Water Levels & Rafting Schedule

pigeon river rafting
When planning a rafting trip, the first question that many ask is “When are rafting trips available”? Here in the Smoky Mountains that question is not always easy to answer.

The Pigeon River is dam controlled. What does this mean for you and your group? Well, when water is released from the dam, rafting trips are just what you expect in a whitewater adventure – crashing waves and exciting rapids. When water is not released, the river changes significantly. Rapids decrease in size, and there will be more rocks then you can shake a stick at. Understandably, these low water conditions are not what many guests expect when signing up for a rafting adventure.

Fortunately, we have scheduled water release days. In the 2015 rafting season, scheduled water release days begin April 27th and extending until the first Saturday in September.

2015 Rafting Calendar

Want a to see a full view of all rafting days available? To view a printable version of the 2015 Rafting Schedule, please click here.

If you are planning to visit the Smokies in the early spring or fall, outside of the scheduled water release days, we still have options available.

We want to provide the best rafting experience possible. To do that, we avoid running low-water trips. That doesn’t mean we’re not open for business, it just means that we have developed a few strategies to keep things running smoothly. If you’re planning to schedule a rafting trip during the fall or early spring, please keep in mind the following:

  • Each trip will have a Call-In Time 3 hours before your scheduled check-in time. When you call, we will provide an update on the projected water levels for that day, before you depart for our outpost.
  • Trips are subject to rescheduling and cancellation based on water levels
  • No fee will be charged for any trips that we reschedule or cancel

Trips are still available for reservation both online and by phone (toll free at 877.642.7238). Please take a little time to look over the rafting schedule calendar in the link above. For more info about the trips we offer, check out our Rates & Dates page.

Whitewater Rafting 2012 Season Open for Reservations

Our experienced guides at Big Creek Expeditions are gearing up for the best season yet. Book your rafting adventure today. Our preseason deal is available. Reserve your spot today!

Fall Rafting Report

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.

Insider’s Tips: Gatlinburg Lodging

Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville TN are the vacation destinations-of-choice for millions of travelers each year.  Some come to get the thrill of Tennessee white water rafting.  Some come to take in the mountains and wildlife at Cades Cove.  Still others come for the shopping in Downtown Gatlinburg, or the Tanger Outlets in Sevierville.  No matter the reason for coming, every Smoky Mountain visitor is looking for the right places to spend their time and money while in the area.  The problem is finding the right choice amidst a maddening amount of options.  It can be hard to sort the good from the not-so-good without a little help. 

Year-round, I do my best to answer the requests from guests for advice on what to do, where to eat, and where to stay while in the Smoky Mountains.   During this down time in the rafting season, I have been making it my mission to find more of the best places to recommend to our rafting guests. 

For many of you, travel preparations will begin by looking for the right place to stay.  Each town in the area has a seemingly endless number of options to choose from.  Do you want a hotel, motel, resort, or cabin rental?  Do you want the closest option to Dollywood, downtown Gatlinburg, or the Smoky Mountains?  Are you looking for nothing more than a place to hang your hat at the end of a busy day of activities, or are you more interested in the comfort of a hot tub and a plush couch to relax in?  Personally I would like to have a little bit of everything.  Over the next few months, I will be trying to give a range of recommendations that offer a little to everyone.

Today’s recommendation is for those who are looking for a little bit of downtown Gatlinburg and a little bit of the Smoky Mountains… a close proximity to the major attractions while keeping a little distance from the crowds… all while being able to enjoy the creature comforts of a luxurious log cabin.  I found all these qualities on a recent visit to White Oak Lodge and Resort in Gatlinburg, TN.

White Oak is located only a 20-30 minute scenic drive from our rafting outpost and only 10 minute drive from downtown Gatlinburg,.  Guests staying here will have quick access to your rafting adventure and plenty of choices of restaurants, shows, and attractions.  The resort is also bordered by the Smoky Mountains National Park on one side and Cobbly Nob Golf Course on the other.  Taken together, this allows the best-of-all-worlds vacation that many of our guests are looking for, including me.   

Run by John and Janine Koehane, the resort itself provides premium service.  The grounds offer a pool with waterfall, tennis courts, and well kept landscaping.  The cabins are all great.  Larger cabins allow the sleeping capacity for large groups, and more intimate cabins are available for couples or small families.  Every cabin is extremely comfortable.  Each unit has high-beam ceilings, a hot tub, pool table, granite countertops, and high-end furniture and amenities.  Also, both John and Janine were extremely friendly to my family and me.  They made us feel at home, provided good recommendations on where to eat, and Janine even went as far as loaning us a fold-up baby crib for our 1 year-old son (we had forgotten ours mistakenly).  The crib was her personal one, normally used for her grandchildren.  She did not have to offer this and in doing so showed a consideration that travelers would be grateful for.  I feel very comfortable recommending this place to our rafters.  Next time you’re planning your Tennessee rafting trip, keep White Oak Lodge and Resort in mind.

On a side note: White Oak also offers cabin sales and Discovery Vacation Club Memberships… so if you find it harder to leave every time you’re in the Smokies or want to know more about the Club then follow the links or call 800.950.1110 and talk to John  and Janine.

 Planning ahead for your 2011 trip for white water rafting Tennessee? Make reservations soon to receive the best rates.  For more info visit our homepage, check us out on facebook, and see our informational video on youtube.

