White Water Rafting with Kids

White water rafting is an excellent opportunity to bond with your family—even the little ones! We have two different rafting options at Rafting in the Smokies. For kids ages three and up, you can enjoy a lower intensity family float. Toddlers can sit safely on the floor of the raft, while older children and adults surround on the thwarts and outside tube. If you plan to take your youngster rafting, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Make sure they are listening

Kids often have short attention spans. Make sure they are listening to the guides when they go over safety. Our guides are fun and energetic, and most likely they will keep your child engaged. If your kids seem distracted, make sure you reinforce the topics on the way to your raft. Make sure they understand that on the journey, they will need to listen and obey the guide, just like they would a teacher at school.

2. Wear for the water

Make sure your kids are dressed in comfortable clothes that are okay for the water. Don’t forget sunscreen that is waterproof or water resistant. As far as footwear goes, water shoes or lake shoes are perfect and can be purchased in our outfitter store on-site. You can also wear sneakers. Kids can dress in their swimsuits for better drying. Just remember to bring a change of clothes. You can use the changing rooms to switch them out into their dry clothes, especially if they are also going to be heading to the zipline canopy tour, ropes course, or rock climbing wall afterward.

3. Keep them engaged

Our guides do an amazing job interacting with kids and other groups heading down the river. You can also keep them engaged on the river by asking them questions about things they see. Can they spot the next rapids ahead? Do they see any animals? You can also quiz them on things they should have remembered from the training session before they went on the river.

4. Watch for hazards

While your kids might be more focused on the river, you can make sure they aren’t going to run into any hazards like overhanging branches. Raft guides will try their best to steer away from those, but sometimes they have to get closer to branches to avoid some more intense rafting spots. If you have little ones sitting in the raft, it’s much easier to keep them safe, just because they are already away from any risks. You might need to lift up a branch a few times for them.

Don’t forget to hydrate

Either before or after your trip, make sure you have your kids hydrate themselves and eat a good meal, especially if they are going to be paddlers. There aren’t any pit stops so make sure they go to the bathroom beforehand too.

Are you ready to experience your own white water rafting adventure? Book either an Upper Pigeon White Water Trip or a Lower Pigeon Family Float today!

Great Hiking Locations Nearby

Rafting in the Smokies is located just on the outskirts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee National Forest. As you raft on the Pigeon River, you’ll be immersed in the lovely scenery of the mountains. If you want to continue your outdoor adventure and get into the depths of the forest, there are plenty of great hiking locations nearby. We’ve highlighted four of them in this post.

1. Mt. Cammerer

Mt. Cammerer Lookout

Photo by ChristopherM (Wikipedia)

Located on the state lines of Tennessee and North Carolina, Mt. Cammerer offers breathtaking and panoramic views of the area from the lookout you can hike up to. Plan a good portion of your day for it, as you can expect about six hours of hiking total on the shorter trail, which is almost 11 miles round-trip. The mountain gets its name after a former National Park Service director. The previous name, “White Rock,” came from the sandstone of the mountain. The easiest access point is from the Low Gap Trailhead. If you want to plan a trip up to Mt. Cammerer, check out this write-up for great hiking ideas, options, and instructions on how to get the most out of your trip.

2. Chestnut Branch

This is a short mountain hike that isn’t highly traveled, which makes it a good option if you want to have the area more or less to yourself. It’s also a lot shorter, at 2.1 miles. You can also take this trail to Mt. Cammerer if you wanted to combine some hikes. You can pick up the trailhead from I-40 at exit 451 and park in the parking lot for the Big Creek Ranger Station in Waynesville, NC. You’re likely to see former homesteads of the settlers to the area on your journey. You’ll enjoy some creekside hiking and some nice cascade shots if you bring your camera.

3. Tritt Cemetery Access Trail

Located outside Newport, Tennessee, the Tritt Cemetery Access Trail will take you up to Tritt Cemetery. You can pick up the trail from the Cosby Campground area and follow it north. Rumors have it that John Henry “Spider John” Sutton wrote it in his will that he didn’t want to be buried in the cemetery. To honor him, his family buried him just outside. Another cemetery nearby is the Gunter Cemetery. It is between the Cosby Ranger Station and Cosby Campground. Both the Tritt’s and Gunter’s were families with homesteads in the area.

4. Gabes Mountain Trail

: The Gabes Mountain Trail, crossing a ridgeslope about midway between the trailhead and terminus.

Photo by Brian Stansberry (Wikipedia)

Home to Hen Wallow Falls, the Gabes Mountain Trail can be picked up across from the Cosby Picnic Area. After a 2.1 mile moderately strenuous hike, you can see the stunning 90-foot waterfall. If you plan on hiking specifically for the waterfall, make sure you aren’t visiting when it’s been unusually dry in the area. Photos are best taken before or after midday. Your trip will take you through hemlock and rhododendron forest. You might spot some old homestead chimneys on the hike. Plan about 3–4 hours to get to the waterfall and back.

