It’s getting close to fall festival time! Rafting in the Smokies is starting to wind down for the season, but festivals and fall events are winding up. We’ve highlighted some that are in the Smoky Mountain and surrounding areas that should be on your radar.
Dubbed one of the Southeast’s Most Popular Events, this event takes up 150,000 square feet of the Gatlinburg Convention Center. You’ll find beautiful artisan handmade crafts, pottery, art, and daily shows. It’s like getting the whole 8-mile Glades loop in one building. There is also a kids corner hosted by the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair and Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries so kids can create their crafts and take them home as souvenirs. Live performances will be held daily with selections from the country, bluegrass, and gospel genres. Admission is free for those aged 12 and under.
In Dandridge, TN, you can help the Wolf PAWS wolf-dog sanctuary with their third annual fundraiser. Shop the local arts and crafts booths, enjoy a savory BBQ, listen to live music, and learn more about the sanctuary. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated to help the sanctuary and the resident wolf-dogs.
This year’s theme for the cultural and community event is “Fantastic Voyage.” Over 100 vendors and 400 musicians will be onsite to greet and entertain you at this music and arts festival. If you prefer to stay close and on the grounds, camping is offered (tent camping costs are included with a Weekend or Weekend Plus ticket). LEAF Festival has teamed up with Dancin’ Dave’s Festival Camping to provide tents with camping gear included. For foodies, LEAF Festival offers both international and gourmet food choices. Located in Black Mountain, NC, the festival is situated in an idyllic setting amongst rolling hills, mountain streams, and the beautiful Lake Eden.
Rafting in the Smokies has something for everyone! There are so many fun activities that people of nearly any age can participate in and enjoy. We encourage you to look at everything that RITS has to offer.
For older kids, adrenaline junkies, and those who want a solid upper-body workout, the Upper Pigeon Whitewater Rafting Trip is a great choice. You’ll power through 12 Class III and three Class IV rapids over the course of five-and-a-half miles and learn to work with a team. While the Lower Pigeon Float Trip will get you wet, the Upper Pigeon will get you soaked! This activity is great for those over age eight (or over 70 lbs). If you have people in your group that can’t paddle or don’t want to, Rafting in the Smokies can accommodate.
If you have smaller kids (ages three and up), the Lower Pigeon Float Trip is perfect. You’ll experience milder water, with spots of rapids. Children will enjoy scouting for birds and sunbathing turtles. The Lower Pigeon Float Trip is also ideal for older folks who don’t want to be intensely paddling and want to enjoy the beautiful scenery. There is no restriction on height or weight, but you will need to be able to fit in a personal floatation device (maximum of 56”).
If you’d rather soar through the sky and stay dry, then ziplining would be a perfect fit for you. Our Zipline Canopy Tour will set you about 60 feet above the ground. You’ll traverse over 2,400 feet through six different ziplines. The zipline is for those over the age of five and between 45 and 250 lbs.
You can always pair activities together through the packages area of our booking section. Plenty of people want to experience both the Zipline Canopy Tour and one of our Pigeon River rafting trips.
Also high above the ground is our high elements Ropes Challenge Course. It’s a total of 12 different activities ranging from easy to very tough. As you progress through the course, the activities get increasingly more difficult. If you like to challenge yourself and test your limits, this is the course for you! This course has the same restrictions as our Zipline Canopy Tour (ages five and up and between 45 and 200 lbs).
The newest addition to our offerings is our beautiful four-sided Rock Climbing Wall. Kids as young as two (over 22 lbs) can participate. The guides will help them up the wall if they encounter any difficulty and are very patient if they want to try other sides. Older participants can test their abilities on the inner wall. The other Rock Climbing Wall restrictions are 22 to 330 lbs.
Ready to try one of our exhilarating activities? Head on over to the book now page. If you would like to combine activities, be sure to check out our package deals.
Ziplining is an experience that gives you the chance to breeze through the trees and experience nature in ways you aren’t typically able to. Even though our Zipline Canopy Tour starts at the very top of our tower, there is no reason to fear the heights! Here are some tips if you are going to be ziplining for the first time:
Make a reservation and come prepared While we may have openings when you arrive, make a reservation online to ensure you secure a spot. Adding other activities through a package deal will get you the most bang for your buck. Make sure that you’ve filled out the waiver form. If you fill it out from the link online and then bring it in, you’ll save yourself some time. We do have forms on-site if you forget or don’t have access to a printer. Make sure everyone who is ziplining with you meets both the age, health, and weight requirements to streamline the experience. While there is no rigorous hiking involved, you shouldn’t zip if you have a heart condition, and we don’t allow pregnant women on the tour.
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes that surround your feet Because you’ll be in a harness, you will want to make sure you are wearing pants/shorts long enough to get past the harness and shirts that cover your shoulders. This will prevent the harness from coming in direct contact with your skin. Because you’re going to be flying through the air, we don’t want you to lose your shoes. Wear shoes that will stay secure around your ankles. That means no flip-flops or crocs! Closed-toe shoes are the best bet. If you took on the Pigeon River earlier, make sure you brought a change of clothes with you. You can also do the zipline course first through our package deals.
Secure your items If you happen to have your phone/keys with you, make sure that you secure them before you take off on the Zipline Canopy Tour. We can hold your keys in our office, just like we do for those who are rafting. If you have glasses, you might want to get one of our retainer straps to hold them on, just in case. It’s probably a good idea to secure or leave behind the dangling jewelry too.
Expect bugs Spray on insect repellent as a good measure of protection before you head on over to our Family Adventure Island. While the Pigeon River has an excellent supply of dragonflies that love mosquitos, you can never be too prepared! We’re in the middle of a forest after all.
Focus on the fun, and trust your equipment Our Zipline Canopy Tour is inspected to meet safety requirements, and our guides are all trained in first aid and CPR. Don’t worry about anything but having fun! Trust the equipment and enjoy the experience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Our knowledgeable guides will be more than happy to answer.
Ziplining at Rafting in the Smokies is a great way to take yourself to new heights. We’ll work with you and help guide you through the course without pressuring you. If you’re ready to start your Zipline Canopy Tour, head on over to our reservation page. You can also click the Packages tab to combine activities.
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.
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
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.