvania: Youghiogheny River

You can shorten this tongue-twister to "The Yough," but whatever you call it, there's no denying its beauty. A 132-mile tributary of the Monongahela River, the Youghiogheny has white water for rafters of all abilities. Some of its most scenic stretches rush through Ohiopyle State Park, where Ohiopyle Falls is the centerpiece of the river.

Wood River, Woodville, Rhode Island, autumn
Wood River, Woodville, Rhode Island, autumn by Peter Rintels (CC BY-ND)

Rhode Island: Wood River

In tiny Rhode Island, you're never more than an hour from the lovely Wood River, which is surrounded by mostly undeveloped land. There are swamps, marshes, gentle rapids, and plenty of shade trees for paddlers and hikers on hot summer days. It's also a prime destination for trout fishing.

Edisto River, South Carolina
Edisto River, South Carolina by eutrophication&hypoxia (CC BY)

South Carolina: Edisto River

The 250-mile Edisto, which flows into the Atlantic south of Charleston, is a blackwater river. That means the waters have been stained by decaying vegetation; it's also one of the continent's longest free-flowing rivers of its kind. Low-hanging cypress trees, twisted floating branches, and untamed swamps make paddling here an atmospheric experience.

Missouri River South Dakota

South Dakota: Missouri River

"The Mighty Mo" bisects South Dakota, and while you won't find a pristine, remote mountain stream, you will find sweeping views of the state's prairies and rolling hills from its wide waters. Four major reservoirs along the Missouri provide ample chances for boating and fishing, and the Native American Scenic Byway offers tribal history with a side of river views.

Related: Beautiful Short-Haul RV Trips for a Memorable Summer Weekend 

Obed River
Rio Grande
Tim Speer/istockphoto
Virgin River

Utah: Virgin River

This 162-mile river flows through some of Utah's most gorgeous nooks and crannies, including the stunning canyons it has carved inside Zion National Park. Visitors can get up close and personal with the river on a trip through the Narrows, one of Zion's bucket-list activities. There, adventurers can hike, wade, and swim in spots where canyon walls tower 2,000 feet above, but are less than 20 feet wide in some places.

Related: 33 Historic National Park Photos for Vintage Views

The Missisquoi River
The Missisquoi River by Jimmy Emerson, DVM (CC BY-NC-ND)

Vermont: Missisquoi River

This corner of New England has more than its fair share of gorgeous waterways, and the Missisquoi River is certainly among them. It flows for roughly 80 miles in Northern Vermont and Quebec, and paddlers can enjoy views of the area's dairy farms and distant mountains. Highlights include Big Falls, a 35-foot waterfall where visitors can swim or fish at the base.

James River
Skagit River
Esteban Martinena Guerrero/istockphoto

Washington: Skagit River

The Skagit rises in the Cascade Mountains, flowing 150 miles through lush forests, mountain valleys, and farmland before emptying into the Puget Sound. Conservation efforts have helped boost the numbers of snow geese, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, and other species. The river's upper reaches attract whitewater rafters, but the main draw might be for anglers. Native fish include Pacific salmon, steelhead, and trout. 

Related: Where to See Bald Eagles in (Almost) Every State

New River

West Virginia: New River

The 320-mile New River may actually be one of the oldest rivers in the world. The water has exposed rocks that are 1 billion years old, and scientists think the New might be older than any of the world's mountain ranges. Today, it's a center for adrenaline junkies who get their fix on the river's whitewater, scale the gorge's rock walls, and even BASE jump from its iconic bridge. Fishing, paddling, hiking, and horseback riding are on tap for anyone who wants to relax and enjoy the stunning Appalachian scenery.

Related: Bucket List Experiences for Adrenaline Junkies

Namekagon River

Wisconsin: Namekagon River

Dubbed "Wisconsin's moving national park," this mostly undeveloped 100-mile river bisects the state's heavily forested northern reaches. The scenery, gentle rapids, and abundant fish and solitude attract paddlers, anglers, and tubers, as well as hikers and snowshoers along the banks. 

Snake River

Wyoming: Snake River

Though it welcomes more than 300,000 visitors a year, the mighty Snake River still has a wild feel befitting the Cowboy State. With headwaters in Yellowstone National Park, the 1,078-mile river also flows through mountainous Grand Teton National Park, past ranchlands, and through its namesake canyon, with eye-popping scenery along the way.

Related: Towns Where You Can Still Experience the Wild West