Rushing, bubbling rapids probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when thinking of North Carolina. The Tar Heel State is most notable as the location for the Wright brothers’ first flight, its sprawling Atlantic beaches, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In an already scenic state full of outdoor recreation opportunities such as hiking and tubing, whitewater rafting ranks as one of the most thrilling.
Read on for the best spots for whitewater rafting NC, trusted outfitters, and more.
Best whitewater rafting in North Carolina
The most popular rafting river near the tourist-laden city of Asheville is the French Broad. Running 218 miles from the southern part of the state north into Tennessee, the class II and III rapids accessible within a short driving distance of the city provide a fun trip for beginners and intermediate whitewater rafters alike.
If you’re looking for a guided trip along the French Broad, here are a couple of the top outfitters in the area.
Nantahala Outdoor Center
NOC is a short 30-minute drive from Asheville and boasts being the longest-running outfitter on the French Broad. Try their half-day tour out if you’re bringing the family and enjoy class II and III rapids as you paddle through the beautiful Pisgah National Forest. This tour lasts between 3.5 to five hours, includes lunch, and begins at $65 (age 8+).
French Broad Adventures
This local outfitter located just 25 minutes from the city also offers a couple of fun tour options on the French Broad. Choose from a five-mile, three- to four-hour trip (one option includes lunch) along calm class I to III rapids, or a nine-mile, five- to six-hour trip that runs along some class IV rapids as well. The minimum age for all trips is 8 years old and prices start at $53.
Although this major North Carolina city in the southern part of the state has some great museums to visit, there is not much in the way of whitewater rafting in the area. Charlotte lies in the Piedmont portion of the state, mostly consisting of small, rolling hills and plateau.
However, funnily enough, the city is home to the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Whether you’re looking for a comfortable introduction to whitewater rafting or wanting to practice some techniques for tackling more technical rapids, you can do so here on the world’s largest manmade river consisting of class II to V sections. People ages 8+ can try out the Family Rafting experience or super thrill-seekers the Big Water Rafting (age 16+). This is a great place to do some whitewater rafting in an area where it is otherwise unavailable, as well as try it out under controlled conditions.
Rafting opportunities abound near Boone, NC with the Nolichucky River and Watauga River. Nolichucky typically offers class III and IV rapids, making it a better option for older kids and adrenaline junkies. If you’re looking for something a little tamer or more appropriate to take younger kids on, the Watauga River is the way to go with its class I to III rapids.
High Mountain Expeditions
For a trip down either of these local rivers, check into the trips offered by High Mountain Expeditions. Choose from an 11-mile, full-day adventure on the Nolichucky and experience class III and IV rapids on the deepest river gorge east of the Mississippi. Or, for a true wilderness immersion trip, take the two-day trip and enjoy some hiking as well on day two of your trip or take a dip in Devils Creek. Prices start at $85 and $249, respectively. The minimum age is 9 for both options.
Edge of the World
For those with younger children or who are looking for something less intense, take a trip down the Watauga River with Edge of the World. Traverse fun, splashy class I to III rapids with a trusted outfitter that has been in business for 38 years. Ages 4+ are welcome on this three- to four-hour trip. You’ll have the option to rerun the biggest rapid as many times as you want, and you can enjoy delicious home-cooked meals for lunch! Prices depend on group size. Groups ranging from one to nine people are $64 for kids, $74 for adults.