Top 3 Picks and Tips for Your Great Smokies Rafting Adventure

If you’re an adrenaline junkie looking for a water adventure in the Smokies, rafting is the way to go. Rafting is a water sport that uses an inflated raft to navigate the rapids. You don’t have to be skilled at rafting or have prior experience to enjoy this activity. Read on to learn how and why you should go rafting in the Smokies on your next visit!

3 Reasons to Go Rafting

1. Rafting is good for your health and keeps you in shape.

Since paddling through the rapids require endurance, rafting makes for good cardio exercise and helps build muscles in your arms, shoulders, and back. And because it’s an extreme sport, rafting makes challenging exercise fun because it provides an adrenaline rush that focuses your brain on the happy feeling of excitement rather than the strenuous paddling. Moreover, rafting can also help boost your self-esteem. Overcoming the challenges inherent to rafting can give you a sense of accomplishment and make you more confident in trying new thrilling adventures.

2. Rafting brings you closer to nature.

As you paddle along the rapids, you’ll take in the beautiful lush scenery surrounding you in the water. When the water conditions are calm, be sure to take your time breathing in the fresh air and admiring the greenery when you go rafting in the Smokies.

3. Rafting is a team-building activity.

Did you know that rafting is commonly done with a group and, most of the time, requires teamwork? Absolutely! On your ride, you can bet you will work together with your raft mates as a team to carefully maneuver your raft through the rapids. And each time you manage to dodge an obstacle or make a successful turn together, you and your team will be cheering in celebration of your shared exhilarating experience.

3 Basic Rafting Tips for Beginners 

1. Dress appropriately.

There’s no way you won’t get soaked on your rafting adventure, so make sure you wear proper attire. Avoid wearing cotton clothes and jeans because they can release body heat and absorb water easily. Instead, opt for quick-drying sportswear over a bathing suit. However, if you plan to go rafting in the Smokies during the colder months, wear clothes made of wool or fleece to keep your body warm.

For footwear, choose strapped water-ready sandals or shoes that you won’t mind getting wet.

But most importantly, don’t forget to wear your life vest and helmet on your ride! This safety gear will most likely be provided by your outfitter. Even if the water seems to be super calm, be sure to keep your safety gear securely on your head and body at all times just in case.

And of course, never bring your valuables with you on the raft as they will only get soaked and/or end up getting lost in the water. So leave your one-of-a-kind hats, jewelry, and purses at home!

2. Know what to do in case you fall out of the raft.

Falling overboard while rafting is a normal occurrence, so don’t panic. If this happens, quickly grab the raft’s side and hold on to the safety rope until your guide or fellow rafters pull you back in.

While being pulled back in, face your raft so that your rescuers can pull you in face-first. By doing so, you’ll be able to bend at your waist and kick against the water to more easily lift yourself into the boat.

In case you’re swept away by a current, be sure to keep your nose and toes above the surface of the water. Remember to always face the direction where the water flows: downstream. And don’t forget to keep your arms on both sides so that you can more easily maneuver yourself.

If your rescuers throw you a rope, go ahead and grab for it, keeping it over your shoulders while they pull you in. And as they pull you towards the boat, make sure to keep your back facing the raft to avoid getting water in your mouth! 

You’re a strong swimmer, you say? That’s great! Just be sure to remember that it’s very important to wait until the waters are calm before you begin to swim. Unless you’re  past the rapids and in a calm section of the river, your best option is to remain in a floating position until the conditions improve.

3. Trust your guide.

Rest assured that you can fully enjoy your rafting experience knowing that trusty guide will help keep you safe during your ride. Rafting guides are not only properly trained, but they should also be very familiar with the rivers and waterways you travel. They will teach you all the important techniques, including the “T-grip,” or the proper way of holding the paddle. Listen carefully as they provide you with important instructions and safety tips. Your guide will also be on hand to the rescue in case you fall out of the raft.

Where to Book Your Great Smokies Rafting Adventure

The Pigeon River in Tennessee is a premier spot in the Smokies for various water sports, such as rafting. When planning your Great Smokies getaway, make sure you explore booking a rafting adventure with one of these favorite rafting tour providers:

1. Rafting in the Smokies

The upper Pigeon River is where the Class III (moderate, irregular waves) and Class IV (powerful, but predictable waves) whitewater rapids are located. When rafting in the Smokies, you may paddle
down Too Late, Razor Blade, After Shave, Vegamatic, and Lost Guide—also known as the lively rapids spanning 5.5 miles of the river. The Pigeon River Rafting in the Smokies outpost is one of the most accessible outposts in East Tennessee. You can get there by taking Exit #447 to Hartford from I-40 near the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

Except for the Lower Pigeon Family Float, which allows kids three years and up, this tour company requires a minimum age of eight years old and a minimum weight of 70 lbs to participate. 

