White Water Rafting in the Smoky Mountains- Bucket List Check

I am a water rat. I love being in and near water. I grew up in Florida and I love the Ocean or the Gulf. I love rivers, streams, creeks, ponds, lakes. I am a water sign so I guess it makes sense. When planning our time in the Smoky Mountains of course one of the first things I wanted to do was get near some water. There is kayaking and white water rafting. I have kayaked many times and enjoy it greatly but I had never white water rafted. This was one of those things on the ole bucket list so this was my opportunity to check it off.

As we started planning we called one of the facilities that does rafting on the Pigeon River and found out that September 1 was the last day they would have water release from the hydro plant along the river that adds additional water to the rapids in essence making it more fun. Tonight at 6pm the hydro plant stops releasing water for the rest of the season and there will only be what they call “Actual Water”. Bill thought this was a funny term. With the minor drought in this area we were concerned that the actual water days might not be enough water for them to run (they can’t know until the hydro plant stops) so we decided to fit it in today even though we knew it was going to be very busy because of Labor Day weekend. We got in the jeep and headed over this morning after making our reservations.

We decided to take a longer route on the way over. We could drive I-40 or we could go a little out of our way and drive the Foothills Parkway through the Smoky Mts. We didn’t have a lot of extra time to stop at the viewpoints for pictures but it was a gorgeous drive.

We finally arrived at Smoky Mountain Outdoors at noon and there was a lot of controlled chaos. Dozens of people waiting to go out, dozens arriving and paying for their trips, dozens coming back in. We walked in and paid for our trip. We were going to be in Group 8, which consisted of six rafts with between 5-7 people per raft and the guide (a bus full). We went to the pavilion to meet our guide. We were called up to be in Big Steve’s group with five people from a family of eight that had to split up on two boats. We talked with the family a little while waiting for our instructions. Very nice folks from Georgia up for the weekend, most of them had done this before. We were the newbies. Big Steve brought us our life vests and helmets and got us all suited up to go. We loaded on the bus and off we went.

Bill looks confident.

The bus takes you about 10 miles upstream near the hydro plant where you go off into the water. While waiting for other boats to launch Big Steve gives us instructions and then we were off.

I had begun to worry some on the way up because Bill does not know how to swim. They give you all kinds of safety rules and it started to make me worry. When we arrived I realize they have this all in hand. There are people in kayaks that are experts that hung out around the areas that were rough so if people fell out they could help them out. There were a lot of safety measure they took to make sure this was a wonderful and not frightening experience. They really had it covered.

We finally got down into the water and Bill was in the front and I was in the middle. I had the water camera, which I am so happy we bought. I got a few good pictures but for the most part the best parts we were paddling so no big splashes of water. I knew they had photographers placed at different spots so I was hoping they got some great pictures and they did.

We had so much fun. Big Steve was awesome. A few of the other guides were a little more cautious but Big Steve had us leaping off rocks and splashing down into every rapid.

Things I learned today. There are six classifications of rapids. Here is the Wikipedia Classification definitions:

▪    Class 1: Very small rough areas, requires no maneuvering. (Skill Level: None)

▪    Class 2: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, small drops, might require maneuvering. (Skill Level: Basic Paddling Skill)

▪   Class 3: Whitewater, medium waves, maybe a 3–5 ft drop, but not much considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering. (Skill Level: Experienced paddling skills)

▪   Class 4: Whitewater, large waves, long rapids, rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed. (Skill Level: Whitewater Experience)

▪   Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, continuous rapids, large rocks and hazards, maybe a large drop, precise maneuvering. (Skill Level: Advanced Whitewater Experience)

Class 6: Whitewater, typically with huge waves, huge rocks and hazards, huge drops, but sometimes labeled this way due to largely invisible dangers. Class 6 rapids are considered hazardous even for expert paddlers using state-of-the-art equipment, and come with the warning “danger to life or limb.” (Skill Level: Expert)

Today we had our choice between the Lower Rapids which would be Class I and II with a small portion of Class III or the Upper Rapids which include Classes I through IV. So of course we chose the Upper. I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t want to have done this without an experienced guide. When Kayaking even through waves your kayak stays pretty much in the straight forward directions. When riding rapids in a raft this is absolutely not the case. The water flows around the rocks in different ways and pushes up in all different directions. It also turns you in absolute circles and our guide even had us turning ourselves in circles to be able to “see all the scenery!” LOL

When we were at Gen Con we demoed a game called “White Water” by Mayfair Games. I loved it and so I picked up a copy. I had no idea how true to life the game was to how a rapid turns you about. Now I am going to have to pull the game out so we can play again.

I would absolutely do it again. If I lived in an area where I could do it regularly I would be looking into it. It was so much fun! The people at Smoky Mountain Outdoors were awesome all the way around. If you are in the area go try it. It will be a memory not soon forgotten.

If you would like to see more pictures check out my Smug Mug account by clicking on any of the pictures.