Note: Some tour providers on this list may have limited or ceased operations due to COVID-19. Check with your tour operator about availability before you book.
For a thrilling experience when in Tennessee, consider a whitewater rafting trip through one of the state’s many rivers. Choose from gentler rapids or more adventurous waters, depending on your age and comfort level and the area you’ll be visiting. After reviewing both traveler sentiment and expert opinion, U.S. News selected 12 of the best whitewater rafting trips for you to consider on your next Tennessee getaway.
Before you book, keep in mind that each company imposes its own age requirements for participants. Additionally, know that you must wear secure shoes in order to raft; bare feet and flip-flops are not allowed. Rapids are categorized as Class I through VI. Class I rapids are the tamest (think: small waves), while Class VI are dangerous and considered unnavigable. Each tour will list what kinds of rapids you can expect; you likely won’t encounter anything higher than Class IV.
Rip Roaring Adventures – Upper Pigeon Trip
On this three-hour adventure that includes 1 1/2 hours on the water, you’ll navigate through Class III and IV rapids on the upper Pigeon River. There is a maximum of seven people per raft. Tour-goers say they have a great time and call guides professional and friendly. Tickets start at $44 per person; you’ll pay a slightly higher fee in the summer. Trips are available from March through September, though some trips may also be available in October. During the peak season (Memorial Day through Labor Day), trips depart Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday at several times in both the morning and the afternoon. Spring and fall departure times vary. Rip Roaring Adventures also offers trips down the lower portion of the Pigeon River – a great option for anyone looking for a gentler experience.
Ocoee Rafting – Middle Ocoee River Trip
On this 1 1/2-hour whitewater rafting excursion, you’ll travel 5 miles down the middle section of the Ocoee River, a popular whitewater river, through more than 20 Class III and IV rapids. Tour-takers say they enjoy the adventure and that guides are skilled and personable. Tickets start at $40 per person, and participants must be at least 12 years old. In April, May, September and October, trips are available on Saturdays at different times. In June, July and August, excursions are available Thursday through Monday (exact departure times vary). T-shirts and shoes are required. Though you’ll be on the water for 90 minutes, the entire tour will take about three hours from check-in to checkout. Trips depart from Ducktown, which is about 70 miles east of Chattanooga near the border of Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.
Rafting in the Smokies – Upper Pigeon River Whitewater Rafting Trip
Tackle Class III and IV rapids on this approximately 1 1/2-hour trip with Rafting in the Smokies. On the more than 5-mile journey along the upper section of the Pigeon River, your guide will lead you and five other participants through rapids with names like After Shave, Razor Blade and Too Late. Reviewers highly recommend this trip and say guides are experienced and prioritize safety. Tickets cost approximately $44 per person, not including taxes and fees. Tours run Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday at varying times between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., depending on the season. You must be at least 8 years old to participate. Tours depart from Hartford, approximately 30 miles east of both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Rafting in the Smokies also has zip line tours and a ropes challenge course, and offers more mellow floating trips.
Smoky Mountain Outdoors Rafting – Lower River Rafting
Paddle more than 5 miles through the Pigeon River Gorge at a slow pace on this trip recommended for families with kids. A guide accompanies you on this rafting excursion, which lasts about 90 minutes. Travelers highly recommend this trip, saying the views are outstanding and that guides are great with children. Prices start at about $40 per person ages 3 and older. Trips run May through September, typically Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday, with multiple afternoon departure times. Flip-flops or bare feet are not allowed. This company also offers trips on the upper portion of the river, as well as inflatable kayaking.
River Rat Tubing & Whitewater Rafting – Upper Pigeon Whitewater Rafting
Raft down the upper portion of the Pigeon River through Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains with an expert guide leading the way. Lasting approximately two hours, the trip is a 5-mile adventure through Class III and IV rapids. Reviewers highly recommend this tour and praise their guides. Tickets start at $49.95 per person. You must be at least 8 years old to participate. Trips run Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday at various times throughout the day from 10:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. The activity is seasonal, running from May through September. Trips depart from Hartford. River Rat offers tubing, as well as an “extreme” version of its Upper Pigeon whitewater outing.
Outdoor Adventure Rafting – Middle Ocoee
You’ll spend about two hours on the water, making your way through Class III and IV rapids on this guided rafting trip down the middle Ocoee River with Outdoor Adventure Rafting. Reviewers rave about the guides, who they say provide a safe and fun experience. In addition to expertly navigating the rapids, guides also share a bit of information about the area’s plants and animals, according to travelers. Tickets cost approximately $40 per person. Participants must be at least 12 years old. Rafting trips are available according to dam releases, which vary according to season. The tour departs from Benton, about 45 miles east of Chattanooga. Outdoor Rafting Adventure also has a Class V rapids trip as well as tubing outings.
