For many people, a trip to the Smokies wouldn’t be complete without the chance to go tubing. Here is our guide to tubing in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Where can you go tubing near Gatlinburg?
The places to tube are the Little, Big Pigeon, and Oconaluftee Rivers. To get the most out of your tubing adventure, you should understand the river systems, outfitters that run tours, and the conditions to be prepared for.
With both lazy rivers and gentle rapids, tubing is a great way to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. I love a tubing adventure with out of town friends or as a way to bond with the family over a long weekend. Below I’ll break down everything you need to know to get the most out of your tubing experience in Gatlinburg.
About Gatlinburg’s Tubing Rivers
There are lots of great rivers for tubing in Gatlinburg, so it’s important to choose one that’s right for your group’s skill level. Obviously, you want to cater to the lowest common denominator of your group!
If you have little ones or folks that are apprehensive about water activities, you should shoot for the slow-rolling rivers.
Likewise, if you have adrenaline junkies, like my family in the group, there are some equally wild rides to be found in Gatlinburg.
The Little Pigeon River is a popular choice for beginners and families because it features gentle currents and small rapids on a portion of the route that is perfect for first-timers.
For those looking for more adventure, the Big Pigeon River is ideal.
While it has slower parts, it also has deeper water levels and more challenging rapids in some areas, making it perfect for experienced tubers who want a bit more excitement.
Taking a guide is your best bet as they will be knowledgeable about avoiding or pursuing certain areas of the rapids depending on ability and preferences.
Getting Ready To Tube
Once you’ve chosen your river, it’s time to get prepared. You’ll need to make sure you have all the necessary equipment and clothing.
If you are going with a company or guided tour, they will provide things like life jackets. Either way, these are some things to keep in mind when you pack up for your tubing trip.
- Clothes made out of quick-drying materials (think nylon or polyester).
- Packaged food or drinks (you don’t want waterlogged sandwiches).
- UV-blocking sunglasses.
- A dry bag for phones, keys, and wallets.
- A change of clothes.
- A first aid kit because you never know what a day on the river holds!
- A waterproof camera.
The Best Tubing Rivers in Gatlinburg
There are a few tubing “outposts” that become busier during the summer months. These are great options for easy entries and exits.
The Little Pigeon River
The Little Pigeon River is one of the most popular spots for tubing in Gatlinburg.
It’s known for its wide variety of activities, ranging from slow-paced floats down the river to thrilling whitewater rapids.
While names like The Lost Guide, Full of Water, Powerhouse and SnapDragon, you get an idea of what to expect. The rapids can be difficult to navigate, so it’s important to have experience before tackling them alone.
The Big Pigeon River
As mentioned above, Big Pigeon River is much more suitable for those who prefer a tranquil float downriver and don’t want any surprises along the way.
This area typically sees Class I and Class II rapids down a six mile stretch.
The lower section of these rapids are easily navigable, so it’s great for those who want a low-stress experience or those who are new to tubing or with young children.
Along with its mild rapids and gentle curves, the Big Pigeon River offers stunning views of mountains and forests throughout your journey.
The Oconaluftee River
The Oconaluftee River is another popular option for tubing near Gatlinburg. This river is great for all levels of tubers and offers both slow-moving sections that are easy to navigate.
Its clear blue water, and surrounding lush scenery provides an incredible backdrop during your journey downriver.
In addition, unlike some other rivers in this area, you won’t have to worry about crowds here as it isn’t quite as well known as other tubing rivers nearby.
Who To Tube Within Gatlinburg
Tubing is a super popular outdoor pastime in Gatlinburg whether you’re just out for a good “float” or want to hit the rapids. There are a number of companies that cater to tubers of all levels.
Most companies will offer a safety briefing, gear, and all will offer safety information about the current conditions of the rivers.
The truth is, depending on the season the conditions can change. The best way to stay safe, especially if you are unfamiliar with the rivers, is to get a guided tour.
This won’t only give you peace of mind, it also comes with help getting in and out of the river, transfers, showers and changing rooms.
Smokey Mountain River Rat
This is one of the most popular outfits for guided tours and full day packages. They offer adventures suited for levels and even a full day adventure called the “Daycation” that involves two guided rafting expeditions.
Smokey Mountain River Rat not only offers all the amenities stated above, they also offer fully stocked river side cabana rentals.
Five Rivers Adventures
Fiver River Adventures is another great option that offers guided tubing tours. This outfit specializes in guided float tours of the Lower and Upper Pigeon Rivers. They can also accommodate children as young as three on their excursions. In addition to tubing Five Rivers Adventures offer whitewater rafting tours as well.
- Gatlinburg is an ideal destination to drop your tube in the water.
- Rapid classes range from Class I to III in most rapids in Gatlinburg Rivers.
- Little Pigeon, Big Pigeon, and the Oconaluftee Rivers are all great options for tubing.