Discover the 4 Best Rivers for Whitewater Rafting in Tennessee

Written by Kirstin Harrington
Updated: November 1, 2023
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One of the fantastic outdoor activities for both locals and visitors around the mountains of Tennessee is whitewater rafting. Eastern Tennessee, throughout the Appalachian area, offers the best whitewater rafting opportunities. 

You can find all levels of rapids on the four rivers.

The rivers flow through breathtaking Tennessee wildflower-lined mountainous ravines, and the waters can be rather thrilling. Below we’ll go over the four main rivers that you can whitewater raft on in Tennessee. 

There are 10 of the best outfitters to choose from as well, to make your next outdoor adventure a breeze! 

Nolichucky River and Watauga River

Along the Watauga River at Sycamore Shoals State Park, Tennessee, USA

The Watauga River runs through Sycamore Shoals State Park.

©Dee/iStock via Getty Images

High Mountain Expeditions 

High Mountain Expeditions, based in Boone and Banner Elk, NC, provides four distinct rafting excursions. They also have river tubing trips available on the New River. Visitors also enjoy trips to Worley’s Cave. 

Some visit the area simply to take a hike through the picturesque Tennessee wilderness.  

High Mountain Expeditions provides two-day tours on the Nolichucky in addition to one-day excursions on the Watauga, Nolichucky, and Wilson Creek. 

The Nolichucky is an especially challenging day voyage, with 11 miles of class three and four rapids. If you’re looking for a long trip, consider the two-day route. You’ll be able to explore 18 miles on the raft! 

Wahoo’s Adventures

Despite having its headquarters in Boone, NC, Wahoo’s Adventures offers two supervised whitewater rafting excursions on Tennessee’s Watauga River and Nolichucky River. Wahoo’s additionally provides river tubing on the New River, which is located in North Carolina. 

This is a great option for people desiring a way to enjoy the water on a warm summer afternoon. With largely Class I and II rapids along with a Class III rapid to spice things up, the Watauga River trip is fantastic for families looking to go rafting. 

Kids under the age of 13 pay $45 and those who are over 13 pay $55 to do this tour. It takes around three to four hours to navigate the 11 miles of Class III and IV rapids on the Nolichucky River, making it unsuitable for extremely young children. 

For $105 per person, rafters can board an open boat or organize customized excursions for an additional cost, Additionally, Blue Hole Falls, which has a fantastic swimming hole at its foot, is close to Wahoo’s Adventures.

Ocoee River

The Ocoee river in Tennessee with its whitewater flowing downstream closeup with the mist in the mountains in the background on a bright sunny day in early autumn

The Ocoee River has great rapids for adrenaline junkies!

©Sandra Burm/

Ocoee Rafting

Ocoee Rafting, the original and longest-running whitewater rafting business, was established in 1976. This outfitter has been guiding paddlers around Class Three and Four rapids for nearly 50 years! 

They have a plethora of trip options available, including the Middle and Upper Ocoee River. To make your trip even more fun, these excursions can be paired with a zipline canopy tour.

It’s important to note that the Upper Ocoee section is only available on certain weekends throughout the year. To take advantage of Ocoee Rafting trips, riders have to be 12 years of age or older. 

The Middle Ocoee Run is five miles long and costs $40 to $55. If you’re interested in a longer trip, consider the Full River Combo. It’s 10 miles long and will run you about $85 to $90. It costs $120 to go whitewater rafting and zipline.

Outdoor Adventure Rafting

Outdoor Adventure Rafting is a great option if you’re looking for choices. They have three whitewater rafting trips available. Outdoor Adventure Rafting travels the Middle Ocoee, a Class Five section, and the entire river! Tennessee rafting organizations’ standard route is the Middle Ocoee. This will cost you about $35. 

It lasts for roughly three hours and has Class Three and Four rapids. The Upper and Middle sections of this river are combined for the entire river route which costs $85 per person. This is a five-hour-log trip that includes lunch with the ticket price. 

For those interested in the option with class five rapids, you must be an experienced rafter to participate. Outdoor Adventure Rafting requires individuals to be at least 16 years old. 

Quest Expeditions 

WhiteWater Kayaking

Some outfitters provide inflatable kayaks instead of rafts.

©Buenaventuramariano/iStock via Getty Images

Quest Expeditions provides both a weekend adventure and ongoing daily excursions on the Middle and Full Ocoee Rivers. They also offer a tour that exclusively visits Upper Ocoee.

The best time to go whitewater rafting in Tennessee is from the beginning of April until the end of October. If you love leaf-peeping, this makes a great autumn activity! With the Tennessee mountain town of Chattanooga only a few minutes away, this river passage serves as the location for whitewater rafting. Furthermore, big cities like Atlanta are just a few hours away.

From Monday through Friday, supervised rafting adventures are offered by Quest Expeditions. While the minimum age for participation is 12, this organization advertises itself as being an ideal location for families and putting an emphasis on teamwork. 

Wildwater Rafting

Adventures are available on the Ocoee River in Tennessee thanks to an interstate company called Wildwater Rafting. They also provide trips in Georgia and North Carolina. This outfitter offers multiple runs and even a hybrid option.

The longer trips take six hours, compared to the shorter trips’ three hours. The Upper and Combo tours are provided only on weekends, whereas Middle Ocoee River Rafting is accessible every day throughout the season. 

You can choose from one trip or combine multiple. They are individually $55 and the combined excursion is $100. Additionally, Wildwater provides a package that combines zip lining and rafting.

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Lastly for the Ocoee River, the Nantahala Outdoor Center provides several rafting trips that wind through the south Appalachian Mountains. They offer a Middle Ocoee run, starting at $50 per rider.

This trip lasts up to three and a half hours and it’s accessible from April until October. Nantahala Outdoor Center also has a Pigeon River route that travels throughout the Upper Pigeon Gorge.

This takes a little under three hours to complete. You have to be at least eight years old and 70 pounds or more to go on this excursion. The open availability for the Pigeon Gorge run is a bit shorter, running from May until the last week of September.

Pigeon River

West Prong Of Little Pigeon River Rushing Through Forest In Fall in the Smokies

Pigeon River is a popular fishing destination as well.

©Kelly vanDellen/

Rafting in the Smokies

With a name like Rafting in the Smokies, you’re bound to have a good time. This is a great location to bring the kids, as they offer much more than just whitewater rafting. Here you can enjoy canopy ziplines, picnic areas, rope courses, and relaxing float trips. 

A five-and-a-half-mile trip on the Upper Pigeon River is available for paddlers who are at least eight years old. You are required to weigh at least 70 pounds and it will cost you $50 per person. 

If you are traveling with children, consider the Lower Pigeon run, as it’s much more calm. It is six miles long and has relatively calm water. Children as young as three years old can enjoy this trip. It will cost you $42 per person. 

Rip Roaring Adventures

For more than 20 years, Rip Roaring Adventures has led rafting adventures on the Pigeon River in the state of Tennessee. Because of their success over the years, they are a top-ranking rafting outfitter on TripAdvisor.

The Lower Pigeon River’s Class I through III rapids can be challenge. There’s no denying that the Upper Pigeon River’s exhilarating Class III through IV rapids are both well-known features of the region. All ages are welcome on the Lower Pigeon rafting excursion from Rip Roaring Adventures. 

It’s important to note that only those eight and older are allowed on their Upper Pigeon rafting tour. These trips cost slightly under $50 per rafter. If you have a large party, they give you a great discount, coming in at $35 per rider.

These 90-minute-long rafting excursions on the Pigeon River take place from May until September

Whitewater Rafting on the Arkansas River

Many outfitters will have weight and age requirements.

©Rich Flubacker/

River Rat Tubing & Rafting

Whitewater rafting and tubing trips are both offered by River Rat. Although river rafting excursions take place on the Pigeon River in Hartford, seeing the area by floating on a tube is a great option as well. Tubers get to go through Townsend via the Little River! 

Whitewater rafting and tubing trips are both offered by River Rat. Although river rafting excursions take place on the Pigeon River in Hartford, seeing the area by floating on a tube is a great option as well. Tubers get to go through Townsend via the Little River! 

River Rat Tubing & Rafting offers three different types of whitewater rafting trips on the Pigeon River. You get to choose from the relaxing Lower Pigeon path, an Upper Pigeon route, and a “Xtreme Upper Pigeon Rafting Adventure.” 

The extreme route requires unique vessels and children are not allowed. Both of the standard runs are single-day trips. They are $50 per rider, whereas the Xtreme route is $70 per paddler. If you reserve a booking online, you are likely to save a bit of money. 

Summary of the Best Rivers For Whitewater Rafting in Tennessee

The best rivers for whitewater rafting in Tennessee are the Nolichucky, Watauga, Ocoee, and
Pigeon. Below is a list of outfitters and the rivers they service.

OutfitterRivers Serviced
1High Mountain Expeditions Nolichucky River & Watauga River
2Wahoo’s AdventuresNolichucky River & Watauga River
3Ocoee RaftingOcoee River
4Outdoor Adventure RaftingOcoee River
5Quest Expeditions Ocoee River
6Wildwater RaftingOcoee River
7Nantahala Outdoor CenterOcoee River and Pigeon River
8Rafting in the SmokiesPigeon River
9Rip Roaring AdventuresPigeon River
10River Rat Tubing & RaftingPigeon River

The photo featured at the top of this post is © joshschutz/iStock via Getty Images

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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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