Whitewater River Rafting in the Mountains

Whitewater River Rafting in the Mountains

Go rafting in the mountains

North Carolina has approximately 37,853 miles of river, and those that run through our mountains are known for having a thrilling number of whitewater rapids. Two of them, the Chattooga River and the New River, enjoy the additional fame of being designated as “Wild and Scenic Rivers” under a federal act passed in 1968.

In a state with so many great and powerful rivers, the hardest part of booking a whitewater rafting trip is knowing where to start. A great place to get acclimated to your options is the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). As the largest rafting company in the United States, the NOC operates a world-class whitewater canoe and kayak instruction program, has team-building programs, and leads rafting expeditions on the seven rivers spotlighted below. Information about many other whitewater rafting companies, outfitters and outdoor adventure experts is also available in the listings below.

Chattooga River
The “Wild and Scenic” Chattooga River, a classic Southeastern whitewater rafting run, was made famous when it was used as a filming location for the 1972 movie Deliverance. The Chattooga is a free-flowing river, so water levels vary with how much it rains. The highest water levels and most exciting rafting trips are usually in the spring and early summer, with more relaxed trips by late summer and fall. Section 3 is great for novices and family groups, with mostly Class II and III rapids that gradually increase in difficulty as the trip progresses. The wild and wooly Section 4 is recommended for paddlers with previous rafting experience.

French Broad River
The French Broad is the world’s third-oldest river. This free-flowing, scenic river challenges and engages even the most experienced rafters. Its rafting trips offer fun Class II and III rapids, with a full-day trip option that adds the heart-pounding Class IV Frank Bell’s Rapid. The Express Trip, a five-mile run through the Pisgah National Forest, offers wide-open channels for beginners, plus challenging whitewater — in case this isn’t your first river rodeo.

Nantahala River
Families drive hundreds of miles to ride the rushing waters that careen through the Nantahala River Gorge. The Nantahala River is dam-controlled, so it offers consistent water levels throughout the rafting season. Eight miles of clear water, constant waves and swift currents make the Nantahala River perfect for all ages, plus groups interested in an exhilarating introduction to whitewater rafting. You can even take a three-hour-plus trip that offers the fun of Class I and II rapids, with a roaring Class III ride at the end.

New River
Even though it’s named the “New” River, this ancient waterway is considered the second oldest river in the world. It springs from its headwaters in Blowing Rock to form a gentle stream that flows through the Blue Ridge Mountains to provide scenic passageways for family canoeing, kayaking and tubing trips. As it heads into West Virginia, that’s where the New’s whitewater goes wild.

Nolichucky River
Whitewater rafting on the Nolichucky River is an experience that challenges rafters with wavy rapids in an impressive wilderness setting. The Unaka Mountains provide an incredible backdrop as you paddle from North Carolina into Tennessee in the steepest river gorge in the East.

Pigeon River
Rafting the Pigeon River is an unforgettable family adventure. Pigeon River whitewater rafting features spirited Class III and IV rapids that flow along the eastern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Unlike all-day rafting adventures on other rivers, your Pigeon River trip can pack all kinds of excitement and scenery into just three hours. Dam-controlled water releases ensure quality whitewater action.

Malia Kline

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