Set about 40 miles east of Pigeon Forge near Hartford, Tennessee—and right off I-40— is a great raft trip outfitter. Raft Outdoor Adventures provides some of the best whitewater-rafting experiences close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Established in 2002, the company has a stellar reputation founded in large part on the quality of its expert guides, who accompany each raft and deliver a nice mix of educational facts and big-time humor along the way.
Raft Outdoor Adventures operates out of an attractive outpost right on the banks of the Pigeon River, the mighty Southern Appalachian flow on which its trips run. Along with bathrooms and changing rooms, the facility includes a play area for smaller visitors and a handsome riverside picnic pavilion—a good place to enjoy lunch from the food truck that’s typically in residency just across the road.
The outfitter runs trips on two scenic reaches of the generally north-flowing Pigeon. No prior rafting experience is needed for either of the routes, and, in fact, you don’t even need to know how to swim, either: Every guest will be suited up in a Coast Guard-approved Type 5 Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Rafts carry up to six passengers as well as that friendly and knowledgeable (and often wisecracking) guide.
The gentlest trip is the Class I-II float on the Lower Pigeon River, which is open to children as young as three years old. This pleasant two-hour ride is ideal for families with little kids, and for anybody a bit leery of the idea of running real rapids.
For those looking for more wild water-style action, meanwhile, the Upper Pigeon River Rafting Trip offered by Raft Outdoor Adventures is ideal. This route traces the gorge-bound course of the Upper Pigeon as it skirts the northeastern margins of the Great Smokies, and includes a number of impressive Class IV rapids: Lost Guide, Double Reactionary, and Accelerator. More than a dozen Class III rapids, from Powerhouse to Duck & Run, as well as many Class II waves also distinguish this trip.
Given the bigger whitewater, the Upper Pigeon River trip has a general minimum age cutoff of eight years old. That said, seven-year-old rafters who are at least 70 pounds are also allowed.
You can opt for either a single run of the Upper Pigeon, which is a two-hour affair or rack up twice the thrills with the four-hour double-run option—enjoying the second run pretty much right after the first or taking an hour-ish break for lunch in between.
The flow of the Pigeon River varies across the year with both weather and releases from a dam a few miles upstream of the Raft Outdoor Adventures routes. The Lower Pigeon River Rafting Trip is a seasonal offering, generally available from May through September. The Upper Pigeon River Rafting Trip, meanwhile, is an option all year round so long as conditions allow, and quite a few folks even sign up for winter adventures. (The company offers full wetsuit rentals for cooler-weather rafting.)
If you’re enjoying a Great Smokies getaway out of Pigeon Forge, consider working on a fun-filled day trip to Raft Outdoor Adventures only about an hour’s drive away, and savor some quality time on the beautiful Pigeon River!
-If you’ve got a group with a broad range of ages and predilections—and if it’s during the main summer season—you can absolutely arrange for some members of the party to do the laidback Lower Pigeon trip and the more adrenaline-junkie folks to run the Upper Pigeon. Outside of the infant category, in other words, there’s really something for just about everybody with Raft Outdoor Adventures: young and old, “chillaxer” and thrill-seeker.
-A pair of old tennis shoes is best for footwear on Raft Outdoor Adventures trips. The company doesn’t allow rafters to wear flip-flops or go barefoot, even in summer, so plan accordingly.