Zipping over bubbling rapids, deftly navigating narrow inlets, skirting the edge of awe-inspiring gorges, and doing it all at warp speed: these are the thrills that draw kayakers and rafters to some of Norway’s most picturesque, challenging rivers and coasts. Here’s where to go for an unforgettable experience on the water.

You’re going to want to dress warmly and hold on tight for these ultimate kayaking and rafting destinations. Most can and should be done with an experienced guide – someone with extensive, ingrained knowledge of every twist and turn, as well as the know-how to track weather conditions and currents. With the right planning and the proper precautions, even beginner kayakers and rafters can have a safe, fun and exhilarating time navigating the rapids.

Sjoa River

SJOA - AUG 12/ Kayaking on the Sjoa river in Norway. Aug 12, 2015 in Sjoa river, Norway
Kayaks navigate the white waters of the Sjoa River

Perhaps the country’s most well-known rafting and kayaking destination, the Sjoa River flows between two major national parks – Jotunheimen and Rondane – in the wilds of central Norway. It’s become extremely popular over the last few years, thanks to its varied terrain, which promises an amusement park-worthy list of challenging bends, canyons, and rapids.

Local tour companies offer safe access to the river’s many thrills, and several of them also include accommodations and meals. The trip you book will depend a lot on your level of skill and how much time you have. You can go out once, twice, or several times a day - and if you book accommodation, you’ll be able to note the shifts and changes in the waters over several days and see just how that alters your experience. Rafting or kayaking in a wild river is like a game with constantly changing rules – but that’s the fun of it!

Driva River

The roaring Driva river in Northern norway
The Driva river offers you a customizable rafting experience

This glacier-fed river in Trøndelag is known as one of Norway’s best kayaking and rafting centers. It starts in the Dovrefjell Mountains and flows through the Sunndalen Valley, past areas where majestic wildlife like reindeer, musk oxen, and polar foxes roam. The river is also chock full of salmon and trout, so it’s the perfect place to enjoy some fishing during your downtime.

But the Driva’s biggest draw? It offers varied routes that are customizable depending on skill level, so you can take the whole family on a rafting trip, or at least rest assured that if you travel with friends who are less experienced, you won’t have to spend the entire trip taking it slow. You can meet up with a rafting guide or group near the town of Oppdal, where you’ll start off at a leisurely pace, but quickly build up to greater speeds. Before long, you’ll be navigating frothing rapids with impressive names like Pyramid Rock and Shark’s Mouth, thrilling drops, and for the most experienced rafters, the majestic Gråura Canyon.

Voss

LOM - AUG 3/ A man is kayaking in Norwegian river. Aug 3, 2014 in Lom, Norway
A lone kayaker navigates challenging but exhilarating waters

The region of Voss has long been considered Norway’s adventure capital thanks to its overwhelming number of outdoor activities. Intrepid explorers have ventured there for nearly two centuries to commune with nature, test their mettle in challenging conditions, and have unforgettable experiences in one of the world’s most beautiful areas.

Thanks to its proximity to the west coast and its location between several fjords, Voss offers crystal clear waters punctuated by impressive cascades and surrounded by mountain vistas: perfect for activities like rafting and kayaking. Guides will choose from among three rivers – Strandaelva, Raundalselva or Vosso – depending on water levels, or you can venture onto the UNESCO-listed Nærøyfjord for a memorable sea kayaking adventure. Its proximity to Bergen (the central town of Vossevangen is about a 90-minute train ride away) makes Voss a stress-free, easy-access adventure vacation.

Trysil

Scandinavian sports concept. People doing extreme white water mountain canoeing in rough river.
Kayaking past rocky rapids in Norway

Both a river and a region, Trysil is home to some of Norway’s calmer rapids, making it a great first base if you’re a beginner or an ideal destination for a family rafting trip. Right on the Swedish border, this region also has a particularly long activity season, with trips available from April all the way to October. The Trysil River is around 62 miles (100 km) long, but only about 6 miles (10 km) of it make up the safe, secure, and popular rafting route.

