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

FirefliesFireflies (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 www.recreation.gov 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.

Gifts for the Outdoor Rafting Enthusiast

If you’re planning on taking a family scenic float trip or a whitewater rafting trip with Rafting in the Smokies on the Pigeon Forge River in Tennessee, here are some items you might want to add to your inventory:

  • Eyewear Retainer—It’s an attachment to your glasses to keep them from getting lost in the rapids. If you plan on taking sunglasses with you, you should grab one of these in our store. Typical eyewear retainers either have chains, cords, or straps. If you are concerned about your lenses popping out due to the force of the water, you can also get prescription goggles with UVA/UVB protection or bring an extra pair. Eye glass retainers are recommended on both the Class I-II whitewater rapid excursions as well as Class III-IV whitewater rafting trips.
  • Paddle Jacket—Wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet. A paddle jacket is great because it seals out water and wind and you can put it over your regular clothes. Make sure the paddle jacket you buy is good for the weather/season you expect to raft in. Some jackets do not breathe as well as others, making them good for early spring/late fall. We do have wetsuits that are available to rent, plus nylon jackets and pants, which are free of charge. We provide splash gear in the spring and fall.
  • Wet bag—So honestly, wet bags are designed for cloth diapers. However, they’re also great for storing wet clothes until you can dry/wash them, making them quite useful to our visitors! Planet Wise makes some great wet bags that are PVC/lead-free and lined with a waterproof material. They are anti-microbial and made in the USA. Of course, you can get wet bags elsewhere, but usually they cost more and are smaller than the large wet bags sold by Planet Wise, which can easily store your entire family’s wet wardrobe.If you’re skipping out on rafting and enjoying the zipline course or our ropes challenge course at Family Adventure Island, remember that you can also bring the kids to play at the water’s edge. Besides being useful for rafters (and diapering), wet bags are also great for swimsuits.

Whitewater Rafting for Scouts

Finding a way to earn a whitewater rafting badge for your Scout Troop has never been easier. Rafting in the Smokies offers an exclusive merit badge to all Boy/Girl Scouts who raft on either the Upper Pigeon (ages 8+ or 70+ lbs) or Lower Pigeon River trips. Whitewater rafting is a great opportunity for your Troop to work together and demonstrate a variety of skills, including safety, techniques, and knowledge.

After your whitewater experience, we encourage your Troop to also try the High Elements Ropes Challenge Course. They can cheer on their friends as they confront fears and perform feats of fitness. As all participants remain harnessed, it’s a safe way to test their limits.

Interested in getting your Scout Troop signed up? Call us at 800-PRO-RAFT. Make sure you book 15 days in advance and under your Troop name, so we can ensure that you have enough badges.

Activities for Little Kids at Rafting in the Smokies

So you’ve got a younger child who can’t do the Upper Pigeon River whitewater rafting trip. It’s no big deal at Rafting in the Smokies! There are plenty of activities here for the whole family.

  • Scenic Family Float Trip—Perfect for ages three and up, you can take your whole family on a fun and engaging excursion on the Lower Pigeon Forge River—a softer section of the river. You will still need to wear life jackets and PFDs (that’s Personal Flotation Devices).
  • Ropes Challenge Course—If your child loves a challenge, they will really enjoy our high elements ropes course! Kids five and over will be harnessed and attached to an overhead cable with ropes/carabiners for their safety. They can enjoy rope bridges, loops, monkey rings, balance beams, and more. Each level on the course becomes increasingly difficult.
  • Zipline Canopy Tour—Does your child love speed? The self-braking zipline course here has six lines and crosses two skybridges for over 2,400 feet of fun! They just need to be age five or over. For a small additional fee, you can also get a professional photo taken of your child on their zipline adventure.

We also have a playground on the Family Adventure Island, a nature trail for those who love to walk/hike and experience the outdoors, a picnic area, and spots to play at the river’s edge.

No matter what you decide to do while you are at Rafting in the Smokies, we’re happy to host you and your family. Call us at 1-800-PRO-RAFT or send us a message via our contact form. We’re happy to answer any questions and give you recommendations on what your kids might enjoy the most.

