How to be a Rafting in the Smokies Guide

Rafting in the Smokies is a great place to work. We will get you outdoors, play to your sense of adventure, and grow your skills.  We offer a guide certification program for those interested in learning what it takes to ride the Pigeon River or be one of our awesome guides!

To be a RITS Guide, you will need to have CPR and first aid training and certification before applying. Safety is our number one priority at Rafting in the Smokies. Here is what you’ll learn as part of the CPR and first aid certification required before you start training with us:

  • CPR—CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is a technique used to keep oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and other organs. It is used both for those who are not breathing as well as those whose heart has stopped beating. Being certified in CPR means you know how to do chest compressions, airway checks, and rescue breathing.
  • First Aid—You’ll need to know skills like how to treat bleeding, broken bones, shock, and other first aid emergencies. When we are rafting, we have two guides equipped with first aid kits in their rafts. One is at the head of the trip, and one is in the back.

While we hope you don’t ever have to use these skills, they are worth having, even outside Rafting in the Smokies.

If you are accepted into our rafting guide certification program, we train seasonally in the late spring (April/May). Space is limited so register early if you are interested in the program.

We cover the following over the course of five days:

  • Understanding the raft
  • Learning raft control
  • Customer relations

As a certified raft guide with Rafting in the Smokies, we know you will be one of the family. While on the Pigeon River, you’ll notice the bond goes beyond RITS, where we are also friendly and respectful to other rafting company guides. We have a unique community here with people who love to experience the outdoors daily and have fun doing it!

Are you interested in being a raft guide? Check out our employment page to see if we’re hiring.

Guide Interview: KP

This interview is part of a series of interviews in which we help you get to know these amazing and passionate people who help to make RITS what it is. To view more, check out the Guide Interviews page.

Raft Guide KP - Rafting in the Smokies
Our river manager at Rafting in the Smokies (“RITS”) is KP. He’s been at RITS for four years, but he’s been a guide for 14 years. He manages 54 guides (and their shenanigans!). He gets to watch the joy on everyone’s faces day after day.

What is the best part of the job?

Taking people on adventures they normally wouldn’t get to do. Seeing them having a good time and have fun is great. We have taken down a person that just had a knee replacement. They can’t do things like hiking, but they can sit in a raft for a high adrenaline adventure.

Why do you think people should choose a rafting trip over a traditional trip?

A traditional vacation is boring! This is a real-life, live-action, natural roller coaster. It’s a wild river that’s fun and safe for the family. Our guides are the best, and I got to hand-pick them. I got to bring the very best river guides. We have a melting pot of guides with their own quirks and strengths. We’ve got some that have worked on rivers like the Gauley River in West Virginia, the Ocoee River in Tennessee, and even out west on the Colorado and Arkansas River. You’ll get people like the jokers, the naturalists, and the storytellers. I like to think that our guides have all three qualities. People like storytelling and being entertained, and our guides fulfill that.

What’s your personal philosophy on life?

I always go with the flow. I love the river and have been doing this since I was 19. I’m 32 now. I feel like I grew up in this town. I feel like it’s not a want for me to do this job, it’s a have to. This is the only service industry I know of that you want a guide with arm tattoos and a beard.

Go out and experience as many adventures as you can, whether it be whitewater rafting or hiking. Whatever your passion is, go and do it.

What is a fun fact about you?

I have a speech impediment and an accent and sometimes it conflicts with the Northern guest. Some guests have problems understanding me.

Why would I want you as a guide?

I am the best surfer on the river. I’m not conceited, I’m convinced.

Have you read enough to be convinced that Rafting in the Smokies is where you want to plan your family adventure experience? Book now and choose either the Upper Pigeon River or Family Float trip.

Guide Interview: Crazy Uncle Curt

This interview is part of a series of interviews in which we help you get to know these amazing and passionate people who help to make RITS what it is. To view more, check out the Guide Interviews page.

Curt is tall and lanky with a long white beard (sometimes knotted). He’s also known as “Crazy Uncle Curt.” He works with special needs kids and has a girlfriend with a son who’s deaf. If you need someone who knows sign language for your group, he can take you down the river. Everyone is welcome at Rafting in the Smokies!

How did you come to Rafting in the Smokies?

I had been rafting on the French Broad River and camping near Hot Springs, but I had a girlfriend who was a scientist in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I stopped into the sales office and the woman asked if I had my certifications, so I pulled out my CPR card and she told me to go to straight to Hartford. I picked up some Appalachian daylilies and came in with the flowers in one hand and card in the other and the lady said “Oh you’re cute, get to work.” I have been doing this since for over ten years, except for one summer where I was in a movie in Atlanta.