White Water Rafting – What River Guides Do On Their Day Off

Tip # 1 for planning your rafting trip:

- make sure the rafting company you choose has very experienced guides

It is a simple rule: your river guide will make, or break, any whitewater rafting trip.  As guests, you will immediately notice if your raft guide lacks command of the river, struggles to bring the best out of the crew, or just lacks passion towards the river and the job.  At Big Creek Expeditions not only do our guides love to raft, they are good at it.  For them, it is much more than just a job… it's a lifestyle.

This video shows a few Big Creek guides on their day-off, traveling down to the Chattooga River on the border of South Carolina and Georgia.  Section IV of the Chattooga, seen in this video, is filled with some of the steepest and most technical whitewater in the southeast.  At the time, these guides were running 12-15 trips a week on the Pigeon River and then chose to drive 3 hours each way just to go rafting again.  This says a lot… they sacrificed a rare chance at relaxation in a busy rafting season to enjoy themselves on a very challenging and beautiful river. 

So the next time you think about rafting in the Smoky Mountains, remember Tip #1; make sure that the rafting company you choose has great guides with a lot of experience on other rivers.

Become a fan of white water rafting in Tennessee to get information about the area, and our company on the Big Creek facebook page.
To get early season discounts in these freezing cold winter days make your rafting reservations online, or call us toll free at 866.477.RAFT.  Pigeon River rafting info is available year-round.

Gatlinburg White Water Rafting

Huge whitewater in the Pigeon River gorge, snow in the higher elevations… winter white water rafting in Tennessee is here.

Gatlinburg Activities

Whitewater Rafting in Gatlinburg: planning your trip

  Gatlinburg Activities

During our off-season we wanted to help you plan your next trip to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or Sevierville TN. To do this we will be providing reviews and recommendations for the best of what to do in the Smoky Mountains. Our hope is to give you all you need to have a great vacation before and after your rafting trip.

Our first recommendation for you is to visit Whole Earth Grocery in Gatlinburg. Along East Parkway, minutes from the center of town, you can find owner Jan Brady and her store. One of the best organic grocers in the Smoky Mountains, Whole Earth sells seasonal organic produce, Blue Smoke Coffee, canned organic foods, vitamins, natural beauty products, and much more. The store also serves organic snacks and meals freshly made. All the food on the menu is prepared with love and filled with the best ingredients. My personal favorite is the chicken salad wrap with pasta salad on the side. It is the perfect option for a summer lunch. Taken together, all the positives this store has to offer make this an ideal spot for the conscientious buyer. Next time you come whitewater rafting in TN with Big Creek Expeditions, we definitely recommend having lunch and shopping at Whole Earth Grocery.

Making your travel plans for next year? Call us year-round on our toll free number 866.477.7238, or make reservations online. For additional information about our company become a fan on facebook or check out our informational video on YouTube.

White Water Rafting in Tennessee – Fall Foliage

One of my favorite things about white water rafting in TN is the places it allows us to see. Well the Smoky Mountains are a must for white water rafting beginners and pros alike. The mountains here are some of the oldest in the world, and are ideal for all types of outdoor activities. Plus, fall is one of the most beautiful times to get on the river. The 2010 rafting season will be coming to a close soon. But the fall colors are amazing, and the weather here has been very warm. Before the arrival of colder days, come white water rafting in the Smoky Mountains with Big Creek Expeditions, Inc.

What To Do Before or After Your Rafting Trip: Hiking at Big Creek

Most of our guests come to our outpost just for the day.  Some folks drive from Knoxville, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or Sevierville TN.  Other rafters come from Asheville, or Maggie Valley NC.  The average guest drives about 45 minutes through the mountains to our outpost. The guests check-in, listen to one of our guides orientation talks,receive the necessary equipment, and spend about an hour and a half paddling through rapids while rolling down the Pigeon River Gorge.  After rafting, most guests load back in their cars and head straight back to their homes, hotels, or campsites.  One particularly good reason to spend more time here is found in the Big Creek entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Within 10 miles of our outpost visitors can find one of the least well known family friendly gems in the Smokies.  A short hike can take you to waterfalls, swimming holes, and picturesque forests.  The photos here were taken on a recent hike up to Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls. On your next rafting trip in the Smoky Mountains, be sure to take a little extra time to have a picnic, go swimming, or hiking at the Big Creek entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


What do guides do on their day off?

The question is commonly broached while floating down a river to a guide, "So, what do you do on your days off?"  The answer is not as simple as it may seem.  For Big Creek Expeditions, Inc. guides, the answer to a day off from rafting on the Pigeon River usually tends to find its solution while meandering country roads enroute, to float another river.  The best answer is usually the simplest.  We float another river…

In the Southeastern United States, particularly in the Smoky Mountains, there are endless options of river sections to chose from.  The hardest decision to make is where our next voyage will take us.  Recently, a trip to the Chattooga River on the border of Georgia and South Carolina was the destination.  A group of four Big Creek guides and brave significant others set off on a journey through Section IV of the Chattooga River for a Sunday afternoon excursion.  For most participants on the voyage, it would be our first sights to the magnificent, and heralded "Woodall Shoals" and the "Five Falls."  Pictures and video were taken of the expedition to divulge the grandeur of a marvelous jewel of the southeast. 
So, to accurately answer the question, "What does a river guide do on their day off," you just have to ask the guide the next time you are in their boat of where they just came from.
– Robert

whitewater excusion in the smoky mountains

whitewater river guides in appalachian mountains

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Water Levels & Rafting Schedule

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