Asheville NC Whitewater Rafting Guide

Whitewater Rafting near Asheville

Whitewater Paddling magazine named Asheville, North Carolina, as a "Top 10 Whitewater Town." ABC's Good Morning America and National Geographic Adventurer named NC the "#1 Vacation with a Splash." It's no wonder with six rivers for rafting nearby in the North Carolina mountains. Outfitters at each river provide rafting guides, so no experience is necessary. One- and two-person inflatable kayaks are also popular, along with paddleboards. Canoes and regular kayaks are perfect for the calmer section of the French Broad River through the Biltmore Estate. Our favorite rafting rivers are:

  • Nantahala River: The busiest and most well-known whitewater rafting river is the Nantahala, a dam-controlled river with 20 class II/III rapids and scenic sections of flat water. The eight-mile river ride takes about 2.5 hours. It's the coldest water, perfect for hot summer days. Approx. 1.5-hour drive from Asheville.
  • French Broad River: This wide river is free-flowing, so recent rainfall determines the intensity of the rapids. The world's third oldest river offers splashy rapids and mountain vistas about 45 minutes north of Asheville. On a half-day trip, there are a dozen class II and III rapids. (Read about the Woodfin Whitewater Wave coming to the French Broad River in Woodfin in 2024.)
  • Pigeon River: This dam-controlled river has easy access from I-40 near the Tennessee line, about 50 miles from Asheville. The upper Pigeon River is filled with continuous waves and class III and IV rapids through a scenic gorge. The lower is a more gentle ride.
  • Green River: Raft through the gorge filled with steep ravines and lush coves. Start your trip with Green River Adventures in the fun little town of Saluda. Also find a calmer section popular for tubing.
  • Tuckasegee River: Originating near Cashiers and ending at Fontana Lake, the Tuck offers calmer rapids for rafting and tubing. On several days each summer, the Lake Glenville Dam releases whitewater into the west fork of the Tuckasegee River, creating class IV rapids over a 5.5-mile stretch. Read about release days
  • North Toe River: This quiet, pristine river north of Asheville in the Spruce Pine area has a variety of sections, from lazy tubing to fun rapids for rafts and funyaks. 

12 Best Whitewater River Outfitters

French Broad River Outfitters
French Broad River Outfitters
Kayak, canoe, tube or paddleboard down the river through Asheville. Start your trip near downtown at the area's largest paddle shop - with shuttle service, rentals, camping gear, disc golf supplies and more. Three locations along the French Broad River.
French Broad Adventures Asheville
French Broad Adventures
Asheville’s closest adventure experience, offering whitewater rafting, ziplines, and canyoneering expeditions just 30 minutes from Downtown Asheville. Experience a fun-filled rafting adventure with knowledgeable guides or choose a milder calmwater trip in the heart of the scenic valley near Hot Springs. Enjoy both indoor and outdoor experiences. Half and full-day trips. 
Lazy Otter Outfitter
Lazy Otter Outfitters
Located a little south of Asheville is one of the prettiest stretches of the French Broad River, away from the crowds and highways. Take a self-guided tubing, kayaking or canoeing trip ranging from two hours to all day, including the fun Sierra Nevada Express trip that makes a post-paddle visit to the brewery easy.
Blue Heron Whitewater
Blue Heron Whitewater, Hot Springs
Enjoy rafting trips (or inflatable kayaks) and calm water float trips on the French Broad River with a fantastic combination of whitewater rapids, swimming holes, beautiful scenery, history and wildlife near Asheville. Excellent, fun-loving guides and all the appropriate river equipment ensure a great time.
Tuckasegee River Rafting
Tuckasegee River Rafting & Tubing
Ride down the family-friendly rapids of the "Tuck" in a raft, inflatable kayak or tube in Jackson County - near Dillsboro and Sylva. Outfitters offer a variety of guided and self-guided river trips. 
Nantahala Outdoor Center
Nantahala Outdoor Center
NOC's big Nantahala River campus offers rafting, zip lines, treetop adventures, paddleboards, kayaking, hiking, biking, and more for the entire family. It's like Disneyland for lovers of the outdoors! Dine riverside at two restaurants. Near Bryson City.
NOC French Broad
NOC French Broad River Rafting
Take a guided whitewater rafting trip near Asheville on the scenic French Broad River with its splashy Class II and III rapids! Ideal for families and groups. The full-day trip finishes with Frank Bell's Rapid, a thrilling Class IV drop.
Pigeon River Adventure Center
Pigeon River Adventure Center
Enjoy outdoors exploration with whitewater rafting, zip line canopy tours or Jeep tours in the Great Smoky Mountains. Or do all three without moving your car with their "Triple Adventure!"
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Whitewater Rafting Tips
1. No experience is needed. You will have very experienced guides to lead you.
2. Bring a change of clothes, towel and extra shoes for the trip to change at the outpost. During the summer, shorts, swimsuits and t-shirts are fine. In the spring and fall, wear wool garments, a jacket or sweater. Most outfitters have wet suits or spray jackets (may be an extra charge) if it's chilly. Don't wear jeans or all cotton clothing. Synthetic clothing is best. 
3. Secure watersport sandles, tennis shoes or wetsuit booties (cooler weather) are best for feet. 
4. Bring sunscreen and sun glasses. 
5. If you bring a camera, make sure it is waterproof. The one-time use, waterproof cameras are the best bet. There will be stretches of calmer water for photos. Many outfitters provide professional photo services on the river. 
6. Some river trips only require a guide in every second or third boat. If you want a guaranteed guide in your boat, request one in advance (may be additional charge). 
7. Most companies have one- or two-person inflatable kayaks called ducks or funyaks, if you prefer. 
8. Rafting rates include a paddle and personal flotation device. 
9. Call ahead of time (several weeks ahead is best) for reservations.

North Carolina Whitewater Classification
Class I (Easy). Small waves, just enough to make you want more. Little manuevering is required.
Class II (Novice). The ride gets more interesting and waves may be up to three feet high. Hopefully, you will get a little wet!
Class III (Intermediate). It's time to navigate larger waves, small falls and/or rocks. Listen to your guide, and you will have a fun ride. It's time to anchor your feet in tight, so you won't fall out. Often, waves will crash into the boat, and you will be stopping soon to bail the water out!
Class IV (Advanced). You will only find these rapids on the Pigeon River or the extended trip on the French Broad. For the more adventurous person, it's time to yell and enjoy. Turbulent waves, a swift current, and rocks require guided navigation. Be ready to work with your guide. A good soaking and excitement will be your reward. 
Class V (Expert). This is hardcore whitewater, and our rivers do not reach this intensity. 
Class VI (Extreme). Only the expert and a bit crazy go for these.

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