The 10 Best Places to Go White Water Rafting in North Carolina

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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.

READ MORE: Kayaking in North Carolina: The 10 Best Rivers to Paddle

Boone Whitewater Rafting - High Mountain Expeditions
High Mountain Expeditions via Facebook

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).

The Tuckaseegee River is the best spot for white water rafting in Bryson City. It makes a great activity for folks visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Places for River Tubing in North Carolina Mountains

White Water Rafting in North Carolina Guide

  1. Blue Heron Whitewater (French Broad River)
  2. French Broad Adventures (French Broad River)
  3. Green River Adventures (Green River)
  4. High Mountain Expeditions (Nolichucky and Watauga River)
  5. Wahoo’s Adventures (Nolichucky and Watauga River)
  6. Carolina Outfitters (Nantahala River)
  7. Nantahala Outdoor Center (French Broad and Nantahala River)
  8. Smoky Mountain River Adventures (Tuckaseegee River)
  9. Tuckaseegee Outfitters (Tuckaseegee River)
  10. US National Whitewater Center


White Water Rafting Near Asheville NC

Whitewater Rafting NC - Blue Heron Whtiewater
Blue Heron Whitewater, photo via Facebook

1. Blue Heron Whitewater

35 Little Pine Rd, Marshall NC • 828-426-7238

Official Website

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

white water north carolina - French Broad Adventures
French Broad Adventures via Facebook

2. French Broad Adventures

12 Good Adventure Ln, Marshall NC • 828-649-0486

Official Website

French Broad Adventures offers lots of different trips, from rafting to adventures in ziplining and canyoneering. It’s one of the most popular outfitters for whitewater rafting near Asheville NC.

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.

READ MORE: Camping in Asheville NC: The 15 Best Campgrounds to Visit

whitewater rafting north carolina - Green River Adventures
Green River Adventures, photo via Facebook

3. Green River Adventures

111 East Main Street, Saluda NC • 828-749-2800

Official Website

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

best white water rafting in nc - High Mountain Expeditions
High Mountain Expeditions, photo via Facebook

4. High Mountain Expeditions

3149 Tynecastle Hwy, Banner Elk NC • 828-202-7296

Official Website

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.

READ MORE: 25 Best Things to Do in Boone NC (Blue Ridge Parkway MM 291.8)

white water rafting banner elk nc - Wahoo’s Adventures
Wahoo’s Adventures, photo via Facebook

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

Official Website

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

River Rafting North Carolina - Carolina Outfitters
Carolina Outfitters, photo via Facebook

6. Carolina Outfitters

715 U.S. Highway 19, Topton NC • 828-488-6345

Official Website

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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Bryson City NC & Swain County

Nantahala white water rafting North Carolina
Photo courtesy of NOC

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

Official Website

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).

Trips on the French Broad River depart from the small town of Marshall (just north of Weaverville NC), and kids must be at least 8 years old to participate.

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

white water rafting bryson city nc - Smoky Mountain River Adventures
Smoky Mountain River Adventures, photo via Facebook

8. Smoky Mountain River Adventures

5036 Hwy 74, Whittier NC • 828-785-2662

Official Website

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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Cherokee NC & the Qualla Boundary

white water rafting bryson city nc - Tuckaseegee Outfitters
Tuckaseegee Outfitters, photo via Facebook

9. Tuckaseegee Outfitters

4909 Hwy 74, Whittier NC • 828-586-5050

Official Website

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.

READ MORE: 10 Best Cherokee NC Restaurants for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner


White Water Rafting Charlotte NC

North Carolina Whitewater - US National Whitewater Center
US National Whitewater Center

10. US National Whitewater Center

5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, Charlotte NC • 704-391-3900

Official Website

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


Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

After visiting North Carolina for the first time, Senior Writer Jonathon Engels and wife Emma spent 2 years exploring Western NC in search of a homestead property. They first lived in Brevard, where Jonathon taught writing at Blue Ridge Community College and extensively explored the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. For the last several years they have lived just off the BRP near Elkin, Southwest Virginia, and the NC High Country. The couple also volunteers with the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, the Elkin Valley Trail Association, and Reeves Downtown School of Music.