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River Adventures: Whitewater Rafting in the Smoky Mountains

Looking for adventure on your trip to the Great Smoky Mountains? Search no further than the scenic waterways of Pigeon Forge, where you can climb into a raft solo or with a group with skilled pros that know the rivers like the back of their hands. Ranging from beginner to advanced, the trips can meet any skill level. It’s an affordable way to have some fun outdoors, create lasting memories, and soak in the gorgeous scenery of America’s most visited national park – with a perspective like no other!

As you travel along the cool, flowing waters of the Smokies, you’ll get a unique view of the dramatic natural Smoky Mountain scenery. Step outside your comfort zone, check something off your bucket list, or quench your thirst for adventure with a whitewater rafting trip! It’s the ultimate summer must-do in the Smokies!

River life goes hand in hand with mountain dwelling, so grab a paddle and explore all the rapids the Great Smoky Mountains area has to offer! The diverse Pigeon River is a natural water ride for beginners and advanced visitors who are looking to add more outdoor adventure to the itinerary! Plus, we have a long list of beautiful cabins in Pigeon Forge, near a handful of top-rated rafting companies. So after a day on the water, you’ll have a cozy place to call home – with the scenery of the Smokies around you. As you ride the currents, watch for incredible rock formations, lush green forests, and picturesque mountain peaks – when you’re not staring down steep falls and swirling currents, that is!

The Pigeon River

Enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors by traveling along the Pigeon River, winding its way through East Tennessee. As it makes its way past the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest, Martha Sundquist State Forest, and Appalachian Trail, the river provides opportunities for beautiful, unique views. The dam-controlled river releases on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The river – split into lower and upper sections – offers areas that vary in intensity level, so rafters from beginner to advanced can find a guided whitewater tour to fit them. Most outfitters offer trips the whole family can enjoy together.

Lower Pigeon River
On the lower section of the river, you’ll find calm Class I and Class II rapids, perfect for kids or rafters wanting to experience the water at a more relaxed pace. You can even take float trips down the river for a truly laid-back day! Here, gentle waves help you float along as you’re led through the river passage among breathtaking mountain scenery.

Upper Pigeon River
More experienced rafters—or those looking for a thrill—might choose to tour the upper section of the river. Its Class III and IV rapids ensure big waves, satisfying drops, and plenty of surfing, amounting to an unforgettable river journey in the great outdoors!

SAFETY FIRST

Whitewater rafting is a fun, action-packed adventure in the Smokies, but you only want good memories of the day. To help you stay the course, here are some of our top safety tips to ensure your whitewater experience is the best and safest experience possible.

  • Choose a reputable company.
    Pigeon Forge is home to many wonderful river rafting outfitters made up of passionate, knowledgeable, experienced river guides who are trained and certified in the sport. Sites like tripadvisor.com can help you locate these companies and read customer reviews, or you can visit the webpages of some of the recommended river outfitters below.
  • Use adequate equipment.
    Your Smoky Mountain river raft guide will help you gear up with all the essentials. You’ll need a certified personal flotation device (PFD/lifejacket), a secure and properly fitted helmet, a well-maintained raft, and a paddle! Reputable raft companies will have the gear you need and can help ensure you know how to use it all. Safety is the top priority!
  • Stay sun-screened and hydrated.
    You’ll feel the cool river water as its splashes you, but that alone won’t protect you from the sun, or give your body the water absorption it needs. Make sure to come prepared with sunscreen so you can prevent sunburn while out on the water, and stay hydrated with plenty of fluids leading up to your adventure.
  • Dress for your adventure.
    Sneakers or sandals with a backstrap (and toe coverage) are the best pick; flip flops fall off easily. Wear clothes that can dry quickly, bring a dry change of clothes, and don’t forget a towel!
  • Have fun!
    Go Pros are an awesome way to document your adrenaline trip; just be sure you have the proper equipment to secure it to your body.

Time to Hit the Water

When you’re ready to get started, you’ll have several whitewater rafting outfitters to choose from. Many outfitters also go beyond rafting, with kayaking, ziplining, caving, horseback riding, and tree-top adventure courses! Read on for some of the top whitewater rafting guides in the Smokies.

Rafting in the Smokies
One of Pigeon Forge’s veteran outfitting companies dating back to 1978, this popular family-owned location offers rafting, zip lining, a ropes challenge course, and a rock climbing wall all on the same property. Step across a 150-ft. suspension bridge and enjoy the free Family Adventure Island, complete with a picnic area, playground, nature trail, and waterside play area.

