Gatlinburg’s Great Outdoors: The 7 Best Rivers Near Gatlinburg

Wondering where to spend your next summer holiday when you visit Gatlinburg for an outdoor experience. Here are the best places to visit.

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What are the best rivers near Gatlinburg?

The best places to go swimming and do watersports in Gatlinburg are the Pigeon River, the Smoky Mountain River, and the Little River. Dotted with scenic and great swimming holes, so it’s unlikely you’ll go far without finding a place in Gatlinburg to cool off in the water.

Tour experts and travel enthusiasts recommend the below five swimming holes and rivers near Gatlinburg, TN, and Smoky Mountains National Park.

From my experience traveling to this side of the country, I can comfortably confirm that they live up to the hype, so have your swimwear, water shoes, and sunscreen ready for a thrilling summer!

1. Pigeon River

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With amazing campgrounds located right next to the Pigeon River, guests have amazing ways to cool off when visiting during the summer. Pigeon River located in Tennessee is known for a broad selection of fun things to do in the river.

Whitewater rafting is one of them. The Pigeon River has exciting rapids, and you can experience them when you go rafting.

More so, wildlife and wildflowers alike can be seen on your descent. Each section of the river offers a unique rafting experience and beautiful scenery.

Dip your feet into the water and take it easy at one of the many spots along the riverbank. Camping spots can be found deep in the mountains so that you can escape the hustle and bustle of city life. 

Pigeon River is a fantastic location for kayaking too. For those who are interested in trying out kayaking, the river’s currents are ideal.

Check the weather forecast before setting out on your kayaking adventure, as the speed of the currents will vary depending on the weather conditions.

You can also go fishing on the West Prong Little Pigeon River on crystal clear water.

2. Smoky Mountain River Rat

In the midst of the great Smoky Mountains, the Smoky Mountain River Rat is the greatest place to cool off and relax. Experiences like Whitewater Rafting and Tubing will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.

The primary tubing route in this Nashville river, Outpost A, is suitable for families with children aged 2 and up. It’s a great place to bring family members or your dog and kick back and relax. 

There are some calm rapids, some swimming spots, as well as a rock jump along the way. 

It’s a two-hour hike that covers two miles and offers breathtaking scenery the whole way. Your leisurely float will begin right at Outpost A, and when it’s over, you may hop on the Toober Uber and be transported back to the start.

An exciting float trip for those aged 6 and up, Outpost B takes the adventure to the next level with its thrilling rapids. 

Enjoy breathtaking mountain scenery, thrilling rapids, refreshing swimming holes, and more on this exciting journey. Floating down this section of the river takes around an hour because Pigeon River flows for about a mile.

You can easily reach Smoky Mountain River Rat from nearby Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and the entire family will have a great day here. 

You can float for an hour, a day, or even the entire trip duration if you purchase a pass. If you get hungry, you can enjoy Southern dining at the Old Mill Restaurant; the prices at the Mill restaurant are affordable too.

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Pigeon Forge tubing at River Rat can be experienced in various ways. After your exciting experience on the water, you can stop at Mill Pottery House Café for lunch or dinner.

3. Little River

Little River has many attractions to offer its visitors. Individuals who value time spent in nature will be thrilled to spend time enjoying Little River Watersports and cycling or driving down Little River Road, best known route to Cades Cove loop road from Gatlinburg.

You could also explore the Laurel Creek Road which connects visitors to Cades Cove Loop Road beyond the Townsend Wye area.

You’re missing out if you’ve never tried a jet ski before. However, critical guidelines must be followed to ensure your safety while on trips. 

All jet ski drivers are required to be at least 16 years old. Additionally, we’ll need to see your driver’s license. This is a present for the whole family, so take advantage of spending time together.

One of my favorites to cool off during the summer is tubing down the river. Tubing is a fun and safe alternative when the weather is too hot for kayaking or canoeing. 

Everyone has their own tube, no special skills are needed, and everyone can keep their calm and good spirits while doing it. Plus, young kids who aren’t quite ready to go rafting can have fun on the tubes.

4. River Romp

The spot is great for a round of kayaking/tubing or even fishing. More so, you will get an opportunity to take in a unique view of the Great Smoky Mountains.   Floating down the river should help you forget your woes. 

There are no requirements regarding size or physical ability to participate in the activities. 

As long as adults accompany them, kids aged 2 to 4 get in free. Life vests are available as part of the rental equipment for a safe Smoky Mountain vacation.

Make sure the river is manageable by calling ahead of time. There would be days when the river flow was low, making the journey longer.

The cost is good for the full day, so you may also make and bring food along and enjoy River Romp’s picnic areas. 

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5. French Broad River

Camping, biking, hiking along its banks (remember to pack for a hike), and paddling in a kayak or canoeing are just some of the many opportunities to take advantage of the French Broad River at the heart of a national forest. 

You can stop at any of the scenic routes and several parks on your way to go fishing, view birds, have a picnic, or do anything else your heart desires.

A fishing guide could take you on a float excursion down the river, where you might catch a bass or trout that will be worthy of a trophy display. 

Paddling through those picture-perfect vistas on a raft must be one of the most fantastical experiences ever. Some parts of the river are calm and relaxing, while others can be quite intense and thrilling.

The French Broad River also urges you to attempt paddle boarding. You’ll want to head to the river’s more placid stretches, of which there are several. 

After leaving Rosman, the river travels for a considerable distance across flat, rural terrain. Class I rapids are plentiful in this long section of the river, making it an excellent spot for canoeing or kayaking. 

The river is accessible from a multitude of locations in and around Asheville.

6. Little Pigeon River

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Not to be confused with the bigger Pigeon River, Little Pigeon River runs through several towns including Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. This river was responsible for keeping its namesake towns lights on until 1935 when modern day electricity took over. 

This river is very family friendly and great for a leisurely float, swimming in its quiet pools (in some parts) and strolling down the nearby Riverwalk. Located at the  middle prong of the river,  Greenbrier is one the most popular swimming holes in the area. 

The crystal clear water of this lends itself to a good tube float down this river which is a great activity to relax with family. You can enjoy the beautiful scenery while making a carefree river run. A float trip can be booked with Smoky Mountain River Rat
The Inn on the River is a popular place to stay and offers breathtaking views on private balconies and outdoor patios. In addition, between river adventures you can pop into Old Mill Restaurant  and The Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille for a bite to eat. While the mill was used to grind grain, you can still see its inner workings around the cafe today. 

7. Oconaluftee River

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The stunning Oconaluftee River is one of nature’s true marvels. Originating in the Great Smoky Mountains, this river takes the scenic route for nearly 60 miles before flowing all the way to Cherokee, North Carolina. 

The river’s headwaters are just 6 miles from Gatlinburg and 15 miles from Bryson City in Western North Carolina, making it a great destination for day trips or longer visits. From exploring the area’s numerous cascading waterfalls and green woodlands along its course, to swimming or fishing in its cool waters, there’s something for everyone at the renowned Oconaluftee River. 

Key Takeaways

  • Top Gatlinburg spots include Pigeon River, Little River, and French Broad River.
  • There are plenty of exciting outdoor activities on rivers in Gatlinburg, TN.
  • Most of the spots are kid-friendly, and you can enjoy your trip with the entire family.
  • Expect to have a thrilling experience catching views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Before you set for a Gatlinburg rivers trip, confirm the suitability of weather conditions.