This post was produced by Matador for our friends at REI, where it appeared in its original form.

WE’VE WRITTEN A LOT AT MATADOR about the next-level thinking that goes into river parks. As seen on this list, towns that take action to preserve or enhance sections of river by removing old, often dangerous dams (such as the Truckee River Park), or constructing whitewater features and trail systems (such as Buena Vista and Salida), enjoy big economic return in the form of festivals and the growth of local tourism industries.

Most of all, river parks create cultural and educational centers for the community. Here are some of the best examples in the country:

1. Great Falls Park, Potomac River, DC

Just 15 miles from Washington DC, the Potomac River constricts through one of the most impressive gorges in the eastern US, with a large volume river blasting over multiple 20 foot waterfalls and complex rapids. There are numerous hiking trails, overlooks, and areas to explore along the banks, as well as conservation and education programs year round. For advanced – expert kayakers, the falls themselves are the site of the yearly Great Falls Race, one of the most famous class V kayak races in the country.

2. Buena Vista River Park / Salida Riverside Park, Arkansas River, Colorado

The Arkansas River is over 100 miles of some of the most accessible and diverse whitewater in the country. It runs through two towns in short succession, Buena Vista and Salida, each with world-class river parks. Buena Vista River park has various hiking trails, bouldering gardens, and a frisbee golf course. There’s tons of green space, with open fields (including soccer and baseball). The section of river here has multiple man-made wave features, and is the site of the BV PRO Rodeo.

The Slida Play Park is exceptional in that its epic playboating holes are located right next to the historic district downtown. It’s the site of FIBARK, the country’s oldest whitewater festival.

3. Sweetwater Creek State Park, Atlanta

Right outside of urban Atlanta is a beautiful class III-IV whitewater creek and rolling section of piedmont forest with Native American historical sites, multiple sections of walkways and overlooks, and a next level visitor center. There are flatwater sections of the creek as well for tubing or SUP options. Whereas other river parks on this list are located in areas that put them more “in the spotlight,” Sweetwater is relatively off the beaten path, and has a strangely remote, wilderness feel.

4. Truckee River Whitewater Park, Reno, Nevada

The Truckee River Whitewater Park is literally at the center of downtown and within walking distance from casinos and the arts district. Unlike many western river parks, which don’t have sufficient flow to be runnable in wintertime, the Truckee has year-round flow. There’s an amphitheatre and various sections of walking trails and spectator areas. The water quality is also very good. TRWP is the site of the annual Reno River Festival.

5. The James River Park System, Richmond Virginia

The James River Park is an entire system of trails and recreation areas encompassing more than 500 acres along the James River. On the water are numerous natural whitewater features — shoals, ledges, and play-waves — and the area has excellent bike trails.

6. Kelly’s Park, Payette River, Idaho

Although it’s in the smallest town on this list (the tiny hamlet of Kelly, Idaho) Kelly’s is a beloved riverpark and example of how investing in whitewater infrastructure can transform a place into an international destination. The design of Kelly’s Park has allowed for the progressive SUP and river surfing. Kelly’s has twice hosted kayak world championships and was the site of the 2015 Payette Games.



This post was produced by Matador for our friends at REI, where it appeared in its original form.

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