RITS - On the Pigeon River

In August of 2016, I went on vacation with my husband and three-year-old daughter. I had been to the Smokies on plenty of vacations growing up and was always a bit interested in whitewater rafting. I knew due to my daughter’s age, she couldn’t experience the full whitewater rafting adventure, but I was aware of what they call “Family Float” trips on the Little Pigeon River. Other states also have family float trips, which is a milder rafting experience.

We went to Rafting in the Smokies (“RITS”), which is conveniently right off the I-40 Hartford exit. The best way to get to RITS was to take 321 North via Cosby. You’ll end up on the Foothills Parkway, where you can use one of the pull-offs for wonderful panoramic photos. Give yourself plenty of time before arriving.

RITS Family Adventure Outfitter Area

When we arrived, I noticed that there was even special parking for motorcycles and charging stations for electric vehicles! Not very common in such an out-of-the-way area. I learned that RITS had them installed several years ago so travelers using electric vehicles can still use electricity and not have to resort to gas. You can read more in the blog post they wrote in 2011.

Blink Car Charging Station at RITS

Immediately after arriving, we checked in and started filling out the waiver forms. I highly suggest you do these onlineI forgot to fill them out at home, and our cabin didn’t have a printer. Give yourself at least five minutes per waiver. They aren’t long, but if you have a lot of people in your group it can take a while.

We proceeded to our safety briefing with the raft guides and were broken up into rafting groups with one guide per boat. We got our life jackets and helmets on and checked by our guide, who ensured the fit was good. Then we made our way across the suspension bridge down to the edge of the river where our boats were waiting.

RITS Swinging Bridge

We were educated on how to sit in the raft. During our trip, my daughter sat in the middle of the raft on the bottom, which was the safest area for her. My husband (the strong paddler) sat in the front, and I sat in the middle. We all gripped our paddles, anchored our feet, and started our trip. Jason, our raft guide, had a pink hat. He told us how he was a veteran, and rafting helped give his life purpose after his time in the military. He wants to start a rafting company staffed by veterans, to provide them the same joy that he has.

Besides the stories we learned from Jason, we also learned about rafting. We even did a trick on the water, swinging around the rock. The rafting part of the trip was fantastic! One might not think you’d get much rapids with a family float, but I was surprised! We got completely soaked and hit several rapids sideways which helped splash the water in. The guide intentionally steered us in that way for the experience. My daughter was a bit tentative at first, but then she got excited with the splashes, saying “Oh that was a BIG one!” whenever we hit them.

Safety was also a big concern, as we watched other rafting companies allowing rafters to get out of the boat. Our guide said we should never do that where they were doing it, because you can easily get pulled by the current and it was dangerous. He also made sure we had good holds on our paddles and would remind us if we were holding them improperly, as they can get lost into the rapids otherwise.

Playing at the edge of the Pigeon River

All in all, our whitewater rafting trip was a very memorable experience and a highlight of our trip to the Smoky Mountains. My husband thoroughly enjoyed it. He was cracking jokes the entire time. If you ever have the opportunity to do whitewater rafting, I encourage it.


Do you want to try whitewater rafting while you’re visiting the Smoky Mountains? Check out all of the rafting and tubing listings on MobileBrochure.com. Remember to save them to your account for later. Do you have a great whitewater rafting story? Leave a comment below and share it with other readers.

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About April Sadowski

April Sadowski is a wife, mother of a toddler, and a travel junkie. She's a content author for the Smoky Mountain region and is always looking for the latest tip for making a vacation a memorable one.

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