Review your experience with Rafting in the Smokies

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When it comes to planning a Smoky Mountain vacation lots of folks use TripAdvisor, Google+, Yelp, and other review sites as resources to read comments about other visitor’s vacations to the Gatlinburg area, and then use those reviews to help plan their own trip.  We sure do appreciate all the positive and constructive comments provided by our past guests and are thrilled to share them with our guides and office staff.

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THANK YOU!!  to everyone who has posted on TripAdvisor and moved us up in the rankings to #2!  Visitors like you have made us the great company we are today.

Submitting a Review

If you’ve enjoyed your experience with Rafting In the Smokies in the past, we’d love to have you post your review. If you haven’t, do come join us on the Pigeon River next time you’re in the area.  We strive to provide exemplary customer service and a wonderful experience for each and every guest. If there is any reason why you’d rate us less than five stars, we want to know! Before departing from Rafting in the Smokies, please discuss any issues you might have with the supervisor on staff. We pride ourselves on having every guest leave us satisfied!

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Perfect Picnic Spots

Family Picnic Spot in the SmokiesRafting in the Smokies Family Adventure Island is the perfect place to have a fun picnic. Bordering the banks of the beautiful Pigeon River, sit in the shade under the canopy of native trees and plants.

No worries here – Family Adventure Island is complete with picnic tables and grills. Remember when you were a kid? Make some memories here. A swimming beach is perfect for the little ones. Get in and splash around or if you’re a sun-bunny bring a book and a lounge chair and relax to the soothing sounds of the Big Pigeon River rushing by. Want to enjoy a little nature walk? Get ready to spot some of our feathered friends or catch some lightning bugs in a jar! The possibilities are endless – we just know they all come wrapped up in fun.

Everyone knows that picnic food somehow just tastes better – it must be the setting! Family Adventure Island is a picture-perfect site for an entire day of fun. The perfect picnic definitely involves good company, so bring your family and friends. Come out and play! Soak up the sun and get ready to chow down with those you love – we promise this is going to be an experience you won’t soon forget.

Other Picnic Spots We Love

  • Close by is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Cosby Campground. Complete with rushing creek, picnic pavilion, nature hikes and more, this location is said to be one of the best-kept secrets in the Smokies. Primitive camping is available and you just might hear some mountain music from the Amphitheater. From Rafting in the Smokies, travel on 1-40 West to the 443 Exit (Foothills Parkway). Follow to the end. Turn left and travel approximately two miles to the Campground. Turn right and enjoy!

  • Another great nearby location is the Big Creek section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Big Creek offers you a trip to one of the more primitive and quieter sections of the Smokies. There is a small established campground and picnic area on the site of an old logging camp. To reach Big Creek, take I-40 Waterville Exit (451) and cross the bridge over the Pigeon River. At the end of the bridge, turn left and proceed one mile to the Carolina Power and Water Plant. The power plant sits at the confluence of Big Creek and the Pigeon River. Continue following the road past the power plant another 1.3 miles to the Park boundary and an intersection with the old NC 284 road. The road into Big Creek continues straight through the intersection. The Campground and picnic area is located about 1 mile beyond the ranger station.

  • Stroll through the remnants of the Howell Tree Nursery at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and sit in the Adirondack chairs under the Cedars of Lebanon watching the sun set over the Smoky Mountain ridges in the distance.

  • Metcalf Bottoms is a beautiful and peaceful place with picnic tables along the banks of The Little River. This area is within 2 miles of Wears Valley.

  • Laurel Falls Trail is a partially paved path with a 75-foot waterfall crossing the trail at the 1.3-mile mark. Eat your picnic amongst the native rhododendrons, mountain laurel, silverbell, poplar, hemlocks and old growth oaks. The parking area for the trail is at Fighting Creek Gap.

  • Cades Cove, the most visited part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offers numerous picnic spots along the 12-mile loop. Pioneer structures dot this cove and tell the history of its early inhabitants. Wildlife is abundant.