What’s the best part of your job?

I love working with people and the physical challenge. When I was growing up, my father was a missionary to the coal fields. I never had any comfort with water. I was in my 40s when I started, and now I’m in my 60s and still rafting.

What happens when you’re on the river and a storm comes?

Yesterday we were out and a big storm came out with pouring rain. We always point out the fact that we’ve done this many times and we’ve never been hurt. We’re all wet anyway, so we just keep paddling.

What’s your philosophy on life?

Respond with what is going on with what is around me and come up with my own way to deal with that. I want to exude that. Everyone needs to pull together and work for a peaceful earth.

Want to feel the thrill of whitewater rafting? Now is your chance! Book now and choose either the Upper Pigeon River or Family Float trip.

Guide Interview: Birdman

This interview is part of a series of interviews in which we help you get to know these amazing and passionate people who help to make RITS what it is. To view more, check out the Guide Interviews page.

Birdman - Guide Interview - Rafting in the Smokies is the Real Deal!

Our Assistant River Manager, Birdman (or you could call him Drew, but it isn’t as fun), got his nickname after his African Grey Congo parrot. He used to take her to car shows when he lived in South Florida and had her on a leash. He’s been with Rafting in the Smokies for four years and has a passion for the outdoors after leaving the corporate world.

What are some crazy things you’ve done?

I’ve hiked all 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2012. It runs from Georgia to Maine. It takes a person between 5 and 6 months to complete the journey. My favorite part of the trip is the people. The mountains and vistas are great, but the people will do things for you just out of the kindness of their heart. It re-infuses you with a great sense of respect for humanity. You come out with lot of appreciation for that and that’s part of the reason why I’m here on the Pigeon River. I want to give back, and give people an experience they may only get once in their entire life.

What do you love about Rafting in the Smokies?

The people. I love my team here. They are fun to work around, we have great guides, and we have a lot of fun on the water. You just can’t beat the view from this office out here.

How do you organize the team?

It could be said like this. It’s a lot like herding cats. No, that’s not fair. These guys are awesome and they manage themselves. The managers here are more for logistics and timing than anything else.

What does your offseason look like?

Since I hiked the Appalachian trail, I’ve been living in Asheville, NC. The people are very outdoors-oriented. The local business ethics are things I value myself. I sell outdoor equipment like backpacks.

Why should people choose a river trek on their vacation?

Unlike other attractions, this doesn’t run on rails. It’s a top-notch adventure. It’s all about you, your water, and your paddle, and having fun doing all of that.

What’s your most memorable experience?

My first swim as a raft guide. In my rookie year four years ago, I did the double reaction rapid. Besides the three-foot curling wave, there is also a rock called Tombstone that gets everyone wet. I hit Tombstone Rock with the backend of the boat, and I got ejected upside down and entered the water upside down. The boat got stuck up on a rock. I thought I could get out and get the boat, but the boat got adrift and I had to jump back into the rapid and swam the rapid twice. No one swam, but me. I was a guide at the time, and the people didn’t even realize I was out of the raft at first. The girl next to me was the only one that noticed. The first thing I did when I came out from the water as everyone was looking to me for direction was, “Don’t do anything!”

What’s your philosophy on life?

I found my philosophy on the Appalachian Trail. Before I did that, I was in corporate sales. I realized I was trading money for happiness. Here on the river that’s what I value. My happiness and the happiness of the guests I go out with and I can share this experience with. That’s why I’m here and love rafting.

What makes you unique as a guide and why would I request you?

Because I have magical beard powers that blow in the breeze during our trip! I have something to say about everything. We’ll do history and nature. We’ll talk about hydrology. We splash and we’ll get everyone nice and wet.

Do you have anything to tell first-time rafters?

Be prepared for a physical experience. You are a part of what is going on. You’ll have an opportunity to be in control of your experience and your own safety. Be ready to paddle like champions, because this is what it’s all about.

Are you ready for your next adventure? Head to the reservation page and start your booking process. If you want to add some other fun activities to your whitewater rafting experience, Rafting in the Smokies also offers a zipline canopy tour, a high elements ropes course, and (new for 2017) a four-sided rock climbing wall.

Guide Interview: Ben

This interview is part of a series of interviews in which we help you get to know these amazing and passionate people who help to make RITS what it is. To view more, check out the Guide Interviews page.

Ben - Guide Interview - Rafting in the Smokies is the Real Deal!

