If you're looking for an adventure this summer, look no further than whitewater rafting in Gatlinburg. This thrilling activity not only provides an adrenaline rush, but memories that last a lifetime. Whitewater rafting allows you to experience the beauty of nature while also challenging yourself physically and mentally. Gatlinburg offers several whitewater rafting companies with excursions on the Pigeon River with scenic views and exciting rapids. SMO Rafting, Rafting in the Smokies and Nantahala Outdoor Center offer a variety of courses for all skill levels, from beginner to advanced. Whether you're looking for a leisurely ride or a heart-pumping adventure, there's something for everyone. With professional guides and top-notch safety equipment, you can feel confident and secure while navigating the rapids. Plus, the feeling of accomplishment after conquering a challenging section of the river is truly unbeatable. Whether you're a seasoned pro or a first-time rafter, this activity is sure to be a highlight of your vacation and the perfect opportunity to connect with nature and challenge yourself in new ways.

Before you book your whitewater adventure, here are 8 things you need to know:

Types of Trips Available

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RaftingYou can choose from a scenic float trip down the lower Pigeon River or a thrilling whitewater rapids adventure down the upper Pigeon River. The upper river trips offer the classic white water rafting experience, complete with soaking rapids and big drops where you’ll encounter about 70 rapids ranging from Class I to Class IV. Rapids are measured on a scale from Class I to Class VI, with Class I being the easiest to navigate since there is little to no white water. Class II rapids are still considered fairly easy since these are straightforward wide rapids that are simple to maneuver around. Class III rapids feature strong currents and moderately sized waves, while Class IV consists of powerful and turbulent waves. (Class V and VI are considered expert rapids that are challenging for even the most experienced rafters). If you prefer something a bit calmer, consider taking an excursion on a lower river rafting trip which is perfect for young children and families. Some of the companies even offer extreme upper river rafting trips for the adrenaline junkies. 

What to Wear

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Rafting-Summer-BlogBe prepared to get wet.

For optimum comfort, wear synthetic, quick-drying layers such as shorts, t-shirt or bathing suit. Cotton is not recommended as it holds water and wicks away body heat so no jeans or denim. Secure fitting shoes with a heel strap are required on all trips. (tennis shoes, water shoes or sports sandals with a heel strap). No Crocs, flip-flops or bare feet are allowed. Wear wool or fleece socks to help keep you warmer. If you forgot to bring appropriate footwear, you can purchase water shoes at the rafting location. Bring a dry towel, dry clothes and dry shoes for after the trip. Each location has changing facilities, restrooms and hot showers and some locations have lockers to store valuables.

What to Bring

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A group takes on the waves during a white-water rafting trip near Gatlinburg, TN.Keep in mind that anything you bring on the river will get wet and could possibly get lost during the rafting trip. Most rafting locations have lockers available on site where you can store your valuables while you raft or you can store them in your car. Each rafting company captures pictures during your adventure that you can purchase at the end of your trip.

If you wear glasses, we suggest you use an eyeglass retainer (available at our store). If you wear contact lenses and are used to playing in the water with them, wear them. If not, wear glasses with a retainer strap.

Cold water makes even snug jewelry loose. Don’t wear any jewelry (earrings, necklaces, rings) that you are not prepared to lose to the river.

Please do not bring a camera! Our professional photographer will take a series of digital photos of each raft. These photos will be available for viewing in our store after your trip. You can purchase a single photo or all photos(8-12 photos) on a non-copyrighted digital disc. Be sure to remember your guide’s name.  Rafting In The Smokies assumes no responsibility for the loss of any valuables. Be sure to lock all your valuables in your vehicle before you head down the river.  We provide a safe place for your keys during your trip.

Who Can Go

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Whitewater raftingPeople of almost all ages are able to raft. In fact, some of the rafting companies allow children as young as 3 years old can go on Lower River Rafting Trips and children as young as 8 years old or 70 pounds can go on the upper whitewater trips. Just keep in mind that the life jackets accommodate a chest girth of 56 inches, and you can try one of these on at the Gatlinburg office locations prior to making a reservation. All minors (17 and under) require the presence of an adult during whitewater rafting activities.

What to Expect

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Whitewater raftingMost guided whitewater rafting trips are approximately 2.5 hours total with 1.5 hours spent on the river. The remainder of your time will be spent in preparation and shuttle. After a brief orientation, you’ll get geared up with helmet, life jacket, and paddle then load onto a bus to shuttle you to the river. Before beginning your trip down the river, your experienced guide will walk you through the rafting lingo and what to expect. If you're choosing the upper Pigeon River rafting trip, then expect approximately 5.5 miles of big splashes, bumpy waves with a Class 3 and 4 difficulty. If you choose the lower Pigeon River rafting trip, expect approximately 6 miles of gentle waves and bumpy splashes with a Class 1 and 2 difficulty. 

Is it Safe?

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Whitewater raftingIf you feel a little nervous about rafting in the Smoky Mountains, rest assured you are always in good hands with professional guides. All Gatlinburg rafting companies are fully guided by an experienced guide who is dedicated to keeping your adventure safe and enjoyable. Even if you don't know how to swim, every guest is issued a type 5, Coast Guard approved personal flotation device that is designed to give you all of the flotation needed on the river. 

What days and time of year can I raft?

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Rafting Group Going Over CascadeThe Pigeon River is dam-controlled with scheduled water releases from Memorial Day through Labor Day. During this time the water flow is pretty consistent and outfitters are typically open. During the summer months, most rafting occurs on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Please call or check the company website for up to date trip times.  Based on lake levels, there may be trips available on other days. The spring and fall trip availability will be based on local rainfall.

What if it rains?

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raftingRafting is one of the best rainy day activities because getting wet is all part of the fun. It's possible your trip may be delayed for a few minutes to allow a strong storm to pass. If it is cool or rainy some companies will provide nylon jackets and pants free of charge or you can rent a wetsuit.  Rain is usually a welcome relief during the hot days of summer and makes for a fun trip.