For non-stop fun and excitement, you just can’t beat river rafting! It’s something we try to do each Summer, and enjoy rafting on different rivers during our Summer Road Trips! This year, we visited the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and at the top of my list was a rafting trip on the Pigeon River!
After doing my do-diligence on reviews and availability, I booked us with Rafting in the Smokies in Hartford, TN, about a 30 minute drive from Gatlinburg. The river trips in the area are much less expensive than what we’ve paid in other states, averaging about $30-$40/per person. There are a few other outfitters in the area, so competition with them all the other things to do help to keep the price down.
It’s also a shorter rafting trip than we’re use to, at only about an hour of actual time on the river. Again, with so much to do in the Smokies, it was a perfect way to explore the river and still have time for other activities!
Rafting in the Smokies has been in the business of putting people on the river since 1978, and it shows. They have a well-run business, getting people equipped and ready to go as quickly and efficiently as possible. We checked in and filled out our waivers, which you can also do online to save some time, and changed into river clothes in their dressing rooms, which were pretty nice for a rafting company!
What To Wear Over the years, I’ve found that quick-dry fabrics, such as nylon work best. Unlike Colorado Rivers, we weren’t wearing wet suits or rain gear, and it was a little chilly for just a swim suit. I’d avoid jeans or heavy fabrics, which can weigh you down if you go in the water. Water shoes or sandals with straps are my favorites. I love these Tevas from Amazon that I’ve been wearing all Summer, which feel great and are very affordable, and compare to Chacos. Just a reminder, I am an Amazon affiliate and do receive a small commission should you purchase using my link – Thank You!
You will also be wearing a life jacket, so wear something thin, and a helmet, which will fit over a baseball cap.
If you have a Go-Pro, bring it! You can rent for $5 a helmet with a mount. The 1-hr trip makes it perfect for getting great pictures! Otherwise, you’re not allowed to bring cameras or anything in your hands, you’ll be paddling the whole time!
What To Bring With You
Nothing. If you don’t want to lose it – Don’t Bring It. They can hold your car keys, and then you really don’t need anything else!
The Upper or Lower Pigeon River
Rafting in the Smokies offers 2 types of rafting trips, the Upper Pigeon, which is a white water trip, and the Lower Pigeon, which is a gently float suitable for children as young as 3. Professional guides are on both trips. We did the Upper Pigeon, and it was fantastic!
The Upper Pigeon River We were shuttled upriver on a 15 minute bus ride to the Tennesee/North Carolina State Line, and put in just below the dam. They float whenever there is a water release, and on days that water isn’t released, they don’t run. The trip took us back down to the Outpost. The Lower Pigeon trip, which we didn’t take, leaves from the Outpost and you are shuttled back.
On the Upper Pigeon River, they have a photographer that takes a series of pictures of your raft on the first set of rapids! Smile! Pictures are then available for purchase when you return!
The Trip Once we put in, it was non-stop excitement! Thanks to our great guide, we all managed to stay in the boat, but it’s not uncommon for someone to fall out. Don’t worry, they will cover with you what to do if you find yourself swimming!
Towards the end, as the rapids give way to a short but easy float, you are given the chance to jump in and cool off, very quickly! The water is COLD, so you won’t mind it being short, but feels great! Your guide will help get you back in the raft!
You will be assigned a guide as soon as your trip is called. They will teach you what to do, keep you safe and make sure you have a great time! Please be sure to tip them when your trip is over! They will likely be gearing up for their next trip, so convenient pay stations are located inside where you can write their name on an envelope and deposit the money! Not sure how much to trip? 20% of the trip or $10/per person is customary!
More To Do
They also have a fun ropes and zip line course on “The Island”, which sits in the middle of the river. Some people were doing the zip lines before or after their river trip, and some were only there for the zip lines. We crossed the swinging rope bridge to the island, and hung out while waiting for our trip, relaxing under the trees. There is also a little nature trail you can walk around the island.
I hate running late, which I tend to always be doing, and didn’t want to forget anything, so we arrived really, really early for our river trip!
We had time to walk around and grab something to eat at The Bean Trees, which has a nice river view and really great burgers! Because of the higher altitude, I really encouraged everyone to drink plenty of water, even though it feels cool and humid, it’s easy to get dehydrated, and that can ruin any trip!
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