Ben is a 2016 rookie raft guide and about the only guide without a nickname. He grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As with other guides who stay for the season, he braves it in one of the guide houses that are home to two or three people as space allows. Ben isn’t a burly guide like some of the others at RITS. He does wear a killer man bun, though!

When we interviewed him, he was all about the sense of family that comes from working at Rafting in the Smokies as a whitewater rafting guide.

What do you like most about Rafting in the Smokies?

I learn from professionals. There is a really cool vibe out here. There’s always boating going on, it’s kind of like a mecca here. It’s a community—like a big family.

What do you do in the offseason?

During the winter time, I go back home to Colorado and I’ll be back on the slopes out there. I do things from liftie all the way to park crew. Park crew is probably my favorite. I’ll build jumps and rails and do that all day.

How is the training process?

The training process and meeting everyone was pretty awesome. I came out here with the river manager. He wasn’t the manager at the time. He trained me and Rusty Brown—a really respected boater—trained me. We’re trained to deal with different situations, and a lot of those times those situations can be super difficult. We have little kids, and safety is our top priority. You really can’t stress that enough. We always try our hardest.

Why should people choose Rafting in the Smokies and choose rafting?

It’s epic. You can’t get this kind of adventure anywhere else. The river is wild. We’re trained professionals and have knowledge that other people don’t possess. It’s such a thrill. We’re going to get you in safely. It’s what we do for fun and for a job.

What’s your philosophy on life?

Keep going forward one foot at a time. Don’t offset something if it presents itself to you. I didn’t expect to come out here to come rafting. I just met someone and came out here and just went with the flow and I’m enjoying life.

What inspires you?

Pushing myself as far as I can and know what my limits are. I look at these rapids out here and all around the country. I ask myself there and in life if I can get around them.

As you can probably tell, Ben is super serious about safety and so are we! That’s why at Rafting in the Smokies, we brief you fully before you go rafting. We tell you about foot placement and always stress keeping the right rafting stance with your paddle. Toddlers on the Lower Pigeon float trip will sit in the middle—the safest area for them. We also make sure it’s safe when you get out of the raft at the end of the trip. Ready to book? Head to our reservation page.

Enjoying the Colors of Fall in the Smokies

Fall Colors in the Smokies

The trees are getting ready to bathe the Smokies in a bright array of colors. That’s right, fall is here, and we’re excited to start enjoying the beautiful display of oranges, reds, and yellows on the mountains. If you’ve never been to Rafting in the Smokies in the fall, this is a great time to go! We have some tips on finding the perfect photo opportunity on your way here, plus some ideas for enjoying the fall with a bunch of fun.

Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook

If you want an ideal location to get a photo of Gatlinburg from overhead, this is the spot for you. Located to the west of Gatlinburg, take the Gatlinburg Bypass either from the Parkway or from 441 after you exit the south of Gatlinburg. Halfway through the drive you’ll get the best spot for a picture.

East Foothills Parkway (Section 8A – Cosby, TN)

This is a great scenic six-mile drive, and one we recommend you take to get to Rafting in the Smokies in record time. This section is not as heavily trafficked, and you’ll find plenty of overlooks to stop and get some excellent mountain photos. You can also expect the drive to be quiet as RVs and semi trucks aren’t allowed on this stretch of highway. It’s located on 339 between Cosby and I-40 (mile marker 442).

West Foothills Parkway (Section 8G – Happy Valley, TN)

There is another segment of the Foothills Parkway that runs past Townsend, TN, and Wears Valley, which has its own observation tower (accessible via a half-mile hike) called Look Rock. It’s another location where you can be adventurous and get more panoramic views. From the tower you can see several landmark mountains and areas like Clingmans Dome, Cades Cove, and Mt. LeConte. There is a parking area for Look Rock.

Scenic Cabin Stay

Escape from it all and experience the beauty of autumn from your own private cabin! Our partners at Wildwood Mountain Cabin Rentals have cabins that have one to four bedrooms. Some are nestled in the midst of the Great Smoky Mountains and others rise above with breathtaking views.

Zipline and Ropes Course

Imagine sailing past the vibrant hues as you enjoy our Zipline Canopy Tour. We operate our Zipline tour through the end of October so you can zip during the peak season for autumn colors in the Smokies. If you want to take a slower pace and enjoy the treetops around you at your own speed, we recommend the High Elements Ropes Course.

We hope you’ll take some of our tips for great photo opportunities and visit us as the leaves change color. If you’re ready to come join us for a zipline or ropes course adventure, book reservations today! Have you been here before in the fall? Visit our Facebook page, and send us a photo of the vibrant fall foliage from your last trip. We’d love to see your photo skills—and if we can share them with the world, that’s even better!


