Classic River Reads You’ll Love

Classic River Reads You’ll Love

If you love adventure as much as we do, you’ll want to get your hands on these reads—some of the best river books ever written.

The River Why – For more than 20 years people have been falling in love with David James Duncan’s moving story about a flyfisherman who sets out on a journey of self-discovery along Oregon’s rivers. The River Why is the ultimate coming-of-age tale with a good dose of wisdom and humor.

The Doing of the Thing: The Brief, Brilliant Whitewater Career of Buzz Holstrom – Three river guides, Vince Welch, Cort Conley and Brad Dimock, weave together a beautiful biography about the life and mysterious death of one of America’s greatest river runners—Buzz Holstrom. Through info collected from his extensive journals, readers are taken along on his journeys, including his solo descent of the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1937.

The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyon – When it comes to the best river books, it doesn’t get more classic than John Wesley Powell’s own account of his historic 1869 expedition—the first trip down the Colorado River and the length of the Grand Canyon. Every present-day Grand Canyon boatman has no doubt shared some of the harrowing tales from this book from a true river legend.

John Wesley Powell Expedition

Photo: Historic shot from John Wesley Powell’s second expedition


Lost River: A Memoir of Life, Death and Transformation on Wild Water – Richard Bangs, an adventure travel industry pioneer, recounts his unforgettable personal story of a river expedition that went terribly wrong when a group of friends set out to raft Africa’s wild and unexplored rivers in the early 70’s. Lost River is about what happens when they attempt to finish the journey decades later, friendship and the joy of adventure.

Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River – A riveting and dramatic first-hand account from world-class kayaker Peter Heller of one of the planet’s last great adventures—the first successful descent of the notorious Tsangpo Gorge in Northern Tibet, which until 2002, had eluded explorers for more than a century.

This article appears in O.A.R.S.’ 2014 Adventures catalog. Order your FREE copy here.


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Must Read Adventure Book:  Before They’re Gone

Recommended Read: Turn Right at Machu Picchu


  • Scott

    Nice list! Though not adventure of the adrenalin variety, might I add Barry Lopez’s Classic – River Notes: The Dance of Herons – to the list. And while I’m at it, Desert Notes, also by Barry Lopez. They’ve gone down every river I have since the late 70’s 🙂

    • Cari_Morgan

      Love the list additions. Thanks for contributing!

  • Rand

    And don’t forget “River” by the master of solo exploration, Colin Fletcher 🙂

  • Idaho Girl

    “Anything Worth Doing, a true story of adventure, friendship and tragedy on the last of the West’s great rivers”‘ by Jo Deurbrouck. 2012. Not old enough to be a “classic” yet, but it could become one.

  • Peter Bacot

    Reading Water by Rebecca Lawton. Also “Desert Solataire” for the Glen Canyon and Havasu accounts. Also the Powell expedition account in “Beyond The 100th Meridian”.

  • Sunk Without a Sound: The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde by Brad Dimock.

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