Bounce. Dip. Back up. Spin. Splash. Cold! The thrills (and sometimes spills) of rapids are Mother Nature’s rollercoaster ride. Here are four of the most fun whitewater adventures in the Southeast.
- River to Run: The Ocoee River, Ducktown, Tennessee Out of whitewater runs in the Southeast, the Ocoee offers one of the wildest rides (photo by Torrey Wiley)What to Expect: Flowing through the Tennessee mountains, the intense whitewater on the upper portion of this river hosted the 1996 Olympic kayaking competition, but for everyone else, the middle section of the Ocoee offers plenty of non-stop action. It’s actually the most popular stretch of whitewater in the country, and while it includes some pretty fast and steep falls, including Class III and IV rapids with names like Table Saw, Double Trouble, and Double Suck, thousands of novices, including kids, run it each year in a raft outfitted with an expert guide (who is usually outfitted with an entertaining personality). Everyone wears lifejackets and helmets and undergoes some basic paddling and safety training before ever boarding their raft. Once on the water, the guide handles steering and shouts out easy-to-follow paddling instructions to the rest of the group, making it easy to soak in the fun. And soak you will. Thanks to standing waves splashing you with fresh—and cold—water all along the route, you’ll be wet but smiling from start to finish.
- River to Run: The Nantahala River, Bryson City, North Carolina Nantahala Falls is the final rapid on the Nantahala River run and also the biggest (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)What to Expect: This lovely river, draped in blooming mountain laurel branches, winds its way through a deep gorge and offers nearly eight miles of more mild but still exciting Class II rapids. On the Nantahala, you can embark on a guided raft trip, or if you have some paddling experience, captain your own raft group. Intermediate paddlers can easily handle a canoe or duckie (a single or double canoe-shaped raft) on this river. The two-three-hour trip includes several opportunities to bank your boat of choice and take in the scenery and a swim in some of the still water. Things really pick up at the end of your trip though. Right before you reach the take-out point, you’ll hit the rumble and roar of Nantahala Falls, a Class III rapid that provides an amazing, adrenaline-fueled rush. Before you take the plunge, you can paddle to the bank and walk a little ways to take a scouting look at the Falls.
- River to Run: Coosa River, Wetumpka, Alabama Central Alabama’s Coosa River is a great place for beginning whitewater paddlers to hone their skills (photo by Jennifer Kornegay)What to Expect: A paddle down the Jordan Dam Tailwater portion of the Coosa River in Wetumpka promises a little adventure and some wildlife watching, served with a side of refreshing breezes. This seven-mile, dam-controlled stretch of the Coosa is the only whitewater on Alabama’s Scenic River Trail—the longest designated water trail in the country—and hosts an annual whitewater festival each May. Its clean waters are cool but not too cold, and its rock-strewn bed and banks create numerous class II rapids and one class III that, combined, are just thrilling enough to satisfy more experienced paddlers and easy enough to show novice paddlers a great time without scaring them off the sport. Places to pull over and swim are abundant, as are the flora and fauna, including the rare and lovely Cahaba Lily. When you reach the only class III rapid, Moccasin Gap, pull your boat up to the rock island and take a snack break. If you’re lucky, kayakers will be there putting on a show as they practice freestyle kayak tricks in the rapid.
- River to Run: Hiwassee, Reliance, Tennessee The Hiwassee River is mild enough for an older kid to tube but still thrilling enough to keep things interesting (photo by Lookout Belle)What to Expect: This shimmering, rocky river in the Cherokee National Forest runs through North Carolina and Georgia before turning into Tennessee. It was the first river that state chose to protect with its State Scenic River program. The Hiwassee’s 5.5-mile whitewater stretch is one of the gentler runs in the area, with only Class I and II rapids, making it perfect for first-timers or small children. Anyone over age twelve can float the entire run in an inner tube. The water is clean and clear, and multiple swimming holes beg you to take a dip.