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Learn About the History of White Water Rafting

December 23, 2021

With thrilling speeds and waves splashing all around, it is easy to see why whitewater rafting is one of the most exciting and popular outdoor attractions in Gatlinburg. But did you know that rafting has been around for hundreds of years? While rafting is considered a leisure activity, it was also one of the earliest modes of transporting people and goods. Keep reading to learn more about the history of white water rafting:

Native Americans Using Rafts

wooden raft

The first river rafts can be traced back to the Native American tribes who lived in the United States long before colonizers came to the country. Their rafts were made of wood, and they used them to float down the river to find the best fishing spots. When Lewis and Clark came to explore the West, the Nez Perce tribe provided rafts and guides to the explorers.

First Recorded Expedition

The first recorded planned use of a raft was in 1811 when explorers planned a trip on the Snake River that runs through Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. Since these people had no experience, training, or proper equipment, they decided the river was too dangerous to float down. Today, Snake River is a popular rafting destination with Class III rapids!

Invention of Rubber River Rafts

people rafting

A major breakthrough in white water rafting came with the invention of the rubber river raft in 1840 by John Fremont. Fremont, a lieutenant in the United States Army, constructed a rubber raft in order to survey the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains. Unfortunately, their raft couldn’t hold up to the rough waters.

Almost 100 years later in the 1940s, civilians would purchase surplus military rafts to travel along these rivers. In the 20th century, these rubber military rafts were eventually replaced by inflatable rafts. Popularity of the outdoor sport grew with outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers during this time.

Companies Catch On

In the mid-1900s, private companies saw the commercial potential of white water rafting. Famous businessman John D. Rockefeller built a resort in 1956 that offered the first floating trips in the United States, but the new sport failed to immediately catch on. It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that companies such as Becker-Cooke Expeditions and Slickrock Adventures became successful. White water rafting solidified its popularity with its inclusion in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games and its subsequent addition to the 1992 Barcelona Games and the 1996 Atlanta Games.

SMO Rafting History

white water raftingIn 1993, our rafting company came to the Smoky Mountains, and ever since, we have been an industry leader in outdoor recreation and are known as the most trusted outfitter on America’s #1 River. By 2003, the Pigeon River was recognized as the fastest growing rafting river in the United States with over 60,000 rafters enjoying a ride down the river that year. We take more people down the Pigeon than any other outfitter and the Pigeon hosted more rafters than any other River in the US as of 2020! Be sure to check out the thrill of rafting down the Pigeon River with us on any of our trips!

There’s nothing more fun than experiencing the exhilarating fun of rafting along the Pigeon River. Ready to start planning your next outdoor adventure? Look through our white water rafting trips, and book the best one for your group!