If a mixture of water and wilderness sounds magical, white water rafting in North Carolina makes for an incredible outdoor adventure.
Whether it’s a bucket list dream or a favorite pastime, white water rafting is guaranteed to get your heart pumping!
Western North Carolina has an amazing collection of rivers that carve through the mountain valleys, cutting and dancing down along the rocky landscape.
They’re wildly popular in summer for everyone from first-time families to NC white water rafting pros.
Read on for our guide to the 10 best places to go white water rafting in North Carolina, including an overview of the rivers themselves as well as local rafting tour operators in each area.
White Water Rafting Rivers in North Carolina
The French Broad River, Nantahala River, Green River, and Tuckaseegee River are all perfect if you want to go white water rafting in Asheville, North Carolina.
The French Broad River is among the oldest rivers in the world. It’s over 200 miles long (starting in Rosman NC), and offers relatively easy Class II and Class III rapids.
Located near North Carolina’s southern boundary, the Green River (a French Broad tributary) is 60 miles long. It’s highly regarded for whitewater sports, with great runs for novices (Class II-III) and experienced rafters (Class V).
The Nantahala River, despite being less than 50 miles long, is nationally recognized for its rapids and white water rafting.
Part of the Nantahala National Forest, the Lower Run is good for most paddlers (Class II & III), and the Upper Run has more extreme stretches of white water (Class V).
Further north, white water rafting in Boone NC can be done on the 115-mile Nolichucky River, which flows through Pisgah National Forest and Cherokee National Forest. The Nolichucky River Gorge is a world-renowned white water run.
The Watauga River is another fine place for white water rafting in Boone. It’s nearly 80 miles long, stretched between North Carolina and Tennessee, and offers several hours worth of whitewater rafting, particularly below the Wilbur Dam.
White Water Rafting in North Carolina Guide
- Blue Heron Whitewater (French Broad River)
- French Broad Adventures (French Broad River)
- Green River Adventures (Green River)
- High Mountain Expeditions (Nolichucky and Watauga River)
- Wahoo’s Adventures (Nolichucky and Watauga River)
- Carolina Outfitters (Nantahala River)
- Nantahala Outdoor Center (French Broad and Nantahala River)
- Smoky Mountain River Adventures (Tuckaseegee River)
- Tuckaseegee Outfitters (Tuckaseegee River)
- US National Whitewater Center
White Water Rafting Near Asheville NC
1. Blue Heron Whitewater
35 Little Pine Rd, Marshall NC • 828-426-7238
Just 22 miles north of Asheville NC, Blue Heron Whitewater offers guided white water rafting adventures on the French Broad River.
Blue Heron has four different trips: full day, half-day with lunch, afternoon half-day, and scenic float trip.
The full-day tour features Class I-IV rapids and takes roughly 5 hours to travel 9 miles. All rafters must be at least 8 years old, and the trip is $75 per person.
The morning half-day trip (with lunch included) is 5 miles, takes up to 4 hours, and has Class I-III rapids. It costs $60 a person. The afternoon half-day trip (with no lunch) costs $52 per person.
Lastly, Blue Heron also has a scenic float with Class I and II rapids. It’s about 5 miles long and takes 3 hours. Children as young as four are allowed on this one, and it’s $52/person.
READ MORE: The 30 Best Things to Do in Asheville NC
2. French Broad Adventures
12 Good Adventure Ln, Marshall NC • 828-649-0486
Their rafting trips are on the French Broad River, and can either be whitewater or calm water.
Half-day whitewater rafting tours are 3 or more hours and cover 5 miles of Class II and III rapids. Participants must be 8 years or older, and the trip costs $55/person. Lunch can be added for an additional $10.
Their full-day rafting trips last 6 hours (including a stop for lunch), and run 9 miles, with Class II, III, and IV rapids. Again, rafters need to be at least 8 years old, and a seat on this raft is $88.
Calm water runs take 2 to 3 hours and can be guided ($53/person) or self-guided ($40/person). This route has easy Class I-II rapids, and is open to children as young as four.
These rafting trips can also be part of package deals, for those wanting to try some of their other adventures.
3. Green River Adventures
111 East Main Street, Saluda NC • 828-749-2800
Green River Adventures is located about 30 miles south of Asheville NC, offering runs on both the Lower Green River (Class I-II) and Upper Green River (Class II-IV).
The middle section of the Green River, known as “The Narrows,” has Class IV and V rapids that require a fine-tuned and well-established skill set.
Rather than large rafts, Green River only rents inflatable kayaks. There are, however, guided tours and two-person kayaks available.
The Lower Green River is a mellow 3-mile section and is open to paddlers ages 5 and up. The trip takes 3 hours and costs $49 and up.
The Upper Green River covers 4 miles in 4 hours, and it has more challenging rapids that experienced rafters will love. Paddlers must be age 12 or older, and this trip costs $69 and up.
READ MORE: The 30 Best Waterfalls Near Asheville NC
White Water Rafting Boone NC
4. High Mountain Expeditions
3149 Tynecastle Hwy, Banner Elk NC • 828-202-7296
White water rafting Boone NC usually comes down to the Watauga River or the Nolichucky River, and High Mountain Expeditions offer trips on both of them.
The Nolichucky rafting adventure is $105/person and lasts 4 to 7 hours, with 11 miles on the water battling Class III-IV rapids.
This tour begins and ends in Banner Elk NC. Children who want to participate must be at least 9 years old.
There’s also a half-day, 5-hour Watauga River rafting trip that begins and ends in Banner Elk NC. It includes 5 miles on the river, and children ages 3 and older can join in. The price is $85 for adults and $75 for children.
