A very popular adventurous activity in the mountains is whitewater rafting. In the High Country there are many great rivers and streams to enjoy North Carolina whitewater rafting and kayaking. There are many local guide shops in the area that provide lots of fun trips on the water. The rafting season usually starts at the end of March and ends in the middle of October. The size and types of rapids usually vary from river to river and at different times in the season.
The major rivers in the area are the Watauga, the French Broad, the Nolichucky, the Pigeon River and the New River. There are other smaller rivers and streams that are popular spots for tubing and rafting as well, but these five are the bigger and more frequently rafted ones. Each river is different and many local guide shops offer trips on a variety of rivers.
People of all ages enjoy the white water rafting in North Carolina and Tennessee on the Nolichucky River, which is about an hour away from the High Country town of Boone. The Nolichucky River lies at the bottom of one of the deepest gorges in the east! The Watauga River is also a popular river to enjoy for families with younger children. On this river you can enjoy the milder rapids and beautiful pastoral scenery along the banks of the river.
The French Broad river is located just a short trip away from the High Country near Asheville. On this river you can experience rapids of all class levels and try rafting through some pretty intense tough rapids. The French Broad winds through the Pisgah National Forest, and provides some great picturesque scenery of the mountains.
The Pigeon River is located closer to the Gatlinburg, TN area and the Great Smoky Mountains. The Pigeon River has upper and lower portions, with the upper portion containing the wilder, faster rapids.
Many people also enjoy rafting and tubing on the New River. The New River is the world’s second oldest river and has carved out beautiful canyons that you can raft through.
One of the local favorites in the High Country is rafting down Wilson’s Creek. The creek drops 85 feet per mile and gives you a great thrill as you raft over 5 and 10 foot ledges
The Class Ratings
Class I – Very easy. Waves small, regular. Passages clear, sandbanks, artificial difficulties like bridge piers. Riffles.
Class II – Easy. Rapids of medium difficulty, with passages clear and wide. Low ledges.
Class III – Medium. Waves numerous, high, irregular. Rocks, eddies. Rapids with passages that are clear though narrow, requiring expertise in maneuvering. Inspection usually needed.
Class IV – Difficult. Long rapids. Waves powerful, irregular. Dangerous rocks, boiling eddies. Passages difficult to reconnoiter. Inspection mandatory first time. Powerful and precise maneuvering required.
Class V – Very difficult. Extremely tough, long and very violent rapids, following each other almost without interruption. River bed extremely obstructed. Big drops, violent current, very steep gradient. Reconnoitering essential but difficult.
Class VI – Extraordinarily difficult. Difficulties of class V carried to extremes of navigability. Nearly impossible and very dangerous. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels and after close study with all precautions.
Different Types of Floats
There are many different types of floats and rafts that you can use on the rivers. The most popular way to whitewater raft is using the bigger rafts that sit 6-7 people. Usually guided by one guide leader that helps the others in the raft maneuver the rapids. In recent years a new type of float, a funyak has become quite popular on the rivers. Funyaks are a cross between an inflatable kayak and a canoe. They sit 1-2 people and provide a few more thrills than the average larger rafts. Canoeing and tubing are more mellow options for floating down the river. For a slower pace and a more relaxing trip, these are the best ways to go!
What to Bring
When going on a whitewater rafting trip, be sure to dress for the occasion and bring the essential items you’ll need. Be sure to wear a swimsuit or quick drying shorts, a t-shirt or wetsuit of some kind. Also, good shoes or Teva type sandals should be worn. Sunscreen is also a good thing to bring for those sunny days. After the trip you will need a towel, a change of clothes, and a plastic bag to put your wet clothes into. Small amounts of cash would also be a good thing to bring, just for quick stops along the way to the river; DO NOT bring large amounts of cash or valuables, you could easily lose them on the river.
The High Country area of North Carolina offers an abundance of rafting and outdoor challenge guides that feature great trips for rafting, rappelling, rock climbing and more. We highly recommend that you visit the websites below: