With the Great Smoky Mountains and the Appalachian waterway, Tennessee has no shortage of whitewater rafting for all experience levels. There are both Olympic-tested sections of river for those looking for all the thrills (and possibly spills) and calm stretches that will let you relax and take in the natural beauty of Tennessee.

Best whitewater rafting in Tennessee

East Tennessee

One of the gems of whitewater rafting in Eastern Tennessee is the Ocoee River. You might also hear the Ocoee called the Toccoa River—they are technically the same river, but the portion that runs through Georgia is referred to as the Toccoa, while the portion that runs through Tennessee is the Ocoee. The entire river is 93 miles long and is set in the beautiful landscape of the Appalachian Mountains.

Benton, TN boasts a few options for whitewater rafting trips. OAR has a varied selection of rafting options, with two different half-day sections of the Ocoee, and a full-day trip that combines the two sections. The middle section of the Ocoee includes class III and IV rapids, making for a great day of adventure.

Right on the North Carolina border, you’ll find Erwin, TN—home to three exciting options for whitewater rafting in Eastern Tennessee. The Watauga River, Nolichucky River and Wilson Creek boast scenic and adventurous rafting, as well as more beginner- and family-friendly sections of river.


    • Middle Ocoee: $39.50 per person
    • Upper Ocoee: $45 per person
    • Full River: $91 per person
    • Class V Ocoee: $54 per person

Wahoo’s Adventures

    • Wautaga River Rafting: $42 per person
    • Nolichucky River Rafting: $75 per person
    • Wilson Creek Extreme Rafting: $125 per person


Further east on the Ocoee from Benton is Ducktown, TN. Ducktown affords whitewater rafting and adventure lovers an array of activities including hiking, rock climbing and ziplining. The Upper Ocoee section of the river was showcased in the 1996 Olympics and is home to world-class rapids.

Rafting the Upper Ocoee will give you half-a-mile of class IV rapids in the Olympic section. It’s not all about the Ocoee, though! Whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River in Ducktown is a great option if you’re in Eastern Tennessee. There are some class III and IV rapid sets, but if you’re out with younger paddlers, the Lower Duck River is a fun but family-friendly option. Wildwater Rafting has a minimum age of 4 on this stretch of river, so bring your little ones!

Wildwater Rafting

    • Middle Ocoee Rafting: $49.95 per person
    • Upper Ocoee Rafting: $49.95 per person
    • Ocoee Upper and Middle Trip: $99.95 per person
    • Upper Pigeon Rafting: $39.95 per person
    • Lower Pigeon Rafting: $34.95 per person

Ocoee Rafting

    • Middle Ocoee: $40 to $49 per person
    • Upper Ocoee: $49 per person
    • Full River: $85 to $90 per person

Carolina Ocoee

    • Middle Ocoee: $35 to $49 per person
    • Upper Ocoee: $51 per person
    • River Combo: $92 to $99 per person


Whitewater rafting in Cleveland, TN is centered around the Ocoee River. If you’re in the Cleveland area seeking out a whitewater adventure, check out:

Big Frog Mountain Outfitters

    • Middle Ocoee: $35 to $38 per person
    • Full Ocoee: $85 per person

Quest Expeditions Ocoee River

    • Middle Ocoee: $36 per person
    • Upper Ocoee: $49 per person
    • Full River: $90 per person


    • Middle Ocoee: $39.50 per person
    • Upper Ocoee: $45 per person
    • Full River: $91 per person
    • Class V Ocoee: $54 per person
People in a yellow raft with their paddles raised in the air
Rafting is a great bonding experience for families, friends—and even strangers. | Photo: Razvan Orendovici

Pigeon Forge

In Pigeon Forge, TN, you can whitewater raft the scenic and engaging Upper Pigeon River. With class III and IV rapids, this area provides excitement on the river for beginner to experienced paddlers looking for a whitewater rafting adventure in Tennessee. Pigeon Forge is about an hour’s drive from Knoxville, so there’s plenty of entertainment off the river close by!

Outdoor Rafting Adventures

    • Upper Pigeon River: $44.95 per person


Hartford is a little town with a roaring whitewater rafting scene. A perfect spot to set off on a whitewater day, Hartford has a number of rafting companies that run on the Pigeon River. For an even more exciting river day, check out mini raft tours! If you’re an angler, 5 Rivers also offers fishing tours in the Hartford area.

Rapids in the Hartford area are class I to class IV, and there are plenty of more relaxed floats for families and those looking for a less adrenaline-filled day.

5 Rivers

    • Upper Pigeon: $39.99 per person
    • Lower Pigeon: $39.99 per person
    • High Adventure Trip: $49.99 per person
    • Combo Trip: $59.99 per person

Nantahala Outdoor Center

    • Upper Pigeon Gorge: From $40 per person
    • Lower Pigeon Gorge: Youth from $28, adults from $35

Big Bear Rafting

    • Upper Pigeon: $39.95 to $45.95
    • Lower Pigeon: $31.95 for youth, $39.95 for adults

Smoky Mountain River Rat

    • Lower Pigeon: $32.95 +tax per person
    • Upper Pigeon: $45.95 +tax per person
    • Xtreme Upper Pigeon Adventure: $59.95 +tax per person

Gatlinburg & Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains are famously beautiful and serene with endless natural features to be explored. An estimated 200 to 300 million years old, the Smoky Mountains have long been cultivating an impressive display of biodiversity. Flora and fauna that are mainly found in the southern states thrive in the lowlands of the Smokies, and species that are heartier in the northern states can be found in the higher elevations. If you want a preview of the real thing, check out the webcams the National Park Service streams live!

Gatlinburg is a popular place to begin whitewater rafting adventures in the Great Smoky Mountains. Most tours in the park are either in the class III and IV range, or are much quieter class I trips. Gatlinburg also provides many other activities to create an adventure-filled trip— check out kayaking, rock climbing, hiking and ziplining.

Rafting in the Smokies

    • Upper Pigeon: $42 per person
    • Lower Pigeon: $35 per person

Smoky Mountain Outdoors

    • Upper Pigeon: $46.95 per person
    • Lower Pigeon: $41.95 per person
    • Extreme Upper Pigeon: $99.95 per person

Nantahala Outdoor Center

    • Upper Pigeon: From $40 per person
    • Lower Pigeon: Youth from $28, adults from $35


Log chute beside a stream in the forest

Best time to whitewater raft in Tennessee

Tennessee has a fairly lengthy whitewater season; with some exceptions, April to September is a great window. With average temperatures of 30 degrees Fahrenheit in January and 90 degrees Fahrenheit in July, there’s a time in there to suit most peoples’ preferred travel style.

Aside from ambient temperature, water levels are the other main factor in your whitewater experience. The Ocoee River is one of Tennessee’s main whitewater rafting spots, and is more predictable than other river systems because it is a dam-controlled waterway. Because of this, the Ocoee has the same level of water flow all year. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds and have some flexibility in your timing, planning a whitewater rafting trip on weekdays or Sundays will be your best bet.

The Smoky Mountains boast the title of the most visited national park in the United States, so it’s wise to plan your timing well. Luckily, the season in the Smokies is longer than other whitewater rafting destinations in Tennessee. Visit My Smokies recommends booking rafting tours there from February to November.



What to wear whitewater rafting in Tennessee

Now you’ve got the scoop on where the best places to whitewater raft in Tennessee are, but what do you wear when you go?

Whitewater rafting tours don’t require any specialized personal gear. While you can bring your own PFD or paddle if your tour company allows, they’ll provide all the gear you need. Wear athletic clothes that are comfortable and allow for movement and you’ll be set.

Depending on the time of year you’re rafting, you may need to wear layers, a long-sleeve shirt or pants. As with any paddling activities, sticking to wool or other non-cotton fabrics is best. Cotton takes longer to dry than other fabrics and doesn’t keep you as warm when it gets damp. As a base layer, outdoor clothing with some stretch will be the most comfortable for you—think hiking shorts, swim trunks or board shorts, and tops that will fit well under a PFD.

For trips that involve a pickup and ride back after you’re out of the river, consider wearing a bathing suit under your over layer—you’ll be happier and more comfortable if you dry out faster! If you have longer hair, pull it back to ensure it’s not in your face when you get wet, and bring an extra hair tie just in case. For footwear, always wear closed-toed shoes that buckle or tie on. You don’t want to catch a toe on a stick or have your foot cut by a rock. You can wear neoprene water shoes or sandals with a covered toe. If you don’t have anything like that, runners will be fine as long as you dry them out properly after.

Your whitewater rafting trip in Tennessee is going to be amazing, so enjoy every minute of your adventure! Whether you’re running go-or-no lines in a mini raft on the Ocoee or Upper Pigeon, or having a more laid-back float day, Tennessee has all kinds of options for you to create a memorable and exciting rafting experience.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here