We've highlighted the six best whitewater rafting tours in North Carolina and South Carolina ranging from man-made centers right in the middle of the city to more natural routes hidden in the mountains and everything in between.
Whitewater rafting offers a chance to explore the wilderness in an experience unlike any other. With rivers like the French Broad, Nantahala, and Chattooga winding their way through the Carolinas, there’s always an adventure waiting for you.
NOC Nantahala River Outpost
The Nantahala Outdoor Center (a.k.a. NOC) has a few river outposts in NC, SC, TN, and GA. The headquarters is located in Bryson City, NC, about an hour west of Asheville and a few steps off of the Appalachian Trail. The Nantahala Outdoor Center has been taking families on whitewater rafting adventures for over 40 years. In fact, they’ve taken more families whitewater rafting over the years than any other company in the Southeast.
They offer two different Nantahala River trip packages starting from the outpost nestled in the Nantahala River Gorge. The rafting trip takes approximately three hours and runs through Class II and III rapids. The trip is fully guided and family-friendly, though children must be a minimum of 7 years old and 60 lbs. Marked as an easy route, The Nantahala Outdoor Center recommends this trip for all skill levels. Trips occur daily from March to October. If you’re looking for a full day of adventure, the center offers ziplining and mountain biking. The Nantahala Outdoor Center also offers a popular Chattooga River Rafting excursion in SC.
Rolling Thunder River Company
For more whitewater rafting in NC along the Nantahala River, Rolling Thunder Company offers eight miles of thrills. This is a family-friendly route as long as kids are ages 7+ or weigh over 60 pounds. The trip alternates between calm waters where you can enjoy the stunning views and more intensive rapids. Along the route, you’ll tackle 20 named rapids (class II and III). The trip ends with Nantahala Falls and, usually, lots of laughter.
Rolling Thunder River Company recommends this route for all experience levels and marks it as safe for Seniors. There are options for non-guided and guided tours, depending on your comfort level. Rolling Thunder River Company’s Nantahala River Rafting Center is located in Bryson City just off of highway 19. Plan on your trip lasting 3.5 hours (2 hours on the river).
The Chattooga River is a well-known whitewater experience in the South. The gorge offers 26-miles of rafting thrills. The river is free-flowing and a designated “Wild and Scenic River”. As such, the rapids depend greatly upon the time of year and the level of rainfall. With Wildwater Rafting, there are several options to experience the Chattooga River for varying levels of comfort.
You’ll start your journey at the Wildwater Chattooga Adventure Center in Long Creek, SC. From there, you’ll have the chance to do a mini adventure, explore a single section of the river, or go for the full experience and do an overnight adventure. The length of your trip ranges from from 4 hours to two days, depending on your selection.
Section 4 of the river is a strenuous ride that is fully guided and requires previous rafting experience. The minimum age for this section is 12. Section 3 is more moderate, but is still fully guided. The minimum age for this section is 8. Excursions are available from early March to early November.
High Mountain Expeditions
Whitewater rafting along Wilson Creek in NC offers an action packed adventure. The Wilson Creek drops more than 85 feet per mile, meaning that you’ll experience several drops ranging from 5 feet to 10 feet. High Mountain Expeditions offers funyak trips where you’ll be on a personal inflatable kayak. Rapids along this trip range from Class II to Class V. As the river is rougher on this excursion, the minimum age is 12. However, no previous experience is necessary.
The trip begins and ends in Banner Elk, NC. You’ll travel a total of 2.5 miles down the river, which typically takes between 2 to 6 hours. Along the way, you’re able to stop for a swim in one of the many deep pools of clear refreshing waters.
French Broad Adventures
A short, 25-minute drive from Asheville, NC, will bring you to a family-friendly thrilling outdoor adventure that you won’t forget. French Broad Adventures offers several different packages for whitewater rafting trips along the French Broad River. The trips range in distance from 5 to 9 miles and in time from 3 to 6 hours. Depending on the route you select, you’ll make your way through Class I to IV rapids. The minimum age for all trips is 8.
Find the outpost in Marshall, NC. Each trip includes a knowledgeable guide and a snack or lunch. The French Broad Adventures guides are also known for being incredibly friendly and funny, making your excursion even more memorable.
Try A Self-Guided Trip on the Nantahala
While we don't recommend this for first-time rafters on the Nantahala, seasoned rafters can guide their own raft from Paddle Inn. You'll encounter class I-III rapids. You can score a deal for this trip on Groupon: 2.5 hour tour for four people – $95.
US National Whitewater Center
North Carolina is home to the largest man-made whitewater river, located right in the largest city in the state. Charlotte hosts the US National Whitewater Center, where visitors can experience class II-IV rapids with the help of a trained guide. The river offers four distinct sections that cater to a variety of ages and experience, meaning it’s an ideal adventure for families.
The minimum age for the introductory level is 8 while some of the more adventurous runs require you to be 11 or 16 years old. A rafting trip on the manmade river lasts about an hour, with a 30-minute safety presentation beforehand. The center also offers many other activities including ziplining, ropes courses, rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking.
Whitewater Rafting NC and SC
No matter what your level of experience is, there’s sure to be a whitewater rafting adventure for you. Whether you want to truly dive into the natural beauty of the south or simply escape the city for a few hours with a manmade river, one of these trips will fulfill your needs. Start checking the whitewater rafting trips off your list and share your experiences with us on social media by tagging #carolinatravelr. Plus, there’s news of a whitewater rafting park coming in South Carolina in the fall of 2022. Stay tuned for more news on this!