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“Really fun!”

Smoky Mountain River Rat
Ranked #3 of 33 things to do in Townsend
Certificate of Excellence
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Owner description: Smoky Mountain River Rat has offered guests tubing adventures on the Little River for 20 years! River Rat is located 15 miles south of Pigeon Forge in Townsend, TN, the Peaceful Side of The Smokies. Tubing trips offer plenty of rapids to satisfy your craving for excitement, but the Little River is mellow enough for even the youngest thrill seeker. This adventure is fun for ages 2 and older. Open 7 days, May - Labor Day. Want something with more PADDLE, SPLASH & PLAY? The River Rat also offers white water rafting with their "sister company". USA Raft Smoky Mountains offers guests white water rafting adventures on the Pigeon River in Hartford, TN. We are conveniently located right off I-40 at the Tennessee, North Carolina border. USA Raft is the closest white water adventure rafting to Gatlinburg, Knoxville and Pigeon Forge. Your next adventure is waiting for you in the Great Smoky Mountains. Whether you are planning a quick weekend getaway or a fun family vacation, USA Raft the premier outfitter for rafting in the Smoky Mountains has an adventure that is just right for you! Our experienced guides combine safety with the rush of an outdoor adventure to give you and your family the thrill of a lifetime! From rafting to ThrillKats to fishing and more, the most fun you will ever have in the water awaits you on the Pigeon River. At USA Raft we believe it is our job to make rafting in the Smoky Mountains your first choice for vacation fun!
Reviewed August 17, 2009

My husband, children (8 & 11 yrs) and I all enjoyed the river rat experience! First, you go to the outpost, get your wrist band, and you can even change or use the bathroom there. Then you pick out your tube and walk right across the parking lot to the edge of the river and get in right there. Now, I am a person who does NOT like cold water, and at first I had a hard time adjusting to it, but the tubes are really big, so you are not completely emmersed in the water, thankfully! It starts out pretty slow and easy, but there are several areas of "rapids" that really spice it up a bit. You'll need to lift your butt up a bit so you do hit rocks, and it helps to be able to steer a bit around the larger rocks. I was afraid of tipping out, but my tube never even came close to tipping. The tubes for kids have bottoms, and because they are nice big tubes, smaller kids won't be able to use their arms or legs for steering. Because of this my daughter kept getting stuck on the sides of the river, in between rocks, etc. and we had to keep "rescuing" her. Also, we didn't, but a lot of people had water shoes, which I would recommend! The one really scary part was at the end. We were told by the guides to get out when we see the bridge overhead. Well, at this point in the river we had just past a rapids area, and the water was VERY deep (easily over anyone's head).... so to steer your tube to the bank and get out without going under or slipping on rocks was scary. We needed help from the family that had just gotten out to help pull us out because of this. At this point it would be easy to go past the "get out" point since the water is moving fast here. Anyway... once you do get out and go up the bank, the shuttle is waiting for you to take you back to the outpost. You can go as many times as you want, and it took us about 1.5 hours to get through it. It could take longer if you don't steer properly or if you want to take your time during the lazy parts. I'd do this again, but I will be more prepared for the ending point this time.

2  Thank teknoturtl
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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692 - 696 of 696 reviews

Reviewed July 19, 2009

We did this for the first time on July 18. I was nervous. I am "plus size" so I wasn't sure how it would work. However, it did not matter and I saw other "plus size" ladies there. We did the lower river tubing only. There were a few little rapids that made the trip fun. The rest of the time you were just floating along lazily. The roughest part was getting out. You have to go over to the left and climb some rather slippery rocks with no hand rail. You REALLY should wear water shoes. They helped a lot. There were lots of others there and they helped us get out. The water was cold and it happened to be a sort of cool day. However if it had been a hot day it would have felt really good. I recommend getting a paddle at the outpost (they are free...). We did not and it was hard to manuver through some of the rocks. We laughed our heads off though when we were going through the "rapids." We will definitely do this again!!!

10  Thank Laurie31f
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 17, 2009

My husband and I decided to go River Tubing with River Rat while we were in town for the July 4th holiday week/weekend. We turned at light #3 in Pigeon Forge and headed out Wears Valley Road towards Townsend. Once in Townsend, we saw the Main Outpost for River Rat on the right hand side of the road. We also noticed that the River Rage parking lot directly across the street was pretty empty and they had someone out front trying to divert people from River Rat (YELLOW & BLUE tubes) to River Rage (GREEN tubes). However, we had already decided upon River Rat. So, we pulled in and parked on the grassy parking lot at River Rat. At this time (around 1pm) the parking lot at River Rat was pretty full. Note: River Rat is open 7 Days a week from 10am to 5pm (May through September).

