- Eric Champlin for the AJC
It's an exhilarating adrenaline rush: floating on a raft with a group of thrill seekers, rounding a river's bend and spotting churning whitewater rapids ahead. The thrills of navigating boulder-strewn rivers, plunging over falls and taking a drenching from the river make whitewater rafting one of the most exciting (and refreshing) adventure sports in the Southeast.
Whether you're new to the sport or a seasoned veteran, there's a variety of great whitewater rafting options within several hours of Atlanta. From mild, family friendly whitewater on the Chattahoochee to wild runs on the 1996 Olympic whitewater course on the Ocoee, nearby whitewater filled rivers offer a great late summer adventure.
Raft the metro 'Hooch for a mild whitewater paddle close to home. Grab some friends for a self-guided rafting adventure, and plan for either a full or half day on the river. You'll catch some mild whitewater action on class I-II rapids near Powers Island, but most of the river's run through metro Atlanta is mild, perfect for a lazy, sunny afternoon on the river.
Float the Chattahoochee Whitewater Park in Columbus through a scenic 2.5 mile urban whitewater course. Daily dam releases on the Chattahoochee change the river's flow throughout the day, offering rafting adventures from mild to wild. Early in the day, raft the Chattahoochee through beginner friendly, class I-IV rapids. In the afternoon, the river cranks up to class III-V rapids and more than 10 times the morning flow, making a great venue for a guide-led, adrenaline-filled urban paddle.
The Ocoee River was the site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater course, and continues to offer exciting, scenic and challenging whitewater rafting experiences. On the Upper Ocoee, you'll raft an easy, gentle paddle along scenic river banks before building up to the roaring rapids of the Olympic whitewater course. It's a five or ten mile guided rafting trip that floats through some beautiful scenery and over some incredible class III-IV rapids. On the Middle Ocoee, raft class III-IV rapids on the river as it cascades and tumbles 269 feet over another 5 miles through the beautiful Cherokee National Forest.
The Chattooga River flows nearly crystal-clear through some seriously challenging whitewater. The Chattooga flows through the Chattahoochee National Forest near Clayton and offers guide-led options for the beginner to experienced rafters in two sections of the river.
On the milder Chattooga River Section III, you'll float a full day on the river, splashing and paddling through class II and III rapids as you course through progressively more challenging whitewater. Section III ends at Bull Sluice, a fun two-stage, 14 foot drop that serves up a taste of what Section IV has in store.
If you're a rafting veteran looking for some serious adventure, you may want to give the challenging Chattooga Section IV a try. This section is recommended for those with previous rafting experience, coursing through a series of five falls, dropping over 75 feet and floating some of the most challenging waters east of the Mississippi River.
The Nantahala River runs through the Nantahala National Forest near Bryson City, NC, and offers a family-friendly float on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. You'll navigate through nearly constant class II – III rapids on a scenic 8 mile rafting trip. Choose a fully guided half day rafting trip – or for those with rafting experience, rent gear and paddle on your own.
Enjoy beautiful, scenic views of the Great Smoky Mountains as you paddle the adventurous whitewater of the Pigeon River near Pigeon Forge, TN. Raft the Upper Pigeon River for an exciting trip through class III-IV rapids. Or opt for a guided rafting adventure on the Lower Pigeon River, paddling 5 miles through class I-II whitewater rapids that are mild and family friendly.
Looking for a milder adventure on the water close to home? Paddle Atlanta's rivers and lakes by kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard for a refreshing, scenic float before summer ends. Need paddle gear? Shop local, and gear up at our favorite locally-owned outdoor stores.