By: Eugene Buchanan

To celebrate the luck o' the Irish March 17, we've compiled a list of classic paddling spots to unleash your inner leprechaun (cool fact: there are 14 Green Rivers in the U.S., and two more in Canada). Even if you can't hit them on all on March 17 in honor of Ireland's most recognized patron saint, put them on your list for the rest of the year to make your paddling peers green with envy.

Green River Butte, Utah. Photo: Wikimedia.

Green River, Utah
The West's 730-mile Green River, the chief tributary of the Colorado flowing through parts of Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, serves up all sorts of paddling offerings you can hit year-round. Most start below the town of Green River, Wyo. While you can sea kayak and canoe the shoreline of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, in northeastern Utah, the main river paddling segments start just below it with the A,B and C fly-fishing waters of Brown's Park.
As the river flows eastward, looping around the eastern tip of the Uinta Mountains, it picks up pace, eventually turning west and then south into Dinosaur National Monument where it passes through the Class III-IV Gates of Lodore, a popular three to four day trip (permit required). After joining the Yampa River at Steamboat Rock, the Green turns westward again back into Utah along the southern edge of the Uintas in Whirlpool and Split Mountain Canyon (note: Split Mountain can also be run as a classic Class III day trip; call before for day permit).
The next main section is back-to-back, 120-mile Desolation and Gray Canyons, another great, permitted multi-day trip filled with easy Class III (and one new Class IV at Cow Sleep), ruins and great side hikes. Below the town of Green River, Utah, the Green is joined by the San Rafael River and meanders through two great flatwater canoe and sea kayak stretches in Canyonlands National Park before giving up its name at the confluence of the Colorado. (Note: hire a jet boat to meet you for the shuttle back upstream to Moab to avoid venturing into Class IV Cataract Canyon just downstream of the confluence).

Notch of the Green River. Photo: Curtis England

Green River, North Carolina
The three main paddling sections of the Green River in North Carolina, all guaranteed to leave you grinning like a leprechaun — the upper Green, Narrows and lower Green. While all of these stretches are closely connected they each have their own very different characters.
Upper Green: This 3.7-mile, Class II-III section, which averages 49 feet per mile, is frequently run by kayakers and whitewater open boaters,. Put in below the Tuxedo Hydro Station and take out at the start of the Narrows. More of a creek than a river, it's filled with tight, easy moves and low water playspots.
The Narrows: You'll want a little luck of the Irish with you on the 3-mile, Class V Narrows section, a pool/drop, boulder-filled, slide-riddle gauntlet of classic whitewater. The pinnacle of the Asheville area Class V paddling scene, the stretch has nine Class IV rapids, and eight Class Vs. Three of the biggest are Go Left and Die, Gorilla and Sunshine. The Southeast’s most famous steep creek, the stretch is dam released and runs nearly 300 days per year (100% release level is the standard), requiring a half-mile mile walk to get to the put-in. The stretch is home to the annual Green River Race, held on the first Saturday of every November.
Lower Green: As with the upper section, this Class II, six-mile-long stretch is popular among everyone from kayakers to tubers, and perfect for those learning how to paddle. While mild compared to its upstream counterparts, it's still a classic in terms of Southeast scenery.

Photo: Northwest Rafting Company

Green Truss, White Salmon
The Class V Green Truss section of the White Salmon runs year-round and has long been a proving ground for Northwest paddlers. And with all its waterfalls, there are plenty of Finnegan's rainbows to see on any run of the stretch. While the put-in can be a bit dodgy, it's good preparation for what lies ahead as you'll be dodging rocks, holes and strainers when not lining up to launch off such drops as Big Brother, Little Brother, Double Drop and more. The action starts as soon as you round the first corner, where a stark horizon line leads to a long series of fun Class III-IV, each with calm pools for boat scouting. But then things pick up, with Meatball, a two-part rapid leading the charge. Other rapids to bring your four-leaf clover for include Cheesegrater, the Wicker Hole, Unavoibable and Zig Zag. Get through unscathed and it's Guinness time.

Photo: Northwest Rafting Company

Green River Gorge, Washington
Best run from October to May after rains, the Class III-IV Green River Gorge is one of the most accessible whitewater runs close to Seattle. It offers fun play spots, great scenery and fun, and great boulder dodging through rapids. Note: hit it after a day or two of rain, and check the gauge beforehand. Ledge Drop 1 leads things off, followed by Pipeline, which can push Class IV. Shortly later are Class IV Mercury and the Nozzle (look for powerlines overhead followed by an island). Make especially sure to scout for wood at the Nozzle, a chute between two large boulders. Fun Class III ensues afterward until the river eases its pace toward the take out at Franklin Bridge. Many boaters also continue on to paddle the easier Class II-III stretch below to Flaming Geyser State Park.

Other Ways to Get Your Green On

  • Drink Green River soft drink, introduced in Chicago in 1919
  • Listen to the 1980s Seattle band Green River
  • Listen to the song Green River off the Green River album by Credence Clearwater Revival
  • Attend the Green River Music Festival in Greenfield, Mass., July 20-21, 2013.

Canoe & Kayak's Unequivocal Green Rivers List