Rafting in Tennessee

Whitewater rafting in Tennessee's star year-round attraction for thrill-seeking paddlers is the dam-controlled Ocoee River, proposed site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater events. Less than an hour's drive east of Chattanooga, the Ocoee winds through a deep and beautiful gorge in the Cherokee National Forest. Over a five-mile stretch its level drops at an average rate of 50 feet a mile, making it a continuous Class III-IV whitewater experience. Its rapids have such colorful names as Hell‘s Hole, Broken Nose, and Double Trouble. But local rafting outfitters say that with their experienced guides, the adventure is safe for everyone. Nearby is the Hiwassee River, also offering Class III-IV rapids as well as a glimpse of deer, raccoons, and numerous bird species.

Whitewater Rafting in Tennessee excitement can be found on the Doe River

Elsewhere in the Appalachians, too, Tennessee whitewater rafting boasts some of the most challenging whitewater and spectacular scenery in the East. But the hazardous rapids on many mountain streams are runnable only in the winter and early spring. For example, there are two awesome gorges in the state's northeast corner along the border with Virginia and North Carolina. Paddlers on the Doe River thrill to the excitement of a narrow - torrent confined between the 1000-foot bluffs of Cedar Mountain and Fork Mountain. The Doe's Class IV gorge on the seven-mile stretch above the town of Hampton is strictly for advanced canoeists prepared to scout the hazards.

Whitewater Rafting in Tennessee is close to Knoxville and Johnson City

In the same area, for whitewater rafting in Tennessee, the celebrated Watauga River gorge cuts its way across the North Carolina state line. With rapids of up to Class V difficulty, gradients reaching 200 feet per mile, huge boulders, and hazardous drops, it should be attempted only by experts. Even they should be accompanied by a person familiar with the river in all its moods. But both the Doe and the Watauga can only be run from December to April, or after heavy rains.

Another of Tennessee’s spectacular whitewater rafting runs is the Big South Fork Gorge. This is a trip to be taken in the spring runoff weeks between late March and early May. This Class III-IV run on the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River is within the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The nearby Obed River is the state's only National Wild and Scenic River, a pristine wilderness stream. Another springtime Tennessee white water rafting run through a handsome gorge, the trip from Obed Junction to Emory River, provides many Class III-IV rapids with such names as "Rock garden" and "Oh My God."

For family whitewater rafting in Tennessee trips, the Elk River in south central Tennessee is a good bet, with its gentle current and profusion of trout, bass, blue herons, and basking turtles. Also in the middle of the state is the Harpeth State Scenic River, with many historic sites, mills, and Indian mounds. Here, too, floaters find easy paddling and good catches of smallmouth bass, brim, crappie, and catfish. The Sequatchie River canoe area near Dunlap northwest of Chattanooga offers clean water, fishing, and wildlife including foxes, minks, muskrats, blue herons, wood ducks, and Canada geese.

Around Gatlinburg, in the Smokies, families can enjoy rafting on the Nantahala, Big Pigeon, and French Broad Rivers in waters providing varying degrees of excitement. And the Buffalo River, which parallels the Tennessee River for part of its length, has great fishing. Contact an outfitter to arrange your trip from March to April.

Map icons display company headquarters.

Quest Expeditions

PO Box 499BentonTN37307USA


Ocoee River River Usumacinta State Mexico State Tennessee

Outdoor Adventures

3635 Trail Hollow Rd.HartfordTN37753USA


Pigeon River State Tennessee

Nantahala Outdoor Center

13077 Highway 19 W.Bryson CityNC28713USA


Chattooga River French Broad River Nantahala River Nolichucky River Ocoee River Pigeon River State Georgia State North Carolina State South Carolina State Tennessee

Wildwater, LTD.

PO Box 309Long CreekSC29658USA


Chattooga River Nantahala River Ocoee River Pigeon River State Georgia State North Carolina State South Carolina State Tennessee

Rapid Descent River Co.

3195 Hartford Rd.HartfordTN37753USA


Pigeon River State Tennessee