There are several rafting companies in the Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge area. When trying to plan our trip, I was confused by several locations shown in the area for Rafting. Many of the raft groups have offices in town where you can go to sign up, but from what I could tell, they all raft from the same general area on the Pigeon River, so find a group with a good reputation since the actual rafting location is pretty much the same. We learned from our guide that the rides are only available about 3-4 days out of the week, usually alternating days, dependent upon when the reservoir releases water into the river.
We made reservations with Big Creek Expeditions after reading their good reviews and we were very pleased with our choice. We were told to arrive at 12:30 and to plan on being there until 3:00, which was pretty true to what happened. We ran about 8 minutes late trying to find our way there and phoned in, and were told not to worry. It seems they schedule your arrival about 30 minutes before the raft actually leaves to allow everyone to get there and checked in. There is a safety talk before the group splits up to go to their assigned guides and rafts. Life vests and helmets are provided.
Nearby the check-in station is a building with restrooms and open shower stalls, but very basic and minimal. I would not choose to shower here, but my husband went in for a quick rinse after our ride. Lock up everything you won’t need in your car. They will hold your car key at the front desk during your ride.
There are two trip options. Most rafters choose the adventurous ride on the upper river, but you may opt for the more serene ride on the lower river. On the lower river ride, helmets were optional for the adults. We were one of the few visitors who chose the lower river raft ride, which they call a "float" trip, but which is perfect for those with small kids or anyone who may be a bit apprehensive about an intense ride through rapids. This river raft trip ended up being the highlight of our Gatlinburg vacation and wet our appetite to ride on the upper river on our next visit. Our guide, Jeffrey, had 18 years experience and was terrific. There were enough Level 1 and 2 rapids to make the ride interesting, and a fork at the end of the route provided an option to ride over a Level 3 rapid, which we chose to do. The ride lasted about 1½ hours and the scenery was beautiful. We spotted some waterfowl and predatory birds along the way. There are calm sections where you basically float with the current. This is where you can get out and swim in the river for a few minutes before getting back into the raft to navigate through the rougher waters. We were fortunate to ride on a day that was overcast, but during breaks in the clouds it could get hot so wear sunscreen, consider bringing sunglasses and, on the lower river, a hat if not wearing a helmet. Dress to get wet. We only got a couple of good splashes on our ride, but your feet will definitely get wet inside the raft so wear secure, water-friendly shoes. This was a fun trip that we highly recommend.
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