In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill that gave a high level of protection to certain rivers, which were deemed valuable for their extreme scenic or ecological beauty. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and it’s more important than ever to preserve fresh water and free-flowing rivers.

So, in honor of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the importance of getting out on rivers, here are some of the most thrilling, easy-to-access stretches of beautiful rivers in the country, including some that are already designated “Wild and Scenic,” some that are in contention and some that just deserve honorable mention.

It’s time to plan your spring river trip.

Owyhee River, Oregon

The Owyhee River. Photo: BLM

The Owyhee River carves through a beautiful desert gorge in the remote southeastern corner of Oregon.

It’s so steep and sheer that it’s been called “Oregon’s Grand Canyon.” It’s one of the most remote, untouched contiguous landscapes in the lower 48 (which alone is worth visiting), but it also has hot springs and class III rapids.

Rio Grande, Texas

Santa Elena Canyon on the Rio Grande. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The stretch of the Rio Grande that runs through Big Bend National Park in West Texas is a steep-walled canyon that forms the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

The river is an oasis in a harsh desert landscape, and it’s one of the best places in the country to canoe. Visit Far Flung Adventures in Terlingua to get gear, and make sure to stop at the Starlight Theater for drinks and chili.

Nantahala River, North Carolina

Rapids on the Nantahala. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Western North Carolina’s Nantahala River is one of the classic paddling runs in the U.S., and for good reason. It’s full of splashy class II rapids that make it a good river for learning, and a fun one even after you’ve established some skills.

It’s dam released, so it runs pretty much year round, but spring is when the season really picks up.

Ruby-Horsethief, Colorado and Utah

Desert Canyons. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Arguably the country’s best short desert river trip, the 25-mile Ruby-Horsethief section of the Colorado River is a condensed version of some of the best, hardest-to-get river permits in the west. Over the course of a couple days you’ll float through red rock canyons and hit enough whitewater to keep you on your toes the whole time.

Blackfoot, Montana

The Blackfoot. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

If fishing is your main motivation for getting out on the river, then Montana’s Blackfoot River is a dream. Beautiful, free-flowing and full of bull, cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout … it’s a flyfisher’s dream. So much so that it was the inspiration for “A River Runs Through It.”

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