Whether you travel with an experienced guide or take a raft under your own command, rafting along one of the rivers near the Blue Ridge Parkway is sure to be an unforgettable experience. For information on guided whitewater rafting tours, visit our Travel Directory.
Places to Raft near the Blue Ridge Parkway
The rivers that run through Parkway lands provide all five classes of navigable rapids for visitors to experience, from easy floating family trips down the Watauga River to wild adventures on the Nolichucky. Listed below are the major rivers and their appropriate class of rapids.
Nantahala River (Class II-III)
One of the most popular rafting, kayaking, and canoeing locations. The Nantahala is dam controlled and provides consistent water levels, so rafters are never disappointed in its performance. Class II rapids are mostly featured, with a few small class IIIs, making this river ideal for families and first timers.
Nolichucky River (Class III-IV)
A free-flowing river in which water levels can vary. Provides class III and IV rapids for an exciting and more adventurous trip.
French Broad River (Class II-IV)
This river provides a variety of rapids ranging from class II-IV. It is also ideal for families and runs through the Pisgah National Forest. This is a free-flowing river, so water levels may vary depending on the season.
Big Laurel Creek (Class IV)
Just outside Asheville, NC, this river is perfect for the more experienced rafter. It typically showcases class IV rapids.
Wilson Creek (Class III-IV)
Runs all the way from Grandfather Mountain to Caldwell County. This river is comprised of class II-IV rapids.
Watauga River (Class I)
The section of the Watauga River that runs from Watauga Lake into the North Carolina High Country consists of easy, gentle rapids perfect for an easy day down the river. It is dam controlled and provides consisted water levels.
Watauga Gorge (Class IV-V)
The free-flowing river just over the border of Tennessee can provide class IV-V rapids. The water level can be unpredictable, sometimes causing this river to be unrunnable.
Ocoee River (Class III-IV)
An exciting adventure for all rafters, this river runs through the Cherokee National Forest. Featuring mostly class III-IV rapids, the Upper Ocoee is home to the 1996 Olympic Canoe and Kayak Course.
Big Pigeon River (Class III-IV)
A class III-IV river running along the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This river is dam-controlled and can provide great trips for the more adventurous rafters.
Classes of Rapids
When selecting a rafting trip you will want to consider a few important factors such as the age of participants in your group and your previous whitewater rafting experience. You will also need to decide what level of rapids you would like to raft on. Whitewater rapids are categorized into 5 classes. Choosing the right class of rapids for you or your group can ensure that everyone will safely enjoy the trip.
Class I Rapids (Beginner)
Class I rapids consist of quick moving waters with little or no interference. The few obstacles that can be present are easily avoidable with little or no skill and experience. This class is ideal for families with young children.
Class II Rapids (Novice)
Class II rapids are slightly more advanced. Some paddling can be necessary to move around rocks and medium sized waves. These obstacles can be avoided by trained paddlers.
Class III Rapids (Intermediate)
Class III rapids contain moderate waves which can be more difficult to avoid. Maneuvering is more complex and can be required in fast current or around ledges. Previous rafting skills can be useful in avoiding these obstacles.
Class IV Rapids (Advanced)
Class IV rapids involve intense waves and powerful currents. Precise boat handling and paddling is required. Depending on the river, Class IV rapids can feature unavoidable holes and waves and may also include dangerous hazards. Previous rafting skills and experience sometimes required.
Class V Rapids (Expert)
Class V rapids are more dangerous and expose the passengers to more risk. They can contain long, violent waves and complex maneuvering. Rapids can continue for extended periods of time requiring paddlers to be of good physical fitness. Also extensive experience and proper equipment is essential for running a Class V rapid.
Whitewater Rafting Lingo
Above – Upriver
Agile bow – the member of the paddle crew designated to jump ship onto the shore and hold the boat
Back roller – a broad reversal that is normally caused by a dam or ledge
Beam – the raft’s width at its widest point
Below – downriver
Boof – when a boat slides over rocks but does not nosedive, instead landing nearly level. This can be done when the boaters lean back just before the drop. Normally, it’s also done by emptying the bow and moving people to the rear.
Cartwheeling – spinning or rotating the raft just before hitting a rock so to spin off the rock
Chute – a swift channel between obstructions
Draw stroke – paddling technique that moves the boat sideways by reaching the paddle far out and plunging the paddle deep into the water, then pulling the paddle toward the boat
Downstream ferry – rowing or paddling downstream with the angle and intent to travel faster than the current to break through an eddy line
Eddy – where the current stops and turns upstream. The water created below obstructions, banks and bends flows upward and causes the edginess in the water.
Farmer John – a wetsuit that wears like bib overalls, extending from the feet to the shoulders.
Flotilla – a group of boats together on a trip
Gorp – Trail Mix. M&Ms, raisins, nuts or anything that’s high energy to munch on during the easy areas.
Hair – fast and extremely turbulent water, the top layer covered in white foam
Haystack – a big standing wave that occurs due to the slowing current.
Head Chef -a guide that’s in charge of the grub; purchasing it and preparing it with the help of other guides.
Lawn-chair position – The safest way to ride out a rapid if you get tossed over. Lean back, with your feet visible on the surface and your hands to your side. Ride out the rapid until you can pull yourself into the boat.
Piggyback Rig – a rope and pulley system designed for rescues who need almost quadruple the strength available. Also called a pig rig.
Pitch – a section of the surrounding rapids that is steeper than others.
Put-in – River access point.
Reversal – a dangerous area of the river where currents can swing upwards onto themselves and trap and drown swimmers.
Sleeper – a submerged rock.
Smoker – an extremely violent and unforgiving rapid.
The Strokes – two bow paddlers who set the pace and rhythm for the rest of the boat
Wild Thing – a technique for a boat caught on a rock, in which everyone on the boat jumps around in an attempt to knock the boat free