When you are looking for the ultimate 3-season excitement in the Great Smoky Mountains, tubing and white-water rafting are the answer. Whether you want to cruise down the river giggling and lazily relaxing with friends and family or rush through white water, heart racing, laughing and working together 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, which means when the water is released from the dam, crashing waves and many rapids appear. The rapids have fun nicknames you’ll learn about on your tours 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 through some of the most dramatic country in East Tennessee.
Here are some of our favorite places to raft, tube, kayak and more in the Great Smoky Mountains.
White Water Rafting With Smoky Mountain Outdoors
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, both in Hartford. 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 goes with you on your rafting adventure, whichever one you choose, so no experience is necessary.
“We were first timers at water rafting and decided to do Upper Pigeon River in order to experience a little of the class 4. It was great! Having a GREAT Guide is the KEY!” – wrote one TripAdvisor reviewer.
Another wrote: “Everyone from age 8 to 63 had a blast. All but one had never been rafting before. But (guide) Lee took great care of us and made everyone want to go again soon.”
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 along the way, 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.
Read more: Rafting the flathead river
When you are 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. Check out our blog on favorite lunch spots and romantic dinner locations in the area.
White Water Rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors is located at 3299 Hartford Road, Hartford, TN 37753, 800-771-7238
Big Creek Expeditions
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 available for ages 3 to 103. There is a minimum age and weight for the Upper Section Whitewater Rafting trip – 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! Be prepared – this isn’t a dry adventure. And that makes it fun for a rainy 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 – a romantic adventure or family fun.
Located at 3541 Hartford Road, Hartford, TN – 877-642-7238
Rafting in the Smokies
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.
Read more: Upper tuolumne river rafting
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
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.
Rather just float through the water slowly and easily, calmly chatting with friends and family? 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.
Read more: Best time to go white water rafting
Family owned and operated by teachers for more than 30 years – started by Bob Marr and his wife Betsy Marr in 1978. “Bob was a school teacher and started the tube business to make some much-needed 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 answer any questions you may 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 and 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
River Rat on Little River
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 offer 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.
When you finish a day on the river, head home to your relaxing Smoky Mountain Cabin – hop in your hot tub for even more water and the massaging jets and your favorite beverage as you watch the sun set over the mountains.
Ready to book your adventure in the Smoky Mountains? Give American Patriot Getaways a call at 800-204-5169. Let our experts help you find the right cabin and all the right fun, food and entertainment.
You can also contact us online by searching our cabins in Gatlinburg and in Pigeon Forge. Check out our Pinterest boards if you want a cabin close to the fun and the food! See our boards where to eat in Gatlinburg and where to eat in Pigeon Forge.
If you need more help planning your Smoky Mountain Vacation, be sure to check out all our vacation guides, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram!