Fall has arrived. The leaves have changed from the lush green of summer to the bright reds, oranges, and yellows of fall. For many, this is the ideal time to visit the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The weather is perfect for hiking, biking, taking a scenic drive, or heading over to the Pigeon River for an exhilarating Tennessee whitewater rafting adventure with us here at Big Creek Expeditions.
During the fall, we get many calls from folks looking to experience the whitewater and foliage of the Pigeon River gorge. Unfortunately, there is one very important factor to keep in mind that affects when trips are available this time of year; the Pigeon River is dam controlled. Water levels on dam controlled rivers can fluctuate greatly depending on whether or not water is being released from the dam. During the summer months we have scheduled water releases from the dam. Outside of the scheduled water release days water levels are subject to seasonal rainfall. If there is not enough rain then trips down the Pigeon River may not be what guests are looking for in a whitewater rafting adventure. Simply put… not as much water, not as much fun.
On low water days the river is filled with rocks instead of waves. Instead of paddling through rapids while rolling down the gorge, guests typically get a taste of what we call “raft assisted hiking”. Rocks exposed by the low water are so prevalent that guests find themselves having to get out of the boat to un-glue their trusty raft from one of the many rocks. Needless to say that attempting to traverse over slippery rocks while heaving your raft down the river is not what many guests are looking for when they sign up for a whitewater rafting adventure. To put this in technical terms, water levels during the summer months average out to 1,200 cfs (cubic feet per second), while water levels on low release days can drop to 150 cfs. The point we wish to convey is that the difference is significant.
Luckily, there is one thing that can change all of these low-water-worries… rain. If the lake where the river is dammed becomes filled with seasonal rainfall then water must be released. During the fall, it is common for us to get enough rain to provide guests with all that they expect from a whitewater rafting adventure. There are also times during the fall that we get enough rain for water levels to be far above the average water levels during the summer season. Guests lucky enough to catch the river on these days experience what is for many, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The difficulty lies in the unpredictable nature of these water releases. Experience has taught us that many guests do not enjoy low water conditions. We try to avoid taking reservations ahead of time during this season in hopes of preventing the frustration that results when guests feel uninformed or mislead. This makes planning ahead difficult, but we want to ensure that guests receive the best rafting experience possible.
Our recommendation for fall and spring rafters is to call us closer to the day you wish to schedule your trip. We receive daily updates of the lake levels and then make informed decisions as to whether or not water will be released. If we are confident that guests will receive the best rafting experience possible then we are happy to schedule trips. Phone (877.642.7238) and email inquiries are answered year round. If you’re looking to schedule a trip, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to answer all questions and relay our most up-to-date information regarding water releases and trip availability.
For more info regarding water levels, you can get see hourly updates of water levels by visiting the USGS National Water System site by clicking here. Also, for information on what to wear during cooler rafting days you can visit our What To Bring Checklist. We do offer wet-suits available for rental and spray jackets are free to take down the river. If the wetsuit and spray jacket are combined then you can expect to be comfortable even in the coolest of days.