That being said, no rafting experience is needed to sign up! Most of their rafting adventures are not only suitable for beginners, but their friendly guides also know how to make each rafting adventure enjoyable. You can book your tour online for $39 to $49 per person. Make sure you read their itinerary with safety briefing and sign a waiver before starting your tour. For safety reasons, you must be able to fit into their 56-inch personal flotation devices.

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, consider using an eyeglass retainer, which you may purchase at their store. And don’t bother bringing your camera unless it’s waterproof. Why? Because they have a professional photographer who takes quality digital photos of your rafting experience that you can purchase after your tour.

In case you need to cancel your booking, be sure to do so at least 48 hours before the trip to get a full refund.


Fall Upper Pigeon River$461.5–2.5 hours, depending on the water level
Class III & IV rapids
Departure: 11 a.m., 1:20 p.m., & 3:40 p.m.
Spring Upper Pigeon River$491.5–2.5 hours, depending on the water level
Class III & IV rapids
Departure: 1 p.m. & 3 p.m.
Upper Pigeon Whitewater Trip$491.5 hours
Class III and IV rapids
Expect big splashes and bumpy waves.
Departure: 1 p.m. & 3 p.m.
Lower Pigeon Family Float$392 hours
Class I & II rapids
For children (3 yrs+)



SourceRatingNumber of Reviews
Trip Advisor53,234

2. SMO Rafting (Smoky Mountain Outdoors Rafting)

With a 5-star rating from over 5,000 reviews on Trip Advisor, SMO Rafting is one of the most trusted, go-to rafting outfitters in the US. Known for their friendly and knowledgeable tour guides, SMO Rafting sees to it that rafters are properly oriented and enabled to enjoy the whole experience from start to finish. Previous guests also commend them for being extremely organized and for following scheduled time slots strictly.

Children three years and up may join the Lower Pigeon River Rafting tour. To go Upper Pigeon River Rafting, rafters must be at least eight years old and weigh a minimum of 70 lbs. For the Extreme Upper Pigeon River Rafting adventure, participants must be at least 12 years old and know how to swim.

You may book an adventure online for $29.95 to $99.95 per person. Want to make a positive impact on the wildlife during this adventure? When booking your reservation, consider donating to the I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project, which seeks to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.

SMO Rafting also offers a group package for 10 rafters or more. You can book your group slot by completing their online form and filling out downloadable Group Information Packet.

If it’s impossible for you to push through with the activity, be sure to notify them at least 48 hours prior to your scheduled tour. For groups with more than 10 rafters, you need to cancel at least seven days before the activity for a full refund.


Upper Pigeon River
$34.95Available early March to mid-October
Minimum age: 8 yrs
Minimum weight: 70 lbs
Lower Pigeon River Rafting$29.95
Available from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend
Minimum age: 3 yrs
Extreme Upper Pigeon River Rafting$99.95
Available from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend
Minimum age: 12 yrs
Rafter must know how to swim.



SourceRatingNumber of Reviews
Trip Advisor55,897

3.  Raft Outdoor Adventures

Raft Outdoor Adventures is a local institution, having been in the industry for more than 30 years to date. The company focuses on providing safe and enjoyable rafting tours for guests year-round by making sure that their guides are rigorously trained and are certified First Aid and CPR providers.

Worried about germs and COVID? You can rest assured with Raft Outdoor Adventures as they guarantee that you will use only clean and up-to-date rafting gear. Note that as part of their routine protocol, all equipment, including the personal flotation devices, helmets, rafts, paddles, and wetsuits, is thoroughly and regularly sanitized after each tour.

You can book a tour online for $41.95 to $79.95 per person. Just remember to sign their safety waiver and present it before the trip.

Need to cancel your booking? Not a problem. Raft Outdoor Adventures has a flexible cancellation policy

Groups of 1–14:

  • Cancel 48+ hours before the tour: Reschedule for free or cancel for a full refund.
  • Cancel 24–48 hours prior to the activity: Reschedule for free or cancel the tour for a 50% refund.

Groups of 15 or more:

  • Cancel 7+ days before the tour for a full refund or free rescheduling.


Upper Pigeon River Trip
$49.95For 8 yrs+ OR at least 70 lbs
2 hours
70 rapids; 6.5 miles
No experience needed
Upper Pigeon Double Run$79.95For ages 8+ OR at least 70 lbs
4 hours
2 runs on the Upper Pigeon river (with short break)
Fully guided
No experience needed
Lower Pigeon River Rafting Trip
Adult: $49.95
Children: $41.95
Ideal for families with kids (3–7 yrs)



SourceRatingNumber of Reviews
Trip Advisor51,983

Got questions about rafting in the Smokies? Just shoot us an email at

Or are you looking for other ways to experience the Smoky Mountains? We’ve got you covered! Check out other fun activities you can enjoy during your visit.

Got no place to stay at on your Great Smokies getaway yet? Be sure to explore our charming rustic cabins and book with us today!

NOTE: While this article has been written for your general enjoyment and personal informational use, it should not be relied upon because we cannot warranty the accuracy of information. Please be sure to contact each business directly to verify rates and terms of service.

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