FacebookSkip to main content
January 17th, 2023
people rafting in the smoky mountains

5 Unusual Facts About The History of White Water Rafting in Gatlinburg

July 30, 2014 January 17th, 2023

White water rafting in Gatlinburg has been a long-time favorite family vacation activity in the Smoky Mountains. However, how did our beloved sport come to be?

Wanting to learn a little bit more about the history of white water rafting in Gatlinburg, we at Smoky Mountain Outdoors decided to do a little digging. For the rest of this blog, you will find all the the unusual facts about our favorite sport’s history that we discovered.

(See Related: 6 Reasons Everyone Should Go White Water Rafting in Gatlinburg)

White water rafts were originally made out of wood. happy family on a pigeon river rafting trip

Before the rubber raft was invented, people interested in rafting were forced to do so in a wooden raft. This included both exploration trips through undeveloped lands and potential rafting enthusiasts.

However, the problem with these rafts is that they were not sturdy enough to maneuver through the rougher parts of the river. When rafters would attempt to go through the rapids, the boats would break under the strain.

The first commercial raft trip took place 100 years after the rubber raft was invented.

In the 1840’s, Lt. John Fremont and Horace H. Day invented what later became the first-ever rubber raft. The purpose of this raft was so the two men could explore the Platte River.

Then, a century later, Clyde Smith took a small group of people on the first successful white water rafting adventure through the Snake River Canyon.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. once attempted to build a white water rafting resort.

In the Smoky Mountains, we often associate John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as the man that helped fund the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Rockefeller put up $5 million of his own money to cover the remaining cost needed to purchase all of the land for the park.

However, in the realm of the history of white water rafting in Gatlinburg, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s involvement actually occurred nearly 2,000 miles away inside the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Here, Rockefeller tried to create one of the first white water resorts. Unfortunately for him, this plan did not pan out very well.

It may be just us, but maybe the resort would have been better had he brought his guests to experience the beauty of white water rafting in Gatlinburg.

Whitewater rafting in the Smoky MountainsWhite water rafting in Gatlinburg began a popular sport in the Smoky Mountains in the 1970’s.

Over 130 years after the first rubber raft was invented, white water rafting finally began to gain in popularity among outdoor enthusiasts. And we at Smoky Mountain Outdoors could not be more excited because this meant that white water rafting in Gatlinburg was finally born.

Popularity for white water rafting was solidified in 1972 when the sport made its Olympic Games debut in Munich.

Pigeon River considered the fastest-growing white water rafting river.

The Pigeon River has had its ups and downs in terms of the river’s history. Back in the mid-1900s, the river suffered from heavy pollution from businesses located on its banks.

However, thanks to the help of several restoration groups, the Pigeon River has returned to its natural beauty. Home to a thriving ecosystem, it has solidified itself as the number one place to go white water rafting in Gatlinburg.

In fact, in 2003 the river was deemed the fastest growing white water rafting river in the United States. The river saw a 20% growth rate and welcomed over 60,000 rafters that year.

About Our White Water Rafting in Gatlinburg Adventures

Since 1993, Smoky Mountain Outdoors has been an industry leader for white water rafting in Gatlinburg. Each of our guides have extensive knowledge of both the area and rafting safety, so you and your family are promised a fun, memorable and safe white water adventure.

Guests to Smoky Mountain Outdoors have their choice of one of our two Gatlinburg white water rafting courses, the upper or the lower Pigeon River.

For an example of what to expect during one of our white water adventures, be sure to click play on the video below!

Upper Pigeon River

Our Upper Pigeon River course is considered to be more like our advanced Gatlinburg white water rafting course. Here, guests will face rapids up to Class IV.

During this 6 ½ mile course, guests will also get the chance to experience a whole new scenic side of the Smoky Mountains.

Please note, although we refer to this course as our ‘advanced’ course, there is still no experience required to enjoy this adventure. All we ask is that guests attempting this course are at least 8 years of age.

Lower Pigeon River

The Lower Pigeon River Course offered by Smoky Mountain Outdoors is tailored to fit the needs of guests looking to enjoy a more leisurely Gatlinburg white water rafting experience. Here, the rapids are calmer with the highest being a Class III. This course is also a little shorter than the Upper Pigeon River course at 5 ½ miles.

Still no experience required, the minimum age limit for this Gatlinburg white water rafting course is 3 years old.

Gatlinburg white water rafting rates

The prices on our Gatlinburg white water rafting adventures vary by season. We’re now accepting reservations for our 2021 rafting season and offering $16 off per person!

Click here to reserve a Gatlinburg white water rafting adventure for your family’s next trip to the Smokies.

Group Discounts

At Smoky Mountain Outdoors, we do offer special group discounts and pricing for our Gatlinburg white water rafting adventures. To see which options are available for your family or group, please fill out the contact form on our group white water rafting page on our website. One of our adventure specialists will contact you to help answer any questions you may have about white water rafting in Gatlinburg.

Groups are considered any party with 10 or more guests.

Ready to reserve your next adventure white water rafting in Gatlinburg? Give us a call today at 865-430-3838. One of our experienced team members will be more than happy to answer any and all questions your family may have.