When you think about it, whitewater rafting is really one of the ideal activities that a family can undertake when visiting the Smokies. It lets you get outdoors and experience nature at its wildest, most beautiful best. And it’s also a great way to fill one of your vacation days with fun and adventure.
Rafting season in the Smokies generally runs from spring into early fall, although the most popular visitation times are between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That’s when the water flow—often controlled by dams, depending on the river—is both its steadiest and its warmest. Earlier in spring and later in September, you may find an East Tennessee or Western North Carolina river to be a breathtakingly chillier experience.
In Gatlinburg, you’ll find several outfitters that operate whitewater-rafting expeditions, including Rafting in the Smokies, Rip Roaring Adventures, Smoky Mountain Outdoors, Big Creek Expeditions and Nantahala Outdoor Center, to mention a few companies operating locally. Contact us here at Heartland Rentals in Gatlinburg, TN,and we can help put you in contact with some of the businesses nearest our accommodations.
Most trips are booked on the Pigeon River, the Nantahala River or the Ocoee River. These waterways are usually a couple of hours or more from Gatlinburg, but you can make all your trip arrangements in Gatlinburg. These rivers offer something for everyone, from the novice to the experienced rafter. You’ll find everything from Class I (the tamest) to Class IV (some of the wildest) whitewater rapids.
Rafting companies have all the equipment you’ll need to enjoy a half-day or day on the water—rafts and oars, safety helmets, life jackets and more. They also give you plenty of instruction on how to paddle, when to paddle and what to do if your raft flips over (it doesn’t happen all the time, but it can happen).
And you’re not on your own when you raft either. Each raft is led by an experienced guide who knows the rivers and knows how to safely get his or her passengers through the different rapid runs. They also shuttle you from the outpost to the put-in point for departure, and then shuttle you from the take-out point back to the office.
In addition to the thrills of plowing through sections of rapids, these trips also offer times that your group can float merrily down the stream, giving you a chance to take a dip in the water, snap a few photos or do some nature spotting.