Where to Stay During Your Smoky Mountain Vacation

If you are planning a Smoky Mountain vacation with Rafting in the Smokies on your list for fun, why not pair it with a great place to stay, too? We have our own cabin and chalet selection through our company, Wildwood Mountain Cabin Rentals. The best part (besides the experience of having your private mountain lodging experience only 10 minutes from RITS) is Wildwood Cabin Rentals offers a free rafting or zipline pass for staying seven nights.

Wildwood Mountain Cabin Rentals

They offer cabins that sleep between 4 to 12 people depending on the bedroom size. We do recommend you take one of our reviewer’s advice: “…Don’t arrive after dark for your first day there. The drive up the mountainside is a bit scary at first as it is almost a one-lane road that twists and turns with many blind corners. (We came in from the east. The west entrance is less treacherous.) It’s funny, but it only scared us the first time! After that, no problem.”

Other visitors to Wildwood Cabin Rentals have said these other great things:

“We stayed 4 nights and wish we could have stayed more, dang thing called work… It’s far enough away from the crazy traffic of Gatlinburg, but close enough to civilization if you needed to pick some things up.“

“Awesome remote hideaway! This place is so cozy. Had everything we needed. The hot tub was wonderful and I so enjoyed relaxing in it waiting for the sunrise and listening to the owls all around. I felt as I if could have sat on the swinging porch swing all day. You really do feel like you are alone and away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life.“

Here are some additional recommendations that are farther from whitewater rafting.

Mountain Laurel Chalets

They literally have hundreds of cabins next door to The Great Smoky Mountain National Park and are close, but far enough away from Gatlinburg traffic. If you are planning a group trip to Rafting in the Smokies, this should be on your short list to accommodate up to 24 guests in one building (check out Laurel Lodge).

Jackson Mountain Homes

With cabins all over the area, you can be nestled down in the Gatlinburg vicinity or halfway to Cosby, Tennessee. If you stop by their office, be sure to ask to meet the resident kitties, Lola and Charlie. If you stay at any Jackson Mountain property, you get great discounts that include $12 off rafting at Rafting in the Smokies (2016 season).

Laurel Springs Lodge Bed and Breakfast

Take a step back in time to this historic 1930s-era location. Rated by TripAdvisor as one of the top three bed and breakfast/inns in Gatlinburg, you are sure to leave happy and well-rested. A home-cooked breakfast included in your stay is made fresh and is served daily from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. Laurel Springs also offers tickets to Rafting in the Smokies.

We hope you will enjoy your entire Smoky Mountain experience, from the place you rest your head at night to the whitewater rapids you traverse during the day!

Picnicking Tips at Rafting in the Smokies

You’ll find our Family Adventure Island is the perfect spot to have a picnic after spending time enjoying Whitewater Rafting, Zipline Courses, or the Ropes Challenge Course. Take the trip over the 150-foot suspension bridge and grab a spot at one of our picnic tables to set up. We have barbeque grills available for the cooking pro in your family. The rest of the family can enjoy a competitive game of bean bag toss, which we have on-site. Kids can head on over to the playground to engage their imagination.

If you plan to picnic while you’re here at Rafting in the Smokies, we have some tips that will certainly help you out.

Eat first if you can

If you plan to store your items in the car, keep in mind that a closed car can be as much as 20 degrees warmer than outside. Even if you crack the windows, it will only help a little. Penny Klatell, PhD, RN, shares some great tips on how long items can stay unrefrigerated. If you need to store them in a car, she offers a great idea: put food into the cooler frozen and allow it to defrost.

Separate the soggy

If you plan to bring a salad, don’t combine the salad dressing until you are making the salad at the picnic area. Keep those elements separated until you are ready to eat. If you want an alternative to lettuce, try a vinegar-based pasta salad.

The same concept goes when you’re making sandwiches. Peanut butter and bread do fine, but add jelly and you might find a soggy patch. Resealable plastic containers make great travel companions to store liquid or less solid elements.

Keep crushable items in ziplock

Who wants to eat chip crumbs? If you use a ziplock bag to store opened potato chips or other types of crushable foods, put them in a ziplock bag so you can keep them along with some air. This gives you more storage freedom and the extra air gives them a bit of extra padding.

Keep a timer and an ice pack

Perishable items like mayonnaise and eggs don’t bode well for picnics because they don’t last long in the heat. If you have to keep them, it will probably be best to have them along with an ice pack. Ice itself will melt down and lose form, but ice packs will, at least, keep their form. If you can’t remember how long the food has been out, keep a running timer that can stay with the food while you are enjoying Rafting in the Smokies.

