When looking for 3-season excitement in the Great Smoky Mountains, tubing and white-water rafting are the answer. You can cruise down the river giggling and lazily relaxing with friends and family, or rush through white water, heart racing and laughing to get through – the Smoky Mountains has everything you want.
White water rafting in the Smokies takes place on the Pigeon River, which is dam controlled. When the water is released from the dam, crashing waves and rapids appear. The rapids have fun nicknames such as Too Late, Vegamatic, Razor Blade, After Shave, and Lost Guide.
With the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest, Martha Sundquist State Forest and the Appalachian Trail as the backdrop, the Pigeon River and its rocky riverbed goes through some of the most dramatic country in East Tennessee.
Here are some of our favorite places to raft, tube, kayak in the Great Smoky Mountains.
White Water Rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors takes place in Hartford, Tennessee – about 26 miles east of Gatlinburg. Choose between rafting Upper or Lower sections of the river. The Upper section features Class III and IV rapids over 6.5 miles; the Lower section features calmer waves and takes you through the scenic Pigeon River gorge over 5.5 miles. The Lower section is good for families with small children – those as young as 3 years old can raft.
An experienced guide accompanies your rafting adventure, so no experience is necessary.
There’s also kayaking – for beginners or the experienced. Take a trip down the river in an inflatable kayak in the Smoky Mountains. Drive yourself, escorted by an expert rafting guide. You’ll learn all types of spins, surfing and sliding techniques too.
Ziplining also is available, and the company offers combo packages for whitewater rafting and ziplining.
When finished, you can shower, change clothes, and get ready for more fun in the Smoky Mountains, whether that’s visiting another attraction or going out to dinner.
White Water Rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors is located at 3299 Hartford Road, Hartford, TN 37753, 800-771-7238
Also located in Hartford is Big Creek Expeditions.
Here, you can choose a white-water adventure, a calm float on the river, or both for a full day on the Pigeon River. An expert guide will lead the way.
Rafting trips are available for ages 3 to 103. The minimum age and weight for the Upper Section Whitewater Rafting trip is 8 years old or 70+ pounds. The minimum age for the Lower section scenic trip is 3 years old.
White-water rafting in Gatlinburg is fun, thrilling and a great way to bond with friends and family. Everyone participates at some point, helps the guide and learns about the rapids and the area, and gets wet! And that makes it fun for a rainy day, too – if you are already going to get wet, why not head to the rapids?
Big Creek Expeditions also offers a Paddle & Saddle combo where you see the Smoky Mountains by land and water with a 6-mile horseback trail ride in Sevierville and a whitewater adventure on the Upper Section of the Pigeon River. The horseback tour includes 70 acres of scenic pioneer trails. Ride through mountain streams and take in mountain views.
Located at 3541 Hartford Road, Hartford, TN – 877-642-7238
Rafting in the Smokies was a pioneer outfitter on the Pigeon Forge River in 1978 and even helped name some of the rapids, according to the Web site. You can read about the guides there too.
The upper section of the Pigeon River boasts 12 Class III and 3 Class IV thrilling whitewater rapids.
FREE on-site amenities include the 10-acre Family Adventure Island featuring a nature trail, barbeque grills, picnic area, beanbag toss games and a playground at the water’s edge. Professional photo of the adventure, gift shop items, and meals are available for a fee.
Combo packages are available that include Scenic Family Float Rafting, Ziplines, Rock Climbing Wall, Bunk House or High Elements Ropes Challenge Course.
Rafting in the Smokies also has changing facilities, restrooms and hot showers.
Find them at Exit #447 to Hartford, off I-40 near the Tennessee/North Carolina border, 800-776-7238
Nantahala River and Ocoee River Rafting
If you are interested in a more aggressive rafting experience, you can’t do better than the Nantahala River in North Carolina and the Ocoee River in Tennessee.
NOC’s 18,000 square foot flagship store is located just outside of the entrance to the park. NOC Gatlinburg carries everything necessary to enjoy excursions into the Smokies including gear and accessories for camping and hiking and a trip planning area with information, maps, and books. Our expert guides in-store will even help you plan your trip or book a rafting adventure on the Nantahala River or the Ocoee River.
Click here to find out more.
Things to know before white-water rafting:
*Secure footwear is required. Sandals with a heel strap, an old pair of running shoes or water shoes. Flip-flops and bare feet aren’t allowed.
*Be prepared to get wet. On the Upper Section Whitewater Rafting trip, you’ll get fully soaked.
*During summer months, shorts, t-shirts and/or a bathing suit. Rafting during the early spring and fall requires a little more clothing – wool and synthetic materials are best during those months. Long underwear and socks are good ideas. At some locations, wet suit rentals are available. Avoid cotton clothing during the colder months.
*Don’t wear jeans or sweat pants – they will stay wet and cold and get heavy.
*Take a set of dry clothes to change into after the trip.
*Prepare to lock all valuables in your vehicle.
*Bring straps for glasses, sunscreen, towel.
Would you rather just float through the water slowly and easily? Hop in an innertube and float leisurely down the river. It’s a hot day in Tennessee, get to a tube and spend the day in the water without any work.
JJ’s takes you tubing on Deep Creek in Bryson City, NC – about 45 miles from the Gatlinburg area.
In 1978, Bob was a school teacher and started the tube business to make extra money during the summers, according to the company’s Web site. Bob and Betsy had two sons, Jeff and Josh, and they named the business after them.
The boys followed in their father’s footsteps and became educators and football coaches and took over the family tubing business.
JJ’s Tubes has tubes in all sizes and types. The staff helps select the appropriate tube for each person and family and then ties the tubes down on your vehicle and answers any questions you have about tubing in the Smoky Mountains on Deep Creek. You’ll get a map of the park to see the different tubing areas, picnic area and trails.
If you choose to spend the entire day in the park, pack a lunch to also enjoy the picnic area and the hiking trails in the incredibly beautiful Great Smoky Mountains.
Find JJ’s Tubes at 1399 West Deep Creek Road, Bryson City, NC, 828-736-3640
Located in Townsend, Tennessee, River Rat is 15 minutes from
Pigeon Forge and 20 minutes from Gatlinburg.
River Rat offers tubing near the Smokies on both upper and lower sections of the Little River. The lower section and main outpost offers a family-friendly float and “features relaxing rapids, scenic views, and even a rock jump.”
The lower outpost is ideal for ages two and up or those who are first timers to The Rat. The upper section is what River Rat calls the “adventure float.” It features a scenic float with adrenaline-pumping rapids and cool, refreshing swimming holes. The upper outpost is suitable for ages six and older.
TUBE RIVER RAGE
At Tube River Rage, the river routes are along the Little River, which means rapids are few and tubing is safe. In fact, at safety is their #1 priority Tube River Rage. You’ll have licensed and insured shuttle drivers and staff members who are familiar with the river for your tour.
For the perfect way to cool down on a hot Smoky Mountain afternoon and a Pigeon Forge adventure that’s safe, fun, and affordable for the whole family, be sure to pay a visit to the largest tubing location on the Little River with Tube River Rage. Groups, couples, locals, and tourists alike can look forward to a relaxing time floating down the crystal clear river at Tube River Rage.
Who Can Go?
Tube River Rage has no weight restrictions and no experience is required, but all tubers must be at least 6 years old and all children under 13 years old will need to be accompanied by an adult. Your little ones who need a little help in the water will have custom-fitted, Coast Guard-approved life jackets for safety.
8303 State Route 73
Ready to book your adventure in the Smoky Mountains? Give My Bearfoot Cabins a call at
Pat and Don Kirchhoefer, owners