When you are ready for some fun white water rafting, Smoky Mountains NC and TN is the place to go!

Nestled amidst the stunning landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains, white water rafting offers an exhilarating adventure that promises thrills and excitement for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages.

Whether you’re seeking heart-pounding rapids or a leisurely float down the river, the Smokies of North Carolina and Tennessee provide some of the best white water rafting experiences in the country.

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In this blog post, we will share the best places for rafting in the mountains of NC and TN. Then, we’ll give you some important tips to know before heading out on your adventure.

Let’s dive into some of the top destinations and experiences awaiting you in this picturesque region.

The Best Places for White Water Rafting | Smoky Mountains NC and TN

1. Nantahala River: A Dam-Controlled Gem

Flowing through the scenic Nantahala Gorge, the Nantahala River is a must-visit destination for white water rafting enthusiasts.

With its mix of gentle class II rapids and thrilling class IV sections, this dam-controlled river offers the perfect blend of excitement and natural beauty.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City serves as a hub for rafting adventures on this iconic river, with experienced guides ensuring a safe and unforgettable journey through the breathtaking Nantahala Gorge.

2. Pigeon Forge: Thrills Await on the Upper Pigeon River

For those seeking an adrenaline rush, look no further than the upper section of the Pigeon River near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Here, constant waves and exhilarating class III rapids await, providing a roller coaster ride through the stunning scenery of the Smoky Mountains.

Companies like Big Creek Expeditions offer guided rafting trips on the upper Pigeon River, ensuring an exciting and memorable adventure for rafters of all skill levels.

3. Lower Pigeon River

The Lower Pigeon River, flowing through the charming town of Hartford, Tennessee, offers a fantastic white water rafting experience suitable for the whole family seeking a more laid-back adventure.

Known for its scenic beauty and gentle rapids, the Lower Pigeon River provides a perfect introduction to the world of white water rafting while still offering plenty of excitement and fun.

With class I and II rapids interspersed with moments of calm, this section of the river allows rafters to enjoy the stunning surroundings of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park while navigating through the gentle waves.

A professional guide will accompany each trip, providing safety instructions and sharing their knowledge of the local area.  A tour guide makes this an ideal outing for families with young children or first timers.

Whether you’re looking for a leisurely float down the river or a fun-filled adventure with friends and family, the Lower Pigeon River offers a memorable rafting experience amidst the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains.

4. French Broad River: Explore at Your Own Pace

If you prefer to chart your own course, inflatable kayaks on the French Broad River offer a thrilling alternative to traditional rafting.

Guided tours down this scenic river provide an opportunity to test your skills and immerse yourself in the beauty of the Smokies at your own pace.

Experienced guides from companies like Smoky Mountain Outdoors lead the way, ensuring safety while you navigate the rapids and take in the stunning scenery.

5. Tuckasegee River: Family-Friendly Fun

For families with young children or first-time rafters, the Tuckasegee River offers a gentler rafting experience with stunning views of the Smoky Mountains.

A raft guide provides the perfect opportunity to introduce young ones to the thrill of white water rafting while enjoying the beauty of the surrounding landscape.

Companies like Smoky Mountain River Adventures offer family-friendly trips on the Tuckasegee River. They ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure for everyone.

6. Ocoee River

The Ocoee River in East Tennessee stands as a prime destination for white water rafting enthusiasts, offering a thrilling adventure amidst stunning natural beauty.

With over 20 challenging rapids ranging from class III to class IV, including iconic features like “Grumpy’s” and “Double Suck,” the Ocoee promises an adrenaline-pumping experience for rafters of all skill levels.

Nestled within the scenic Cherokee National Forest, the river provides breathtaking views of towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and verdant valleys. These views are creating an unforgettable backdrop for every trip.

Guided by experienced professionals, rafters can navigate the river with confidence, ensuring both safety and excitement throughout their journey.

Whether seeking a half-day thrill or a full-day adventure, the Ocoee offers a variety of trip options suitable for families and seasoned paddlers alike.

It’s an ideal destination for an action-packed outdoor experience in the heart of Tennessee’s wilderness.

7. Fontana Lake

Fontana Lake, nestled within the majestic Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, offers a tranquil yet captivating setting for white water rafting enthusiasts seeking a unique adventure.

While not known for its rapids like some other rivers in the region, Fontana Lake provides an exceptional opportunity for rafters to immerse themselves in the serene beauty of the surrounding wilderness.

With its crystal-clear waters and picturesque scenery, including stunning views of the surrounding mountains and lush forests, Fontana Lake promises a peaceful and scenic rafting experience unlike any other.

Guided tours allow participants to explore hidden coves, secluded beaches, and pristine shorelines. These tours provide ample opportunities for wildlife sightings and tranquil moments amidst nature’s splendor.

