If you think white, foamy and wet only equate to a bathtub full of bubbles, have I got a wonderful surprise for you. In the Smoky Mountains, this combination means whitewater rafting. If you’ve got a group of people – whether it’s your family, a church group, a club or just the kids from the block – whitewater rafting in the Smokies makes for an excellent and exciting time everyone can enjoy. No experience is necessary, and all the equipment you need is provided.
With three nearby rivers, you have your choice of scenery and rapids ranging from Class 1 (most clam) to Class 5 (outrageous!). With the leadership of professional guides, you can have a wet and wild excursion that will get your heart pumping for sure!
The Pigeon River stretches from North Carolina to East Tennessee where it dumps into the French Broad. It’s divided into two sections – upper and lower – that offer everything from Class 2 to Class 4 rapids.
The upper rapids are the most active: Class 3 and 4; they require that children be a minimum age of eight years old and weigh 70 pounds or more. The four-mile trip takes you over approximately 60 rapids before you enter the lower section of the river.
The more gentle section of the Pigeon River is the lower rapids. Calm enough for kids as young as four years old, this five-mile stretch carries you over approximately 50 Class 1 and 2 rapids where you can easily stop for a swim or to nature watch.
Dam-controlled, tour operators offer runs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, so it’s always wise to book as far ahead as possible to secure the day you prefer.
French Broad River
The Pigeon River originates in North Carolina and flows along for many miles until it dumps into the French Broad River. With Class 1 through 3 rapids, the French Broad offers a great selection to choose from for those looking for just enough excitement without getting too carried away. Only 20-30 minutes from popular towns including Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the French Broad River makes for a wonderful outdoor adventure for all ages.
Cut through a 3,000-foot gorge, the Nolichucky River is powerful as well as beautiful. Like the Pigeon River, the Nolichucky is divided into upper and lower sections. The upper river is churning with exhilarating Class 3 and 4 rapids that toss you from side to side, as you make your way toward the lower portion of the river. Children must be at least 12 years old to participate.
The lower rapids (Class 1 and 2 rapids) give you and your group a more leisurely way to explore the river and its wildlife. Steep cliffs and dense woods give you ample opportunities to admire nature at her best.
Located in the Cherokee National Forest, the Ocoee is a premier river built for thrill seekers and the site of the 1996 Olympics whitewater events. A day trip to the Ocoee delivers Class 3 and 4 torrents. Wind your way through the upper and middle sections with over 20 continuous rapids that will leave you breathless. Kids must be 12 years or older to navigate the middle rapids. The Ocoee is dam-controlled, so scheduling in advance is highly recommended.
How much adventure is there to be had? As much as you want! Half-day and full-day whitewater tours are available on most rivers to accommodate your group’s schedule. Get the gang together and head for the Smokies this summer. You’ll find a thrill a minute that keeps you wet and wild on the whitewater.
Bennie McCann is Reservations Manager of Volunteer Cabin Rentals specializing in cabins near Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. Visit the main website to book cabins for weddings, vacations, reunions and other special events.