River rafting in Tennessee is one of the great outdoor adventures to be found in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In our experience, the best white water rafting in Tennessee is in the eastern part of the state, in the Appalachian region.
When visitors want to go white water rafting in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, it’s these same rivers that they traverse.
The rivers move through mountain valleys lined with beautiful Tennessee wildflowers, and the rapids can get really exciting. We’d argue that Tennessee whitewater rafting is right up there with the best on the East Coast.
If you’re looking for white water rafting in the Smoky Mountains, the Pigeon River is where it’s at. The Cherokee National Forest is the place for Ocoee white water rafting at the Ocoee River Area and Ocoee Whitewater Center.
Other great rivers for white water rafting in TN include the Nolichucky and Watauga Rivers, which are located along the North Carolina state border.
Read on for our in-depth guide to the top Tennessee white water rafting companies, including the various rivers they run and the different types of tours they offer.
READ MORE: 20 Beautiful Birds of Tennessee
Best White Water Rafting in Tennessee Guide
(Arranged by alphabetically by river)
- Ocoee Rafting (Ocoee River)
- Outdoor Adventure Rafting (Ocoee River)
- Quest Expeditions (Ocoee River)
- Wildwater Rafting (Ocoee River)
- Nantahala Outdoor Center (Ocoee River & Pigeon River)
- Rafting in the Smokies (Pigeon River)
- Rip Roaring Adventures (Pigeon River)
- River Rat Tubing & Rafting (Pigeon River)
- High Mountain Expeditions (Nolichucky River & Watauga River)
- Wahoo’s Adventures (Nolichucky River & Watauga River)
Ocoee River Whitewater Rafting
1. Ocoee Rafting
1548 Highway 68, Ducktown TN • (800) 251-4800
The oldest Ocoee TN white water rafting company, Ocoee Rafting was founded in 1976 and has been leading rafters through Class III and IV rapids for 45+ years.
Their rafting routes include a Middle Ocoee tour and a Middle and Upper Ocoee Full River Combo, which includes the sections used in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. These trips can also be combined with a ziplining canopy tour.
Unfortunately, the 5-mile Upper Ocoee route is only open 34 days of the year (Saturdays and Sundays during the season), and all participants must be at least 12 years old.
This is the wildest section of the river, where rafters will encounter rapids like “Godzilla Humongous” and “Slam Dunk.”
Trips cost $40-$55 for the 5-mile Middle Ocoee Run, $85-$90 for the 10-mile Full River Combo, and $120 for the rafting/ ziplining combo.
2. Outdoor Adventure Rafting (OAR)
629 Welcome Valley Rd, Benton TN • (423) 338-5746
Outdoor Adventure Rafting (a.k.a. OAR) offers three Tennessee white water rafting trips: The Middle Ocoee, the Full River (Middle and Upper Ocoee), and a Class V Ocoee tour.
The Middle Ocoee ($35) is the everyday trip for rafting companies in Tennessee. It includes Class III and IV rapids, and lasts about 3 hours.
The Full River trip ($85) combines the Upper and Middle Ocoee Runs for a 5-hour adventure that includes a stop for lunch, which is included in the price of admission.
The Class V trip is advertised for experienced rafters only, and participants must qualify to take the tour. It costs $74, and all rafters must be 16 or older due to the intensity of the rapids encountered along the way.
READ MORE: The Ultimate Ocoee River Rafting Guide
3. Quest Expeditions
281 US Highway 64, Ocoee TN • (800) 277-4537
Like the other Ocoee River outfitters, Quest Expeditions offers the Middle Ocoee River Trip as a daily adventure and the Full Ocoee River Trip as a weekend expedition. They also provide an Upper Ocoee-only trip.
Their rafting season goes from April through October, when the fall colors in Tennessee reach their vivid peak.
Quest Expeditions runs guided rafting trips 5 days a week. And while all participants need to be 12 or older, this outfit promotes itself as a more family-friendly, with a focus on team-building.
4. Wildwater Rafting
4596 Highway 64, Ducktown TN • (866) 319-8870
Guided trip options on the Ocoee include a Middle Ocoee run, an Upper Ocoee run, and an Upper-Middle combo. The shorter runs take about 3 hours, while the combo trip takes 6 hours.
Middle Ocoee River Rafting is available daily during the season, while the Upper and Combo trips are only available on Saturdays and Sundays. The Combo trip costs $100 and the separate runs are $55 each.
Wildwater also offers a combined rafting and ziplining package as well.
Pigeon River Rafting
5. Nantahala Outdoor Center
Pigeon River Outpost: 3485 Hartford Rd, Hartford TN • (828) 785-5082
Ocoee River Outpost: 1680 US-64 Suite B, Benton TN • (828) 785-5082
The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) offers numerous rafting trips in southern Appalachian Mountains.