We hope you enjoyed our list and plan to try a hike in addition to a white water adventure or family float trip. We also have a zipline canopy tour, rock climbing wall, and high elements ropes course on our Family Adventure Island. Book your trip with Rafting in the Smokies today!


The Pigeon River—From North Carolina to Tennessee

Named after the Passenger Pigeon, the Pigeon River is a natural 70-mile stretch of water that flows northwest from Haywood County, North Carolina, up to Newport, Tennessee, where it meets the French Broad River. It first gained commercial notice by the milling industry. Champion Paper (now Blue Ridge Paper Products, Inc.) was the earliest operation on it during the early 1900s in North Carolina.

The Walters Dam hydroelectric provider in North Carolina has a special fund that finances projects designed to improve the quality of the water of the Pigeon River, as well as enhancing the habitat for fish and game, and increasing access. The dam has a controlled water release that allows us to provide you with the best experience in white water rafting.  Guaranteed water releases are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Rafters, kayakers, and canoers find a lot of action throughout the river with beautiful views as they progress on their journey. It’s a good place to develop paddling skills and test out tricks. If you’re lucky, your rafting guide might show you how to do a trick with your group, even if you are on the Family Float trip that Rafting in the Smokies offers.

The Upper Pigeon River has about five miles of Class II and III+ rapids, while the Lower section has four miles of flatter water. You’ll find that even if you take the Family Float trip on the Lower Pigeon River, you’ll be paddling to navigate smaller rapids. It is not as intense as the Upper section, so you will have more time to appreciate the beauty of the mountains and the scenery and wildlife around you.

Is all this talk about water getting you ready for rafting season? Book your rafting trip now with Rafting in the Smokies and get an experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime. If you want to add more to your adventure, consider adding on a zipline canopy tour or high elements ropes course experience.

Guide Interview: Brad

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.

Brad learned about Rafting in the Smokies from his cousin and RITS guide, Birdman (Drew).  He was trained in 2016 and is from Orlando, Florida. He’s now solidly hooked on rafting!

How is the training program?

We do different drills and swim. You learn a lot about yourself as you push yourself harder to go on different rivers.

What’s your favorite part of the day?

Being first here and seeing all the boats and watching the water rise. I love that first trip. I love all the trips and being with my customers. I like showing them a good time and taking people out for their first site.

What do you do special with guests in your raft?

I’m pretty wild. I stand up on top of my head through Big Ben and spin around in circles while I do that. I show them a really great time.

Is this something you think you can do for a long time?

This is something I can do for the rest of my life. I’m just never going to stop doing it until I’m really old. I saw a boater out the other day and he was 62 years old. I want to be like that.

What do you think makes this addictive for you?

Pushing myself to do other rivers and experience never seeing the river before. Reading the water and driving yourself into smooth lines. Doing this every day is addictive. I’m not sitting inside.

Do you have a story that’s interesting to tell?

The first rapid was Upper Railroad and we were coming up to it and didn’t realize it was that steep. It was smooth since we had Birdman guiding. This was our first class IV/V river and we just smashed that first wave.

Are you ready to smash into some waves? Check out the Upper Pigeon River rafting trips at Rafting in the Smokies. If you want something smoother, paddle your way over to a Family Float rafting trip.

Four Things To Do While Rafting

Fall Rafting in the Smokies

White water rafting is exciting, adventurous, and (dare we say it) good exercise. In addition to the great team-building and stress-burning you’ll experience while on the water, here are four other things to do while you’re rafting with Rafting in the Smokies on the Pigeon River.

1. Take in the beautiful scenery

While you might want to focus on getting down the river, make sure you spend some time to enjoy the beauty of the Smoky Mountains, Cherokee National Forest, and surrounding areas. You might be able to see some wildlife on your journey as well. Our guides often point out highlights of their experiences with nature. Maybe they’ve seen deer walking along the banks for a drink or observed a heron flying overhead. With such a variety of natural beauty surrounding you as you raft down the river, you’re sure to have an amazing time filled with memorable moments that will last a lifetime.

2. Enjoy the experience

Don’t forget to have fun while you’re rafting! Perfect for adults and children, white water rafting can be a personal challenge filled with fun and excitement. Try and remember all the names of the notable rapids you encounter. Compare in your group with who got drenched more. Your guide might try a rafting trick on your group or get into a paddle-splash battle with another raft. Take it all in and have a blast!

3. Ask questions

Our guides are very knowledgeable about the river and its surroundings. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. They truly enjoy talking about their encounters on the river. Ask them why they decided to be a guide. Ask them if they’ve seen any animals while rafting. Ask what their most memorable raft experience was. You might even learn more, like how they live while being a guide, or what they do when they aren’t rafting.

4. Pay attention

While you’re doing everything else, make sure you are also paying attention to your immediate surroundings. It’s easy to get caught up in the joy of heading down the churning river and not notice a branch that is right in front of you. While the guides are very skilled at charting a safe course through the rapids, sometimes they have to get closer to the banks to avoid dangerous spots. See if you can get through the whole trip without forgetting to hold your paddle properly and participate in all the verbal instructions made by your guide.

If you haven’t realized it yet, white water rafting is a great outdoor activity you should try! Speaking of being outdoors, Rafting in the Smokies offers other activities you should experience. We have a zipline canopy tour, a high elements ropes course, and a new rock climbing wall that can challenge you and the rest in your group.

Guide Interview: Sami

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.

Sami - Guide Interview at RITS

Sami is a raft guide who also did an internship for a degree in Parks & Forest Resources while working at Rafting in the Smokies.

Why did you choose to come to Rafting in the Smokies to be a raft guide?

It’s an amazing community. The staff is great, and it’s like everyone is a big family.

How long have you been here?

I’ve been a raft guide for two years, but 2016 was my first year with Rafting in the Smokies.

What’s the best part of the job?

Working with my tier. Going down the river and making people smile and laugh. I love giving them a tour of nature.

What would you tell others who may not be used to a female guide?

We’re calm and collected. Don’t get discouraged by us. We know how to navigate the waters. We’re just as hard working and always wear a smile on our faces.

Any advice to first-time rafters?

Don’t be afraid to really dig your paddle in the water. It’s all about having fun. Your attitude makes your experience. It’s an adventure, so go with it!

What’s your philosophy on life?

I live day to day. I am about sustainability. I like to be eco-friendly, embrace nature, and make my impact minimal.

Never been rafting? Grab a paddle and dig into either our Upper Pigeon or Lower Pigeon River trips. If you’re wanting to add on the adrenaline, get a rafting and zipline canopy tour combo package.

Zipline Equipment at Rafting in the Smokies

Zipline Equipment at Rafting in the Smokies

Rafting in the Smokies features an awesome zipline course that spans 2,400 feet. We operate rain or shine and have an instruction session with your adventure guide where you might hear some unfamiliar terms. Before booking the Zipline Canopy Tour, it’s always good to get a head-start when it comes to equipment and gear. Below are some of the equipment we use and terms you may not be familiar with before your experience.


Helmets are required safety gear. We provide a helmet and make sure it’s fitted correctly. To ensure your safety, we check helmets for fractures, corrosion on rivets, and buckles or other fasteners.


We provide and require a full-body harness. We make sure harnesses fit properly with two-finger tightness and will replace them if they are worn, discolored, stiff, or have broken or defective buckles or fasteners.

Phoenix Claws

Phoenix Claws are used for clipping into a tie-in-point. They connect the platform and stairway belays. When on the zipline canopy tour, they are connected to the snap hook eye on either side of the tether.


Tethers connect the harness to the zipline pulley. These are checked for proper fitting and length to make sure you’re positioned well. Each person has three different tethers that connect to the safety cables. They are rated at 5,000 lb breaking strength. The staff at Rafting in the Smokies will make all the transfers for you.


Also used for climbing, a carabiner is a metal loop-shaped tool with a spring-loaded element to open and close. It’s used to connect the lanyard to the harness.


This is the driving force of the zipline. When you are heading down the zipline, it’s the pulley that gets you to the next station.

Our Zipline Canopy Tour, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, is a great way to experience nature in a new and exciting way. It has a low impact on the neighboring plants and wildlife. If you are ready to start your tour, book now and zip on over! Just remember to wear closed-toe shoes and long shorts or pants.

Guide Interview: Hunter

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.

Hunter - Guide Interview at RITS

Hunter was invited in by Brad’s cousin, Birdman (Drew) and is from Orlando, Florida. 2016 was his rookie year. Hunter said going to a small town like Hartford is really life-changing.

How is the training program?

It was hard, but really fun. It was about a month of training where you try and understand how the current works. We took down the river about four or five times a day.

What’s your favorite part of the day?

Trying to get them to work together. About 90% of people never have done this before. Sharing that adventure on the river with other rafting companies is great.

What do you do special with guests in your raft?

Showing the guests what a guide’s life is like on the river. They’re living through us while they’re on the river so we try and explain what’s going on in nature and what’s happening with the other companies. It’s awesome for us to share.

Is this something you think you can do for a long time?

Always coming out to a new river, this river in particular since I’ve trained on it. Meeting people like KP who was originally raft guide and got into management. I definitely want to come back next year.

What do you think makes this addictive for you?

Every day even this river is on a different level so it’s new every time. Getting outside and meeting new people.

Are you ready to smash into some waves? Check out the Upper Pigeon River rafting trips at Rafting in the Smokies. If you want something smoother, paddle your way over to a Family Float rafting trip.

Guide Interview: JP

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.

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

John Parkinson (JP) has been rafting for 10 years. He’s been at RITS for four years. His twin brother is also one of our guides. He’s a natural jokester, and you might catch him knocking a few on your bus ride.

Why do you like working for RITS?

A lot of companies only hire rookies. At RITS they hire people with good experience and have been rafting here and other places around the world. This is one of those rivers that you can take a lot of people down. We’re very professional with years of senior experience. We know how to act with guests, safety is a priority. Of course we hire rookies as we do need to train new people and give them a love for whitewater rafting.

Do you have a training program?

KP, Birdman, I, and a few other trip leaders do the training. It’s a hard process and we have to weed out people. There isn’t a specific walk of life to be a raft guide, but there are people from all walks of life. When we run private trips—in like West Virginia and the like—we always like to eat afterwards. When we eat, the waitress is trying to figure out how we all know each other because we’re like a college kid, a biker guy, a hillbilly, and inner-city kids. We are all like family, even though we aren’t, and we all laugh like family. You’ll get California kids and ex-cops and marines. It’s a melting pot.

What do you do when you aren’t rafting?

I teach snowboarding in Colorado. That’s the way I can balance this job out. 11 years ago, KP, my twin brother, took me rafting for the first time on the Pigeon River. Everything from the bus talk to splashing people in the face, swimming, and all, I loved. I fell in love with it. When he told me he was a raft guide, I had no idea what it was. I was from Nashville and when I got back home I was trying to figure out how I could quit my job. I had to work for a year before I could quit and then I’ve been doing it ever since. This is a real job. There is hard work involved in loading buses, keeping people entertained even if they might be having a bad day, and more.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

I’m an entertainer. I love my guests. Ever since I was a little kid I loved entertaining. Not a lot of people are like that. I entertain from the beginning until the end. I like to be the center of attention. I have an outgoing attitude, and I get to use that as a career tool.

What’s your philosophy on life?

We only pass through this world once. Any good that we can do we should do it now. Any cool activity we can do, we should do it now. We can’t ever defer or neglect it.

What inspires you?

Whitewater. Only being a raft guide you’ll see realize that the song “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” is so wrong.

If you were to take a family with young kids, how can you reassure them the experience would be great?

Safety is one of our number one things. Ask for a senior guide or trip leader as they’ll always be on it. Rafting is one of those activities where adults and kids can have just as much fun as each other. You get the same experience as your kids. It’s a people thing. We have one of the most senior staffs on the whole river. Most of the staff is senior. I’ve had kids crying on the banks. What I try and do is try and talk to them personally, even if they aren’t on my boat. I learned a lot of this teaching snowboarding. By the end of it, I tell them if they don’t like the first half, we’ll take them back.

Rafting in the Smokies is a family-friendly rafting company. Don’t be afraid to bring your toddlers, because we have something for everyone! Older kids can enjoy the zipline canopy tour and high elements ropes course. Younger kids can have fun with their parents on the family float trip and rock climbing wall. Adrenaline junkies will love the upper pigeon river rafting trips. Book your next adventure now.

Guide Interview: Nancy

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.

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

Nancy has been with Rafting at the Smokies for about ten years, off and on. She always comes back, because this is her home.

What do you do when you’re not rafting?
I go to school and work in Knoxville. I’m going to school for Computer Science and Information Technology.

What’s the best part of your job?
I love that my office is the middle of the river. I love taking people down that have never gone. I like getting and seeing little kids get excited about it.

Why should people choose to take a trip here, since it’s not traditional?
It’s exciting. It is getting more popular with tourists. It’s a little more on the wild side and you’ll talk about it for years.

What sets Rafting in the Smokies apart from other companies?
They are very family-oriented. Mark and Brenda, the owners, treat me and the guys like family. I was here the first year they bought it and I watched them grow along with the company.

What is your philosophy on life? What do you live by?
Enjoy life and help others by showing them what you love.

How is it being a female raft guide?
I don’t think being a female guide is any different than a male guide. I think some guests are excited or nervous to get a female guide. Because we are smaller, we learn to finesse the water rather than just muscle through it. We definitely are outnumbered. If you enjoy being outdoors like me, you would find this perfect.

Why would a guest choose to come here?
I can share what I love with them. We have a lot of repeat guests. It’s a very fun environment, and people see that and want to come back.

Anything to know for first-timers?
One of the things I tell my guests if they are nervous is that I’ve been bringing my son here since he was five. Just think of it like a moving swimming pool.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I’m a weirdo!

Have you been rafting with Rafting in the Smokies before? We’d love to see you again and help you make new and exciting memories. Bring your friends too! You can book now for rafting, zipline canopy tours, or the high elements rope course.