Whether embarking on a leisurely half-day trip or a full-day excursion, Fontana Lake offers a serene and unforgettable rafting experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression on adventurers of all ages.

8. Lake Glenville Dam

While Lake Glenville itself isn’t typically associated with white water rafting due to its calm waters, the dam area offers a different kind of adventure.

During certain controlled releases, the dam releases water, creating a thrilling rush of rapids downstream.

This periodic release transforms the usually tranquil waters into a temporary white water playground, attracting rafters and thrill-seekers eager to experience the excitement of navigating through the churning rapids.

Guided tours and outfitters offer trips during these scheduled releases. The tours provide adventurers with the opportunity to experience the adrenaline rush of white water rafting against the stunning backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains.

While the experience may be brief compared to rivers with continuous rapids, the thrill of riding the rapids created by the Glenville Dam is an exhilarating addition to any outdoor enthusiast’s itinerary in the Smoky Mountains.

Safety First: Professional Guides and Top-Notch Equipment

No matter which river you choose to conquer, safety is always the top priority. Experienced guides accompany every excursion, providing expert navigation and sharing their knowledge of the local flora, fauna, and history.

Top-notch safety equipment, including life jackets and helmets, is provided to ensure a secure and enjoyable experience for all.

Tips for Planning a Whitewater Adventure 

Embarking on a white water rafting adventure in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee promises excitement, adventure, and memories that will last a lifetime.

To ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience, here are some essential tips for planning your whitewater adventure:

1. Choose the Right River

  • Research the various rivers in the region and choose one that matches your skill level and preferences.
  • Consider factors such as the intensity of the rapids, the length of the trip, and the scenic beauty of the surroundings.

2. Select a Reputable Outfitter

  • Look for outfitters with experienced guides, top-notch safety records, and positive reviews from previous customers.
  • Consider factors such as the variety of trips offered, the quality of equipment provided, and the professionalism of the staff.

3. Determine Your Skill Level

  • Be honest about your rafting experience and skill level when choosing a trip.
  • If you’re a beginner or have young children, opt for gentler rivers with class I or II rapids.
  • Experienced rafters may prefer more challenging rivers with class III or IV rapids for a thrilling adventure.

4. Pack Appropriately

  • Dress in comfortable, quick-drying clothing suitable for the weather conditions.
  • Wear sturdy footwear with good traction, such as water shoes or sandals with straps.
  • Bring sunscreen, sunglasses with a strap, and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Pack a change of clothes and a towel for after the trip, as you’re likely to get wet.

5. Listen to Your Guide

  • Pay close attention to the safety briefing provided by your guide before the trip.
  • Follow their instructions during the rafting excursion, including paddling techniques and safety protocols.
  • Trust their expertise and experience in navigating the river safely.

6. Stay Hydrated and Energized

  • Bring plenty of water and snacks to stay hydrated and energized throughout the trip.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol or drugs before or during the rafting excursion, as they can impair judgment and coordination.

7. Respect the Environment

  • Leave no trace by disposing of waste properly and respecting the natural surroundings.
  • Avoid disturbing wildlife or damaging vegetation along the riverbanks.
  • Appreciate the beauty of the wilderness and leave it unspoiled for future generations to enjoy.

8. Capture Memories Safely

  • Consider bringing a waterproof camera or GoPro to capture photos and videos of your rafting adventure.
  • Securely attach any electronic devices to prevent them from getting lost or damaged in the water.
  • Focus on enjoying the experience in the moment rather than being preoccupied with capturing every moment on camera.

9. Have Fun and Stay Safe

  • Most importantly, relax, have fun, and enjoy the thrill of white water rafting in the Smoky Mountains.
  • Listen to your guide, trust your instincts, and stay calm if unexpected situations arise.
  • Remember that safety is the top priority, and never hesitate to speak up if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe during the trip.

By following these tips, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on an unforgettable white water rafting adventure in the beautiful Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.

So gather your friends and family, gear up, and get ready for an experience that will leave you breathless and craving more!


In conclusion, white water rafting in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina offers a wonderful introduction to outdoor adventure amidst stunning scenery and premier whitewater.

Whether you’re exploring the Lower Pigeon River near Maggie Valley with young kids or navigating the thrilling rapids of the Nantahala Falls, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Professional river guides ensure safety while providing expert instruction and sharing their knowledge of the area’s natural wonders.

With convenient locations near the Appalachian Trail and North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest, outdoor enthusiasts can easily combine their rafting trip with horseback riding, nature trails, or tubing adventures.

You can opt for a guided tour or choose to navigate the river in your own raft. Thankfully, the Smoky Mountains offer a range of options for adventurers of all ages and skill levels.

So, pack your life jacket, prepare for exciting class III rapids and unforgettable moments on the water, and embark on the most exciting rafting trips in the Great Outdoors.

Before you go, here are more posts you’ll enjoy:

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