You’ll start in Sølenstua, where river grade is imperceptible, making it a perfect place to learn about safety and practice your strokes. Over the 2-hour journey, you’ll gradually navigate rapids of increasing difficulty, getting used to the movements and feeling comfortable in the water. This is also a great place for kids to get used to the moves on the raft and learn to trust themselves in the water: Trysil is a great place to have fun while testing yourself on the rapids, before moving on to even greater challenges.

Lofoten Islands

classic Norway view with rorbus and canoes
Kayakers slice through calm waters with Lofoten's famous rorbuer fishing huts in the background

One of Norway’s most beloved archipelagos is – no surprise! – also one of its best sea kayaking destinations. This string of islands jutting out from Norway’s northern coast consistently draws visitors with truly enchanting, picturesque scenery, including jagged coastline and quaint, colorful wooden fishing villages. Exploring them from the water just adds yet another layer of intrigue.

Plan on arriving in Svolvaer as your first port of call: this is Lofoten’s central town, with a natural harbor full of boats and backed by dramatic, snow-speckled mountains. Most tour companies set off from here, and take several days or up to a week to head in the direction of Reine, a tiny village towards Lofoten’s southern end. You can also pass over Lofoten in favor of its slightly less well-known sister archipelago Vesteråle. Just to the north, these islands provide the same stunning landscapes, gorgeous fjords, and enchanting towns, but with fewer people and cruise ships taking up space in their coastal waters.

Folgefonna

Beautiful Nature Hardangerfjord landscape summer rain Norway
The blue-grey waters of Hardangerfjord

This magnificent national park centers on Norway’s third largest glacier, an imposing wall of blue ice flowing down into Hardangerfjord. Though many visitors choose to strap on crampons and wield ice axes and ropes to conquer the glacier by foot, it is arguably even more impressive from the water. Luckily, there are several tour companies that offer both.

Full-day kayaking trips take you past imposing icebergs that have broken off and are now floating haphazardly in the water, right up to the base of the glacier where you can get your gear ready for an unforgettable glacier walk. You'll park the kayaks on a beach at the foot of Møsevass, a tiny arm of Folgefonna, and prepare to enter a world that’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Most people think of ice as white or clear with very little variation, but once you’re up close and personal with the Folgefonna glacier, you’ll see mind-boggling variations in color and texture, as well as natural tunnels, bridges, and towers in the landscape that will make it seem like the surface of a (very cold) moon.

Helgeland Coast

Torghatten, a granite mountain with a hole you can see through, on Torget Island, Norway
Torghatten mountain with the peekaboo hole at its center

This area of coastline just south of the Arctic Circle is one of Norway’s most scenic paddling points, with an astonishing variety of natural landscape elements that check just about every box on an explorer’s or photographer’s wish list. From your kayak, you’ll have the chance to navigate tidal currents (including the world’s strongest, Saltstraumen), fish for cod in calm waters off the coast, and set up camp for the night on pristine beaches where the sun never sets in summer.

Along the way, you’ll catch a glimpse of Torghatten mountain, a granite mound famous for a hole at its center that lets sunlight through with an otherworldly glow. You’ll have the chance to view the epic Svartisen and Engabreen glaciers, and you’ll paddle through natural lagoons and past manmade bridges, quays, and forts. A trip like this will take several days of continuous travel and camping, but roughing it is worth it when the rewards are so great.

Smøla island

Norway - Tustna island landscape. More og Romsdal county.
The coast of Smøla with the Tustna mountains beyond

If If you dream of lighting out into untrammeled waterways, entirely independent of time and place, your tent and food supplies tucked safely into your kayak, then head to Smøla. This island on the coast near Trondheim includes Norway’s largest lowland prairie, with calm marshland that hosts a bounty of wildlife. It can be circled in about four days of paddling, but you may want to take more to explore the island’s every nook and cranny, or fish for trout in the island’s many interior lakes and roast it on an open fire.

To the north, tiny islets freckle the water, forming the spit known as Veilholmen that juts into the North Sea. In the west, you’ll explore coves and islets so numerous it feels like it would take a lifetime to see them all. South opens up to sweeping views of the nearby Tustna mountains, and southeast are the small sister islands of Edøy and Kuli. This rigorous, exciting trip includes a bit of everything, giving you a taste of Norway’s natural wonders that will surely whet your appetite for even bigger trips to come.