For serious adrenaline surges and nearly non-stop thrills, nothing beats paddling whitewater. Outfitters on the Nolichucky, Pigeon and Ocoee Rivers offer guided raft trips that supply the equipment and skill needed to get you to the take out in one piece while having boatloads of fun along the way. Rivers are categorized Class I-V (VI is not considered navigable). Class I is flat water and Class II is for beginners wanting to feel some current. But with professional guides and suitable watercraft, paddlers with little or no experience can safely experience some of the excitement big time Class III whitewater has to offer in Tennessee.
The Nolichucky River roars its way through a 900-foot deep, nine-mile long gorge in the rugged Bald and Unaka Mountains. The scenery is beautiful and wild and so is the river. After tossing everything it has at you in the gorge, the Nolichucky broadens and shows the gentler side of its nature outside Erwin. Considered a challenging Class III or IV depending on water levels, outfitter-guided trips through the free-flowing Nolichucky River gorge require a minimum age of 12.
Upper Pigeon River
Go on a wild ride along the Upper Pigeon River, offering Class III rapids among gorgeous Great Smoky Mountain scenery. Rafting in the Pigeon Gorge will be a highlight of your Smoky Mountain trip. There are many outfitters in the area that can safely guide you on your thrilling whitewater ride. For families with children or for those who want to have a laid back experience, the Lower Pigeon River is the perfect float trip with gentle rapids, swimming holes and scenery.
The Ocoee River is nothing short of spectacular. One of the top whitewater rivers in the United States, three dams harness the power of the Ocoee and scheduled water releases transform the dry, boulder-strewn river bed into 11 miles of whitewater heaven. More than 300,000 paddlers visit the Ocoee every year. The Ocoee was the site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater canoe and kayak competition and the upper section includes the 1800-foot long Olympic course that challenged the world's best paddlers. Both the upper and middle sections are open for guided raft trips. Paddlers must be a minimum of 12 years of age. Combining the Upper and Middle Ocoee River raft trips gives you 11 miles of adrenaline-pumping Class III-IV rapids.
The lovely Hiwassee River is a State Scenic River and much more forgiving than the Ocoee. The Hiwassee is mostly Class I and II but some sections could be considered Class III depending on water releases from the Apalachia Powerhouse. Outfitters offer self-guided river rafting and guided fly and spin fishing in McKenzie drift boats for rainbow and brown trout along with camping facilities and cabins. The Hiwassee is also the site of the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association's summer solo and tandem canoe and kayak school.