5 FUN Whitewater Rafting Trips in the Smoky Mountains

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Riding some white water in the mountains of NC!

White water rafting is a popular activity in many parts of the world, but the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina (NC) and Tennessee (TN) provide a unique backdrop for this adventure. The Smoky Mountains offer lush forests, diverse wildlife, and clear, rapid rivers. Read on to learn about where you can go in the Smoky Mountains.

White water rafting is more than just a thrilling water sport; it’s an adventure that immerses you in nature and challenges your physical limits. As you first step into a raft and grip your paddle, your heart may pound with anticipation. The moment your raft hits the rushing water, you’ll understand the exhilarating appeal of this outdoor pursuit.

White water rafting in the Smoky Mountains, is an experience like no other. This area is renowned for its varied river systems, each with its unique characteristics and challenges. From gentle class I rapids to adrenaline-pumping class V rapids, the Smoky Mountains offer something for people of all skill levels. It’s a place where you can test your mettle against the rapids, soak up the beautiful scenery, and create lifelong memories.

In this post, I’ll introduce you to 5 top whitewater rafting outfitters for your next whitewater trip in the Smokies.

If you’re interested in white water rafting in North Carolina or Tennessee, then you may also love my post on the Best Snow and River Tubing in Boone.

Trip map created using Wanderlog, for making itineraries on iOS and Android

White water rafting outfitters in the Smoky Mountains

Nantahala Outdoor Center

The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) is the premier destination for white water rafting, with a number of locations across the Southeast. The NOC provides guided white water rafting trips on six different rivers, including the Nantahala River or the French Broad River in North Carolina, as well as the Ocoee River and several other rivers in Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. 

One of the most popular options is the Nantahala River, a beautiful waterway that offers class II and III rapids. It’s an ideal river for families, first timers, and those looking to enjoy a leisurely ride through the Smoky Mountains. The French Broad, also with easy, class II and III rapids, is another popular choice and the other option within North Carolina.

However, if you’re seeking a more intense white water rafting experience, the NOC doesn’t disappoint. The center offers trips in other states on the Ocoee and Cheoah rivers, both known for their challenging class IV and V rapids. These trips are not for the faint-hearted, but they do promise an unforgettable adventure.

With an experienced guide leading the way and the stunning Smoky Mountain scenery as your backdrop, a white water rafting trip with the Nantahala Outdoor Center is a must-do for any adventure enthusiast.

NOC offers a wide range of other adventures, including, zip-lining, mountain biking, and hiking. You can also choose combo packages that include two or more adventures, like ziplining + mountain biking or white water rafting + ziplining.

3-Hour Nantahala River Fully Guided Rafting Experience

We have the best location on the Nantahala River being located right at the takeout. This means you’ll only ride the bus once and you’ll finish at your car. After the river, enjoy one of our two restaurants by the river.

If you’re going to visit this part of the state, don’t miss out on all the great outdoor adventures in the Nantahala National Forest.

Smoky Mountain River Adventures

Another great place for white water rafting in the NC Smokies is Smoky Mountain River Adventures. This family-owned and operated business offers guided rafting trips on the Tuckasegee River, a waterway that perfectly captures the beauty and excitement of the Smoky Mountains.

The Tuckasegee River offers class I and II rapids, providing a fun and safe rafting experience. The guides are not only experts in navigating the river but also in making the trip enjoyable and entertaining.

Smoky Mountain’s rafts seat 3 to 7 guests, and the minimum age is 4 years old, so this is the perfect adventure for young children. In addition to guided tours, they also offer raft and ducky rentals so you can venture out on your own.

Smoky Mountain Outdoors

Tucked away in the small town of Hartford, TN, just across the North Carolina state line in east Tennessee, you’ll find Smoky Mountain Outdoors. With over 20 years of experience in providing exhilarating adventures, SMO has become synonymous with white water rafting in the Smokies. SMO offers a range of rafting trips to suit everyone’s adventure level and age. 

SMO does tours on the Pigeon River. If you’re looking for a leisurely float down the river’s calm waters, taking in the sights, then the Lower River Tour is for you. This 5.5 mile, 1-1.5 hour tour takes you through the gorgeous Pigeon River Gorge, and is suitable for young kids 3 years of age and older.

Lower Pigeon River Rafting Tour

Prepare to get wet on an exciting Smoky Mountain rafting adventure down the Pigeon River. Even if it’s your first time, grab a paddle and navigate dozens of class I and II rapids that offer plenty of splashes and thrills but are perfect for beginners.

The Upper River is where the premier whitewater is, so if you’re looking for a thrill you’ve found your spot. This part of the Pigeon River features class III and 4 rapids, and you’ll navigate it with your professional river guide on their 6.5 mile long tour. This trip lasts about 1.5-2 hours and is suitable for kids at least 8 years and older.

For those who want to experience the best of both worlds, the Upper and Lower River Rafting trips are an ideal choice. These combine the thrill of navigating challenging rapids with the serenity of floating down calm sections of the river.

Big Creek Expeditions

Another standout outfitter in Hartford, TN offering Pigeon River tours is Big Creek Expeditions. Founded by a professional guide with over 15 years of experience, Big Creek Expeditions specializes in providing high-quality river trips that are both thrilling and safe.

Big Creek’s expeditions are perfect for the whole family – no experience required! The Lower Pigeon River trip takes you out on the calm, scenic portion of the Pigeon River and lasts about 3 hours. This guided trip is perfect for kids of all ages, but they must be at least 3 years old to participate.

The Upper River trip is where the action happens. The heart-pounding excitement of the Upper Pigeon River trip, with its class III and IV rapids, is great for older kids and those looking for an adrenaline-pumping experience. You’ll go out for a 3 hour trip with your tour guide, who will take you through a total of 10 class III rapids and 3 class IV rapids. The minimum age for this trip is 8 years old. 

Tuckaseegee Outfitters

Last, but certainly not least, on the list of top outfitters for white water rafting in the Smoky Mountains, NC, is Tuckaseegee Outfitters. Located on the banks of the Tuckaseegee River, this family-owned and operated business has been providing memorable rafting experiences for over 30 years.

Tuckaseegee Outfitters offers a unique rafting experience known as the Tuckaseegee River Excursion. This trip gives you the opportunity to navigate the river’s quiet, serene class I and II rapids at your own pace, making it an ideal choice for first-time rafters and families.

In addition to rafting, they also offer tubing trips and inflatable kayaks. They offer both guided and unguided trips, so you can pick whether you want a tour or whether you prefer just grabbing a rental and checking the beautiful river out on your own.

The Bottom Line

White water rafting in the Smoky Mountains, NC is more than just a sport—it’s an adventure that connects you with nature and pushes your boundaries. You enjoy the thrill of the rapids, or flat down the river while taking in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina.

Remember, the adventure doesn’t end when you step out of the raft. The Smoky Mountains offer a host of other outdoor activities, from hiking and biking to fishing and camping. So why not extend your stay and explore all that this beautiful region has to offer?



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