Once in the parking lot area, we got out and made our way up to the Main Outpost building. Here we saw the River Rat Shuttle Bus, a few kayaks, and lots of tubes outback. Inside we saw the LARGE changing rooms, restrooms, and the Outpost store. I went directly to the front counter. We had never done river tubing before & I wanted to ask some questions first. The lady behind the counter was very friendly and was willing to answer my questions. I asked her about the current time to complete a float trip, the difference between the two float trips that they offer, the dangers involved, whether we would encounter wildlife (snakes), and if there was anything else I should know. She told me that currently the river was at a good level & that it was taking about an hour to float the 1 & ½ mile float. She told me that the LOWER float trip was the calmer of the two & that they allowed children over 2 years of age to do that float. She said the UPPER float was the adventure float with faster currents and rapids & that children had to be 5 years of age to do that float. She did say that we could see some wildlife on our float, including snakes--but that most of the snakes in the region were not poisonous & would not bother you. She did say that you could get hurt on the float, especially if you were not mindful of the river. She said people usually get hurt if they do not pay attention & just let the river carry them into a rock or something like that. She said that you should be mindful of the river and paddle to avoid dangers like rocks. She also said that she recommended sunscreen and water shoes. She said that she recommended that we have water shoes to protect our feet in case we needed to get off our tube for any reason. Once she had answered my questions, I decided that I felt like it was safe enough & wanted to give it a try.

I took a walk around the inside of the Main Outpost. I only had a pair of flip-flops with me on my vacation & felt that the $10 investment in a pair of water shoes would probably be a good idea. The water shoes were organized really well by size for men, women and children--making it easy to find your size. The shoes seemed to be of really good quality for the price. There were a few styles/colors to choose from. They also sell T-shirts, sunscreen, hats, towels and water cameras in addition to the water shoes…should you need them.

Once I had found a pair of water shoes, I approached the front counter to pay for my shoes & admission to River Rat. The price to float was $13 per person for the day---which included use of BOTH outposts (restrooms/changing rooms/picnic areas), unlimited shuttle service, tube & life jacket rental, and admission to float BOTH the UPPER & LOWER float trips. However, I had a coupon that we had found in the FREE MAPS & Discount Coupons Guide to the Smokies. The coupon got us $1.00 off each admission. So it ended up costing us $12 per person ($24.00 total). Note: Their brochure states that children under 5 are FREE. In addition we also had to sign release forms that indicated that we were aware of the risks (injury, paralysis, serious injury, death,, etc.) that could result from our participation in this activity. Once we had signed our release forms, paid for our water shoes & admission---we were given wristbands and pointed in the direction of the Lower Float trip Put-In area. They also had a rack behind the counter that they stored their customer’s car keys on---so you would NOT lose them in the river. When you give them your keys, they will tell you the hook number you keys are assigned. We also stopped to use the CLEAN LARGE changing rooms and CLEAN flush-toilet restrooms before making our way down to the river. There were several changing rooms in the Main Outpost building and a few restrooms. Even though there were only a few restrooms, I did not have to wait to use them (no lines) OR the changing rooms!

Once we were changed & ready to go, we made our way out back and selected a tube. They have big YELLOW tubes and you can get one WITH or WITHOUT a bottom in it. We chose the ones with bottoms in them in case we bumped into a rock--OUR bottoms would not hurt! They had smaller blue tubes for children. I also saw straps that parents could use to couple their tube up with their child’s tube for safety. Once we had selected our tube, we made our way across the parking lot past the PICNIC TABLE AREA that lined the river and made our way down the embankment. Here we saw the Main Outpost Put-In area and several signs. One of the signs reminds you to leave your keys with the front desk so you do NOT lose them in the river. Another designated the area to River Rat tubers. Another asked that you be respectful of the home owners private properties along the float and to stay in your tube until the exit. And the last one reminded you of the exit area for the float. You will exit to the left of the river when you see the swinging bridge. Having read all the signs, we walked down the set of steps and placed our tube into the river. Getting into the river was pretty easy. The water felt a little cool at first, but we quickly adjusted to it.