This location offers raft and zip packages, and also raft and horseback riding packages. Packages start at around $50 per person. Rafting trips begin at $35 per person + tax. Group discounts are offered, and Rafting in the Smokies welcomes Scout groups, church groups, family reunions, and corporate retreats. Visit the website to take advantage of seasonal specials, combo packages, videos, and online booking.

Smoky Mountain Outdoor Adventures is under 8 miles from Pigeon Forge and goes beyond whitewater rafting. They also offer zipline tours for a full day of fun. Smoky Mountain Outdoors is consistently top rated on TripAdvisor for their standout customer service and fun! Well-trained and years of experience from your river guide means a safe but thrilling ride. Arrive 45 minutes ahead of your reserved put-in time and get ready to suit up!

Hang out and nibble on any snacks you have packed in the cooler in the car, because you’ll want some energy before this water workout. As you’re laughing and conversing in nervous anticipation, your guides will find you and begin walking you through where to grab your gear, how to properly suit up, and necessary safety precautions while on the river. All the guides are passionate about the outdoors and want you to share in their love of the beautiful Pigeon River and all the excitement she offers.

Enjoy glimpses of the rapids and thick forests as the adrenaline and spirits build on the way to the put-in location. If you bring a group of 7, you will be the whole crew for your boat – along with your guide. Watch the mixture of nervousness and enthusiasm creep into every facial expression as you grab the handles, slide into the river, and jump in! If you are here with only a couple friends, no worries. Getting to know your fellow raft mates and your guide enriches your adventure, making it even more personal and memorable.

Connect through teamwork as your guide counts off for each paddle stroke and prepares for each rapid! The guides were required to navigate these exact routes 15-20 times, before leading any trips, and they are First-Aid/CPR certified. Wind along rushing cool waters flowing from the Smoky Mountains past enormous rock formations along the Pigeon River for an exciting experience in the mountains. Splash wars with other boats are permitted, and many guides even encourage them! Get out and wade through deeper sections of the river (if your guide offers or approves), and let the refreshing waters carry you a bit down the river. As soon as you pull out of the river and meet back at the Smoky Mountain Outdoors outpost, grab lunch with everyone at the Lost Guide Grill and recount your favorite moments of your adventure and the amazing views from the river!

Wildwater Rafting
Located 28 miles from Pigeon Forge, Wildwater Rafting offers 2 unique rafting experiences. The Lower Pigeon trip is a fun and relaxing time on the water, suitable for families and children as young as 4 years old. Or, ages 8 and up can take an exciting trip down a 5-mile section of the Upper Pigeon River. Rafters will experience a fast, non-stop series of rapids including 12 Class III and Class IV rapids.

All equipment is furnished, and no previous experience is needed for either trip. Total time allotted for each trip is 2 to 2.5 hours. Also available for booking are Pigeon Jeep and Raft packages (lunch included at Wildwater Pigeon River Dog House!) and Dual Zip and Raft packages, where visitors can experience an amazing dual river zip line tour.

Tubing on the River
Want to relax in the serene water rather than paddling? Tubing is a summer favorite in the mountains after a long day’s work. You have earned your relaxation and vacation time, so join the locals and other visitors to slow down life with a lazy, lovely afternoon drifting along the Little Pigeon River. Smoky Mountain River Rat offers tubing in addition to whitewater rafting; each are offered at separate locations. If lounging in the Tennessee sunlight floating in cool waters is your prerogative, you will want to head to Townsend, only 15 miles from Pigeon Forge, to River Rat’s tubing location.

The lower river escapade begins at the main outpost for the most “family friendly float,” where children as young as 2 can bob along with everyone. The upper section is River Rat’s “adventure float,” where there are bigger rapids and deep swimming holes to savor the cool waters in the warm day along the excursion. This trip is recommended for guests 8 and up.

Gear Up
Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are exciting mountain towns, and they know the great outdoors like the backs of their hands. So it’s not surprise that there are so many places to gear up for outdoor fun! Here are a few area shops for shoes, clothing, and more.

Nantahala Outdoor Center
1138 Parkway | Gatlinburg | 865.277.8209

GSM Outfitters
3275 Wears Valley Rd | Sevierville | 865.366.2608

Day Hiker
634 Parkway | Gatlinburg | 865.430.0970

The North Face Outlet
1645 Parkway | Sevierville | 865.774.0242

Hikey Mikey
157 Old Mill Ave | Pigeon Forge | 931.629.8213