Watch and wash those utensils

Cross-contamination is something you don’t want to experience on your trip. Make sure you keep prep items separate from those you plan to eat with and then clean them afterwards or bring disposable items. We like items you can clean and reuse, because it’s much better for the environment. Sistema Plastics makes phthalate and BPA-free plasticware including a cutlery set (knife, fork, spoon, and chopsticks) that comes in a bunch of different colors. They come with a carrying case, making them easy to store. Or you could go the biodegradable route. A few brands to check out (most are available on Amazon) are Eco-Products, World Centric, and Repurpose.

Don’t bring soda

Soda brings about sticky messes, bees, and more. Bring partially frozen bottles of water or a collapsible water bottle like Vapur makes. They are manufactured in the USA, but watch out if you don’t buy direct as there are numerous of rip-offs. Water is going to help you keep hydrated, as you will probably not notice yourself sweating while navigating the Upper Pigeon River. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, there are plenty of flavor enhancers you can get at the store.

Bringing your own food on adventure trips doesn’t have to be a chore (or a bore!), so keep this list handy for your picnic experience while you’re at our Family Adventure Island. If you have some more ideas for picnicking, whether it be recipes or tips, send them our way on Facebook or Twitter!

Horseback Riding with Smoky Mountain Riding Stables

Add more to your Smoky Mountain rafting adventure with a package deal. Rafting in the Smokies is more than just whitewater rafting. Besides the thrill of heading down the river in our rafts, you can also enjoy our Zipline Course, High Elements Ropes Challenge Course, or other activities on the Family Adventure Island. You can also experience both whitewater rafting and horseback riding with our “Paddle and Saddle” combo!

Our friends at Smoky Mountain Riding Stables in Gatlinburg, TN, will take you inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for an experience you will not forget. You don’t need to be an accomplished equestrian to ride their horses. In fact, you can saddle up without ever riding a horse before! Smoky Mountain Riding Stables has 40 head of trained and established mountain trail horses that will guide you through the beautiful trails of the Park. If your kids are five-years-old or older, they are welcome to come and ride (one child per horse).

If taking in a full day of scenic Smoky Mountain views is your type of adventure, then book a rafting and horseback riding combo package today. You can choose from the whitewater trip or the family float.

Synchronizing Fireflies

Fireflies by XenmateFireflies (or Lightning Bugs as we call them in some parts of the country) light up our lives!

Did you know that more than 19 kinds of fireflies live here in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park region? And, they are the only species in America that display a synchronized flashing light pattern.

 But you must watch fireflies when you can!  This year, the Elkmont Firefly Viewing event in Great Smoky Mountains National Park will take place from Tuesday, May 31st through Tuesday, June 7th. Go to for advance parking passes and more info about what to bring with you!  Because of the popularity of the synchronous firefly display, access to the Elkmont area is restricted after 5 p.m. in late May and early June to registered campers and those who park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and ride a special shuttle trolley to Elkmont. Access to the Sugarlands parking lot and to the trolley during this period requires a parking pass, which must be obtained in advance through the website.

These beetles, officially referred to as “Photinu carolinus”, take from 1-2 years to mature, but amazingly their lifespan is only around 21 days. Peak season for the synchronous fireflies in the Park is normally from late May to mid-June.

While they are larvae, the fireflies feed on snails and small insects. During their life, they don’t eat. The light patterns are what they do to attract a firefly mate! Each species has its own flash pattern that helps them recognize each other. While most have a greenish-yellow light – one species flashes bluish. It is usually the males that fly around and do the flashing and the females stay put but respond with a flash. No one is sure why the fireflies flash synchronously. Maybe the boys are in a competition – they want to see who will flash first. Or maybe if they all flash at the same time, they will have a better chance of being noticed.

While the light show is usually the last two weeks of May and the first two weeks of June, the dates may vary from year to year. Scientists say it may depend on temperature and soil moisture.  A few insects start flashing, then more join in as the season progresses. The show may be harder to see on misty, moist evenings – and cool temperatures can also shut down the show.

 If you are lucky enough to attend, please remember:

  • Cover your flashlight with red or blue cellophane
  • Use your flashlight only when walking to your viewing spot
  • Point your flashlight at the ground
  • Turn off your flashlight when you find your viewing spot

You can also help protect the fireflies and their habitat:

  • Do not catch the fireflies
  • Stay on the trail at all times
  • Pack out all of your garbage

If you aren’t able to get access to Elkmont, there have been reports of being able to view fireflies in areas around the park, however, those areas do not have as adequate parking.