The History of White Water Rafting | Cairns Tours

The History of White Water Rafting

By James Dixon | 16th June 2015

Native Americans – particularly those from around the Columbia River region in Oregon – were the precursors of the sport of white water rafting, having navigated the river for food for more than 15,000 years. Tribes such as the Spokane, Colville, Umatilla and particularly the Nez Perce, passed their knowledge and craft to explorers Lewis and Clark, who are credited with developing the keelboat.


Modern white water rafting has been traced back to the first recorded endeavour on the Snake River in Wyoming, USA in 1811. Proving too dangerous, it was not until 1842-43 – when Lieutenant John Fremont built the first rubber raft – that navigation of the northeast American rivers truly became possible.

The first successful white water trip recorded was on the Salmon River in Idaho, in 1940. After WWII, interest in the sport continued to grow, gaining international recognition when the sport was included in the Munich Olympics in 1972. After the Olympics, white water rafting companies sprang up across North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Scotland. Continued interest in the leisure sport has never waned, resulting in improved safety measures and equipment, elevated skills, high performance craft and accessories and more navigable rivers than ever before. Once a sport associated with daredevils, white water rafting can now be equally attempted by beginners, with most river systems graded for different skill levels.

The International Federation of Rafting was established in 1997, further consolidating the sport in the international arena. In 1999, the official International Championship was held for the first time, garnering huge interest and support. White water rafting has come a long way, from its almost primeval beginnings, when the first rafts were made of rubber cloth tubes. Today, state of the art materials and equipment, allows rafters to negotiate some of the wildest rivers on the planet. In Australia, white water rafting is hugely popular – none more so than in Cairns, where the beauty of the natural landscape is a significant highlight.

Cairns Tours offer three amazing white water rafting adventures around the Cairns region. All of these options are guided by friendly rafting professionals, whose expertise ensures a safe and fun experience, amid some of the most amazing scenery anywhere in the world. The Raging Thunder: Barron Raft Adventure is ideal for beginners, with grade 2 and 3 rapids in the Barron River, which flows through breathtaking Barron Gorge National Park. For the more adventurous, Raging Thunder: Xtreme Tully Raft Adventure and Raging Thunder: Tully Raft Adventure are two of the wildest white water rafting adventures you can experience, designed for thrill seekers.

Whichever option you choose, you’ll know you are pursuing an activity that has a long history and a popularity that has endured the times!