The LOWER float trip was pretty calm and relaxing. The current was not TOO fast or TOO slow. There were a couple of times that our tubes came to an almost standstill, but we just paddled to get moving downriver to the next current. On this float, we did pass through a few small rapids. They were really fun and helped break-up the float. We would see the rapids coming up ahead in the river & would navigate our tube to try and avoid any large rocks. We did need to paddle a few times to navigate around rocks and to avoid being pushed into the side of the river (trees, rocks, etc). The river varied in depth along the float. It would rapidly change from very shallow ankle deep areas to VERY deep areas (over my head- at over 5 feet deep). So, it would be a good idea to keep an eye on children OR those who cannot swim well. Life vests are provided FREE of charge by River Rat. Along this float, we saw several riverside homes, people fishing, people swimming in the river, people playing with their dogs in the river, some people kayaking (kayaks also available as rentals from River Rat) and some wildlife. We saw fish swimming around/underneath our tubes several times throughout our LOWER float trip. That was pretty neat. I did see ONE snake sunbathing on a rock along the edge of the river. I was just glad that he was not swimming IN the river next to me. We also came across a large pack of geese swimming in the river near the end of our float. It was really neat to see them swim upriver right past us in a single file line. We even had a family (mommy, daddy and several baby geese) swim right past our tubes…maybe about 5 feet or so away. They did not seem to mind sharing the river with us or being so close to humans. It was really a neat experience. Once we neared the end of our float, we saw the swinging bridge ahead and began to paddle our tubes towards the left hand side of the river. Where you exit there are several large rocks. So, I felt that my river shoes definitely came in handy here, as the rocks can be slippery. Once you get to the edge of the river and make our way across the rocks---you walk up a set of steps OR up a ramp to the top of the hill where the River Rat Shuttle Bus will pick you up. Getting out of the river here was NOT as easy as I was expecting it to be, since getting IN was really easy. But with steady footwork and caution, it is definitely do-able. Once at the top of the hill, we stacked our tubes with the rest of the River Rat tubes & waited for the shuttle bus. We only had to wait a few minutes (maybe 5 minutes) for a shuttle bus to arrive. We boarded the old yellow mini-school bus and waited for the driver to finish loading all the tubes on the trailer. Once he loaded the tubes on the trailer, we were off for our short drive back to the Main Outpost building. It had taken us about an hour to complete the LOWER float trip.

Back at the Main Outpost building, we decided that we wanted to try the UPPER Adventure float. In order to do that float, we had to get our keys and drive up the road to the smaller UPPER float Outpost. To get there, we turned right out of River Rat and drove up to Hwy 73 in Townsend. Here you made a left and drove a mile or so (passing the other River Rage location) until you saw the River Rat Outpost. Here we pulled in and parked our car in the gravel parking lot. We then made our way into the small River Rat Outpost. The guy behind the counter told us the shuttle would be there to pick us up in a few minutes. Meanwhile we looked around the Outpost--which sold the same kinds of merchandise as the other Outpost (sunscreen, t-shirts, hats, water shoes, towels, etc). The employee asked us how we liked the LOWER float trip & where we were visiting from. He was very friendly, but our conversation was cut short-----because just as promised---within a matter of minutes the River Rat Shuttle Bus was out front ready to pick us up. Out front, we chose a tube and handed it to the driver. He used a rope to attach our tubes to the back of the bus and we were off. We were the only ones on this shuttle bus headed to the UPPER float. The bus drove up the road to where we saw a sign for the Smoky Mountain National Park. Here he made a U-turn and pulled over to the side of the road. He handed us our tubes and sent us on our way. Before heading down the embankment to the river, I asked the driver HOW I would know WHERE to get out of the river on the UPPER float. He said to just look for the BIG YELLOW banner that said River Rat Tubers Exit here. So, we walked down the embankment to the rivers edge to put out rubes in. Here there were NO steps to get into the river like there was on the LOWER float, but the ground was sort of like a flat pebbly beach. So NO steps were needed. Entry into the river was easy and we started out downriver float.

The UPPER float started out pretty calm. It actually seemed slower and calmer in the VERY beginning as compared to the LOWER float that we had just done. We actually paddled our tubes down the 1st part of the UPPER float. We did pass under a cement overpass/bridge. You did need to be careful when passing under it that you did NOT run into the footers for the bridge. Once we passed the bridge, it seemed like the speed of the river picked up. It was not TOO fast or TOO slow at this point. Along this float, we did pass through several rapids. These rapids were more dangerous than those on the LOWER float. These rapids were swifter and had more large sharp rocks to navigate around. There seemed to be a lot more rocks in general on the UPPER float. Since the rapids and current were a little swifter on the UPPER float, we found it a little more difficult to paddle and navigate the river. We did get pushed into a few rocks and have our tubes get stuck a few times on rocks on the UPPER float. However, no one got hurt or capsized. We tried to stay together & help each other through the rapids and rocks. This technique seemed to work for the most part. Along this float we saw some riverside homes, a riverside campground, the cement bridge, and a group of kids swinging on a rope out over the river. So, as you can imagine for those kids to be using a rope swing over the river---some areas are VERY deep. The river does range from very shallow ankle deep water to VERY deep water on the UPPER float. It would be a good idea to keep an eye on children and those who cannot swim well on the UPPER float. Life vests are provided FREE of charge by River Rat. We did NOT see any wildlife on the UPPER float trip. Once we went through our last set of rapids, we did see the BIG YELLOW banner that indicated it was time for all River Rat tubers to exit the river. We began paddling our tubes towards the left hand side of the river. **Note you do NOT want to miss this exit & continue floating downriver--as there is a DAM ahead** It was much easier to exit the river on the UPPER float. Exiting was just like entering. You could paddle right up to the edge of the river where it was like a flat pebbly beach. Here you just stood up and walked up a path that led you up a hill to the parking lot area behind the UPPER float Outpost building. It took us about 40 minutes to complete the UPPER float trip.

