Due to its geography, Tennessee has excellent whitewater rafting locations all over the state. Whether you live in the Volunteer State or are just visiting, we’ve found some great spots for you and your canoe. Check out our list below to see our top picks for canoeing in Tennessee.
Big South Fork National River
The Big South Fork National River offers a wild whitewater adventure through the majority of the trip. Whitewater rafters get a short break between the Peters Bridge and Brewster Bridge which is a calm paddle for those of all ages. Depending on the section, runs vary from class I-IV and the water flow fluctuates drastically based on the rainfall. The best times to visit are the spring and even late fall/early winter. There is only one commercial outfitter in the area who offers rafting trips with instruction.
Duck River Blueway
Scenic but challenging, the Duck River Blueway offers something for all ages. The lower portion of the around the Pastoral River Area is considered a Class II rapid with numerous fast running shoals and islands. In addition to the challenging rapids, there is multiple waterfowl along the river to view during the journey. There are also stretches of mini-rapids and smaller drops which is perfect for beginners.
The Hiwasse River is one of the best family locations for whitewater rafting. The 23-mile river features gentle rafting with some areas rated as class I-II and other sections as class III. This river features something for all levels of whitewater rafting. Local outfitters offer equipment rentals and guided rafting trips.
Ranked as the #4 whitewater rafting destination in the United States by the American Outdoor Association (AOA) is the Nantahala River snakes across the Tennessee and North Carolina border. There are many guides and rafting trips offered by the Nantahala Outdoor Center for rafters of all ages and skill levels.
This wild, free-flowing river originates at Mount Mitchell in North Carolina and terminates in northeast Tennessee. The most exciting and scenic portion of the river can be found near Erwin. The upper segment of the river meanders through a deep gorge and features class III-IV rapids. The lower section is rated as a class I-II and more appropriate for families. In the spring, there are high water levels which lower in late spring through the rest of the summer.
Running through Polk County the Ocoee River has been ranked as the #1 destination for whitewater rafting in the United States by the AOA. The location is so diverse and challenging that the 1996 Summer Olympic Whitewater Games were held here. The river features upper and middle courses which takes around six hours to complete both. Beginners can try the middle course and guides are available to offer instructions prior to heading out on the river. The rapids located on the Ocoee River are rated as Class III-IV.
Located on the Cumberland Plateau, the Obed River is considered one of the best whitewater rafting rivers in the southeast United States. Although designated as a national wild and scenic river, the Obed River is rated as class II-IV, depending on the section. Currently, there are no commercial outfitters operating on this river so it only experienced rafters should venture to this location. Weather conditions and water levels vary drastically due to periods of high rain in the spring.
Pigeon Forge River
Located near Pigeon Forge, the Pigeon River was ranked #3 in the United States by the AOA. The river offers a lower and upper course for a diversity of levels. The lower course is designated as a “float trip” with easy rapids and in-water experiences. This is best for children over the age of 3. The upper course is more intermediate and takes around an hour and a half to complete.
Originating at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and cutting through northeastern Tennessee, the downstream area of the river boasts class I and II rapids for an easier option. There are guided rafting trips available from several local outfitters for families with a minimum age ranging from 3-to-5 years old.
image credit: Flickr, Brent Moore