Summertime is the perfect opportunity to brave the rapids near the Smoky Mountains on a whitewater rafting adventure.
Your Guide to Whitewater Rafting
There are so many opportunities for adventure when you visit the Great Smoky Mountains and the surrounding towns. Zipline through the forest treetops, hike the natural terrain or partake in an adventure on the water. Near Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville, thrilling rapids call to you for an adrenaline-filled experience. Summertime is the perfect opportunity to brave the rapids near the Smoky Mountains on a whitewater rafting adventure.
Types of Rapids in Tennessee
Rapids are given a difficulty rating. As you choose which rapids you want to whitewater raft, keep this rating in mind. Some are best for new rafters while more experienced rafters will love the thrill that comes with more difficulty.
Below are rapid classifications/levels.
Class A: Still lake water with no movement.
Class I: Water moves in small waves.
Class II: Easy rapids of up to three feet tall in wide channels.
Class III: Waves up to four feet tall in narrow passages.
Class IV: Long rapids through narrow passages and turbulent water. Careful and strong maneuvering is required.
Class V: Large and complex rapids that twist and spin rafters. These take rafters over big drops and through violent currents.
Class VI: Recommended only for expert rafters. Most whitewater rafting companies don’t take rafters to these given the extraordinary difficulty.
Class III and IV rapids are the most popular in the region.
Image from Big Creek Expeditions
Pigeon River Whitewater Rafting
The Pigeon River is the best place for a whitewater rafting adventure in east Tennessee. Nestled between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, the Pigeon River is divided into two sections, Upper Pigeon and Lower Pigeon.
Upper Pigeon River
Upper Pigeon is one of the southeast’s most exhilarating rafting experiences. Drop down steep cliffs and rushing waters as you brave these Class III and IV rapids. The Upper Pigeon is about five-and-a-half miles long and showcases views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Lower Pigeon River
Lower Pigeon is perfect for beginning rafters or those traveling with children. These easy-going Class I and II rapids make for a fun experience on the water, with just enough action along the six-mile river.
Whitewater Rafting Outfitters
In the Tennessee Smokies area—Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Townsend, Cherokee, Hartford and Kodak—there are several sport outfitters that will take you to some of the best rapids in the area. With the guidance of knowledgeable instructors, you can have a memorable experience on the rapids of the Pigeon River. These companies also have experiences catered to different age levels and athletic abilities.
Here are some of our favorite whitewater rafting outfitters.
Image from Outdoor Adventure Rafting
Big Creek Expeditions
Located near Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Big Creek Expeditions offers a fantastic rafting experience on the Upper and Lower Pigeon River. This premier outfitter has a trained, experienced and professional staff that are sure to make your whitewater rafting trip fun and safe.
Choose from three trips. The classic Whitewater Adventure trip, for ages 8 and up. No experience is necessary for this trip down class III–IV rapids. For a more leisurely trip, choose the Scenic Float. This beautiful journey travels through the gorge, where the river cuts through the mountains. This trip is great for ages 3 and up. For the best of both worlds, choose the Full Day Whitewater Adventure. This trip combines both the Whitewater Adventure and Scenic Float.
Outdoor Adventure Rafting
If you’re near Benton, Tennessee, enjoy a whitewater rafting trip down the Ocoee River with Outdoor Adventure Rafting. OAR rafting experiences is a natural water roller coaster. The Ocoee River is an exhilarating, 10-mile journey through crashing raves.
Choose from the Middle Ocoee or Upper Ocoee. Both three-and-a-half hour trips feature class III and IV rapids for ages 12 and up. The six-hour Full River trip goes along the Middle and Upper Ocoee River. For more of a challenge, book the Class V Ocoee, featuring the most powerful rapids on the river. This trip is five-hours long and for rafters ages 16 and up.
Rafting in the Smokies
Rafting in the Smokies has been providing an exciting experience on local waterways since 1978. Locally owned and operated, Rafting in the Smokies aims to not only provide a fun experience, but also a sustainable one. The company offers a scenic Family Float along the Lower Pigeon for children as young as 3 years old, along with a trip along the Upper Pigeon River.