Back at the UPPER trip Outpost, we were again greeted by the same employee who asked us how the UPPER float trip was. He also asked us if we had capsized. We said no & asked him IF a lot of people do capsize. He said there was about a 40% capsize rate. He then asked us if we wanted to float again. We decided that we ready for dinner and decided to end our day at River Rat. He then retrieved our keys from the peg board and sent us on our way. We stacked our tubes up outside of the Outpost and made our way back to the car. At this time I did notice that they had changing rooms outback of the UPPER float outpost as well. I did not see any regular restrooms, but I did see a few port-a-potties. I am not sure IF they had regular flush-toilet restrooms at this Outpost as I did not really look for them. Also located next door to the UPPER float trip outpost was a sort of Drive-IN style restaurant. It reminded me of a Dairy Queen in appearance. So, if you get hungry after floating the UPPER float, you could go next door and grab a bite to eat.

Also, on location at the MAIN Outpost building that day was a food cart that sold food items including Sno-cones. There was also a soda vending machine out front of the MAIN outpost. So, you can grab a bite to eat there too if you get hungry. ALSO, ONE of the River Rat Shuttle Buses sells Ice Cream on the bus. I did NOT personally get to ride on that shuttle bus--so I do not know how much they cost or what kinds they sell. BUT, I heard one of the RIVER RAT employees at the MAIN outpost telling customers about it. She said that the shuttle bus that sells Ice Cream, has a picture of an ice cream cone on the front of it. So, that is an option too if you happen to come across that River Rat Shuttle Bus. I believe they also sellpre-packaged ice cream products inside the Main Outpost as well. OR you can always pack yourself a picnic basket or cooler to enjoy at one of the picnic tables on location!

Note: We did see other tubing companies customers tubing on the SAME river as us. So it is true that they do tube the EXACT same river. However, there were more YELLOW & BLUE tubes with pictures of SPLASH RAT on them floating down the river than any other company. There were a couple from the GREEN river tubing company and also a few from the ORANGE river tubing company on the river that day with us.

Overall, we had a GREAT time “River-Ratting” (as well like to call it). I did not realize that I was going to have this much FUN when I started the float. I just thought it would be something relaxing to do on a hot day for a few hours. I also thought it would be a good way to cool off by letting our legs dangle in the cool river water. BUT it ended up being ONE of THE BEST things we did on this trip to the Smokies. I really enjoyed the LOWER float trip as it was really relaxing with a couple little rapids to add just a hint of excitement. The water was really cool and refreshing. It was NOT terribly cold or intolerable. It was the perfect way to cool off on a hot July day! Getting to see the fish and geese along the LOWER float trip was an added bonus!! The UPPER float trip was good too for an ADVENTURE float. It was fun, but required us to navigate the river quite a bit more than the LOWER float trip & did not seem to last as long. Overall, both trips were good. I would do either one of the again. IF I had to choose just ONE float…I would choose the LOWER float trip. I think I enjoyed it a little more for a couple of reasons: (1) the Put-IN area was conveniently located next to the MAIN outpost building on Wears Valley Rd, (2) the overall float was more relaxing but yet still had a few small rapids to add some excitement, (3) the opportunity to see the wildlife including fish, snake & geese, (4) the float seemed to be a little longer in length/duration. From start to finish, we had a VERY pleasant experience with River Rat. The staff was all very FRIENDLY, courteous, and willing to answer all of our questions. I also appreciated that we NEVER had to wait but a few minutes for the River Rat Shuttle Bus! I felt confident in choosing THIS company to go tubing with while in the Smokies. I am glad we chose to go tubing with River Rat. We definitely plan on returning to River Rat again the next time we are in the Smokies!

25  Thank daisyferret1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed June 24, 2009

very inexpensive yet fun way to spend the day. Everyone that worked there was so friendly and helpful. Would definately do this again!

2  Thank tabby2948
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 27, 2016
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Thank Claudia P E
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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