Some of our favorites include the French Broad River and Nantahala River in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina Georgia’s Chattooga River (in Clayton GA), and the Ocoee and Pigeon Rivers in Tennessee.
Their Ocoee River Rafting trip is the Middle Ocoee run, which lasts 3-3.5 hours and is available from April through October. Prices start from $50.
The Pigeon River Rafting run takes visitors through the Upper Pigeon Gorge. It’s slightly shorter at 2.5 hours, and children as young as 8 (but at least 70 pounds) are invited to participate.
This run is open from May through the end of September.
6. Rip Roaring Adventures
3555 Wheat Rd, Hartford TN • (800) 449-7238
Ranked highly on TripAdvisor (#1 Family Friendly Experience), Rip Roaring Adventures has been guiding rafting trips on the Pigeon River in Tennessee for 20+ years now.
This is one of the top spots for white water rafting in Hartford TN. The area is known for the Lower Pigeon River’s Class I-III rapids, and the more daring Class III & IV rapids of the Upper Pigeon.
Their Lower Pigeon rafting trip is open to all ages, while the Upper Pigeon rafting trip is restricted to ages 8 and up. Rates for these trips are just under $50, or $35/person for large groups.
Each of these Pigeon River rafting trips takes about 90 minutes, and run from May through September. Other trips are offered as “natural flow” Spring and Fall runs.
7. River Rat Tubing & Rafting
3630 Hartford Rd, Hartford TN • (865) 448-8888
Their Pigeon River whitewater rafting adventures include an Upper Pigeon route (Class II-IV rapids), a more relaxing Lower Pigeon Route (good for ages 3+), and an “Xtreme Upper Pigeon Rafting Adventure” with specialized rafts.
There is also a full-day adventure that includes both the Upper and Lower Pigeon River runs.
Rates for the Lower Pigeon and Upper Pigeon runs are $50, while the Xtreme trip is $70 and the Daycation excursion is $100. There are also massive discounts for making reservations online in advance!
8. Rafting in the Smokies
813 East Parkway, Gatlinburg TN • (800) 776-7238
Pigeon River Outpost: 3595 Hartford Rd, Hartford TN
Rafting in the Smokies is angling to be a turnkey outlet for outdoor adventures in the Tennessee mountains.
They offer white water rafting in the Smoky Mountains, as well as float trips, ropes courses, canopy ziplines, and a free adventure/picnic area for families.
Their most popular rafting option is the 5.5-mile Upper Pigeon route, for which all participants must be at least 8 years old and weigh 70+ pounds. It costs $50 per rafter, with up to 7 people per raft.
The best family-friendly float trip they offer is the 6-mile Lower Pigeon run, for which rafters can be as young as 3 years old. These rapids are described as “gentle waves” and “bumpy splashes,” and the trip costs $42 a person.
Nolichucky River Rafting & Watauga River Rafting
9. Wahoo’s Adventures
Watauga River Outpost: 105 John Sheffield Private Dr, Elizabethton TN • (866) 891-8729
Nolichucky River Outpost: 1201 Rock Creek Rd, Erwin TN • (866) 891-8729
Wahoo’s Adventures is based in Boone NC, but its two guided whitewater rafting trips are actually on the Watauga River and Nolichucky River in Tennessee.
For those looking to cool down on hot summer days, Wahoo’s also offers river tubing in North Carolina on the New River.
Their Watauga River trip is great for family rafting, with mostly Class I & II rapids and one Class III rapid to liven things up. This trip costs $45 for children under 13 and $55 for ages 13 and older.
The Nolichucky River features 11 miles of Class III-IV rapids, takes about 3-4 hours, and is not appropriate for young children. Rafters can join an open boat for $105 a person, or arrange private tours for little more.
Wahoo’s Adventures is also located near Blue Hole Falls, which has a great swimming hole at its base.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Lakes in Tennessee to Visit
10. High Mountain Expeditions
Watauga River Outpost: 1551 Broad St, Elizabethton TN • (828) 202-1723
Nolichucky River Outpost: 508 Jonesborough Rd, Erwin TN • (828) 202-1723
Their rafting trips include one-day adventures on the Watauga, Nolichucky, and Wilson Creek, as well as a two-day trip on the Nolichucky.
With 11 miles of Class III-IV rapids, the Nolichucky is the most serious of the day trips, and the 2-day route extends the rafting distance to 18 miles. The Watauga run is more family-friendly.
Wilson Creek is just across the state border in North Carolina and has Class II-V rapids. It’s about 2.5 miles long, and doesn’t get quite the same traffic as their Tennessee rafting trips. –by Jonathon Engels; featured image via Canva