The Ocoee River is a popular choice for rafters.Getty Images
Cherokee Rafting – The Full
See if you can make your way through rapids with names like Double Suck and Diamond Splitter, including some that were a part of an Olympic whitewater competition course, on this five-hour trip. Since you’ll be rafting about 10 miles of the Ocoee River, you’ll enjoy a break and a picnic lunch halfway through your trip. Tour-goers call the experience “amazing,” and say the adept guides make them feel safe and secure. Ticket prices start at $75 per person and participants must be at least 12 years old. Trips are available mid-May through September on Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Trips depart from the company’s headquarters in Ocoee, about 45 miles east of Chattanooga. The company also offers shorter trips through the middle and upper sections of the river.
Wildwater Rafting – Ocoee Upper & Middle Combo Trip
Navigate both the upper and middle sections of the Ocoee River on this whitewater rafting adventure that’s limited to seven participants. The six-hour trip travels 10 miles through Class III and IV rapids, including the Olympic course. A sandwich lunch and snacks are also included. Tour-takers say guides are friendly and caring and that the experience is tons of fun. Ticket prices start at $99.95 per person, not including taxes and fees, and you must be at least 12 years old to participate. Trips run Saturdays and Sundays mid-May through mid-September. Ocoee whitewater outings depart from the company’s Ducktown location. Wildwater also runs trips on the Pigeon River.
Raft Outdoor Adventures – White Water Rafting Upper Pigeon River
Can you make it past Razor Blade, Vegematic and Powerhouse? These are all names of Class III and IV rapids you’ll paddle through on this trip with Raft Outdoor Adventures. This experience along the upper Pigeon River also includes opportunities to swim in some of the calmer waters. Reviewers describe the river and scenery as beautiful, and applaud their guides for being both fun and safety conscious. Tickets cost approximately $50 per person, and participants must be at least 8 years old. Tours are available June through August on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday on the hour from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. From late March through May, tours Tuesday through Sunday twice a day. Trips depart from Hartford, which sits east of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The company also operates several other rafting trips, including those suitable for beginners.
Quest Expeditions – Middle Ocoee Whitewater Rafting Trip
You’ll paddle your way down 5 miles of the middle section of the Ocoee River through 17 different rapids on this four-hour guided rafting trip that runs through a gorge in Cherokee National Forest. Reviewers say this company provides excellent customer service and that guides are very experienced. Travelers also say the course is great for families. Ticket prices start at $30 and can increase slightly depending on time of year and day of the week. Rafting trips run on weekends during spring and fall months, as well as Thursday through Monday June through August. Departure times vary by season. Quest Expeditions also offers a rafting trip through the upper portion of the river, as well as a full-day rafting trip.
Big Creek Expeditions – Upper Pigeon Whitewater
Enjoy views of the Great Smoky Mountains as you paddle through the Pigeon River Gorge and numerous Class III and IV rapids along the upper Pigeon River on this 6-mile trip. You’ll spend about 1 1/2 hours rafting through rapids with names like Snapdragon and Powerhouse and enjoy some downtime for swimming, as well. Tour-goers rave about their humorous guides and highly recommend this trip. Tickets cost approximately $45 per person, and participants must be at least 8 years old. The trip operates every half-hour between 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. from early May through early September with some availability in spring and fall, depending on rainfall. Trips run Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. If you don’t want to get wet, Big Creek Expeditions also offers a scenic float trip.
Big Bear Rafting – Lower Pigeon
This section of the Pigeon River is ideal for younger children and those new to rafting thanks to its calmer Class I and II rapids. On the 2 1/2-hour trip, your guide will help you and six other participants paddle through more than 5 miles of whitewater rapids down the lower portion of the river. Reviewers compliment their friendly guides and say the experience is memorable and fun. Ticket prices start at $39.95 for ages 8 and older and $31.95 for ages 3 to 7 not including taxes and fees. Children must be at least 3 years old to join. Tours operate from May through September. Exact days and departure times vary by season, though you can expect trips to run at least three days a week with afternoon departures. Big Bear also offers a rafting trip that travels along the upper portion of the river. All of Big Bear’s Rafting trips leave from Hartford.