High Mountain Expeditions also offers inflatable kayak trips on Wilson Creek for $130/person. It has Class II-V rapids, and the 2.5-mile trip takes 2 to 6 hours (including transport to and from the put-in). It leaves from Banner Elk as well.
5. Wahoo’s Adventures
Nolichucky River Outpost: 1201 Rocky Creek Rd, Erwin TN • 1-800-444-7238
Watauga River Outpost: 105 John Sheffield Dr, Elizabethton TN • 1-800-444-7238
Wahoo’s Adventures of Boone NC offers rafting trips on the Watauga River and Nolichucky River, both of which are in the foothills of Tennessee. They also offer tubing on the New River (another of the world’s oldest rivers).
The Watauga River white water rafting trip is less intense, with Class I-II rapids and one Class III jolt. This is a great choice for all ages and families. Adults can ride for $50, and kids for $40.
White water rafting on the Nolichucky River is a bit more challenging. The 11-mile trip has Class III-IV rapids, and children must be at least 7 years old to go on it. The cost starts at $90/person.
Your adventure with Wahoo’s includes a visit to a beautiful waterfall we’d rate as one of the best NC swimming holes. Private group rafting tours are also available.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabin Rentals in Boone NC
White Water Rafting Bryson City NC
6. Carolina Outfitters
715 U.S. Highway 19, Topton NC • 828-488-6345
Offering guided, non-guided, and “ducky” (a.k.a. inflatable kayak) trips down the Nantahala River, Carolina Outfitters is especially great for families and beginning rafters.
Located in Topton NC, the outfitter is just a short drive from Murphy, Robbinsville, Fontana Lake, and Bryson City.
Trips take paddlers through the Nantahala Gorge on an 8-mile run of Class I and II rapids, with a Class III finale known as Nantahala Falls.
The water flow of the Nantahala River is dam-controlled, so it is reliable. The white water rafting season here lasts from April to October, which is one of the longest in the Southeastern US.
Guided rafting trips are half-day or 2-hour adventures suitable for beginners (ages 7 years or older, weighing 60 lbs or more). These tours cost between $44 and $53 per person, depending on the day and number of people.
Non-guided rafting trips are the same run and age/weight restrictions, but without a guide aboard. These cost between $19 and $30 per person, depending on the number of people and day.
Ducky trips are offered in quality inflatable kayaks on the same 8-mile run, and these can be really fun for paddlers who are looking to go it all on their own.
7. Nantahala Outdoor Center
Nantahala River Outpost: 13077 U.S. 19 West, Bryson City NC • 866-336-1037
French Broad River Outpost: 9825 US-25, Marshall NC • 866-336-1037
the Nantahala Outdoor Center offers white water rafting in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and North Carolina. White water rafting in NC is available on the Nantahala River or the French Broad River.
Rapids in the Nantahala Gorge are Class II-III, and Nantahala white water rafting can be done on a raft or ducky.
For rafting tours, kids need to be age 7 or older and weigh at least 60 pounds. The trips can either be guided (from $62/person) or self-guided (from $32/person).
This river run has Class II-III rapids, and there are full-day (from $95/person) and half-day options (from $55/person) to choose from.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabin Rentals in Bryson City NC
White Water Rafting Cherokee NC
8. Smoky Mountain River Adventures
5036 Hwy 74, Whittier NC • 828-785-2662
Visitors can rent rafts, double duckies, or single duckies at Smoky Mountain River Adventures, using them to float down the Tuckaseegee River near Cherokee NC.
The ride down the Tuckaseegee is roughly 5 miles and takes about 2 hours. It has Class I and II rapids for a relatively easy, family-friendly white water rafting experience.
Raft trips can be guided for $40/person ($30 for kids under 12), with a minimum of 3 people and a maximum of 7.
Self-guided rafts can accommodate up to 8 people ($20/adult, $15/kids under 12).
Double duckies are $25 for adults and $17 for kids under 12, while single duckies are $30 for adults only.
9. Tuckaseegee Outfitters
4909 Hwy 74, Whittier NC • 828-586-5050
Tuckaseegee Outfitters has rafts, double kayaks, single kayaks, and even tubes for white water adventures on the Tuckaseegee River (a.k.a. the Tuck).
The Tuck is considered an easier river for white water rafting. Its gentle Class I-II rapids make it ideal for families looking for milder adventures.
Their rafts can hold up to 5 adults, or 2 adults and 4 children, at a rate of $20 per adult and $15 per kid. Double kayaks can hold up to 250 pounds, and single kayaks require paddlers to be at least 90 pounds.
River tubing on the Tuck can either be mild or extreme. Mild adventures travel 3 miles and last about 2 hours, and participants must be 12 or older.
Extreme tubing on the Tuckaseegee requires that riders be at least 16 years old and physically fit enough to be capable of recovering if/when they’re thrown from the tube.
White Water Rafting Charlotte NC
10. US National Whitewater Center
5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, Charlotte NC • 704-391-3900
With the largest human-built whitewater river in the world, the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte NC offers great experiences for paddlers of all ages and skill levels.
Their Family Rafting package features Class II-III rapids and is suitable for kids ages 8 and up. Their Adventure Rafting trips tackle Class III-IV rapids, and are suitable for children ages 11 and older.
Big Water Sessions have significantly higher water flows, and much more intense rapids. They are available on Thursday and Friday evenings between May and September. All participants must be at least 16 years old.
The facility also has a ton of other adventures, including climbing, mountain biking, ice skating, zip lines, and more.
A day pass is $75, but the white water rafting single activity pass is $55. –by Jonathon Engels; lead photo courtesy of the Nantahala Outdoor Center