Do you crave outdoor time to connect with Mother Nature? Does zip-lining or whitewater rafting over waterfalls appeal to the adventurer in you? We recommend booking an adventure with Wildwater Chattooga, which offers some of the best whitewater rafting in the southeast.
Best Whitewater Rafting in the Southeast: Wildwater Chattooga
You’ll find exciting adventures from Wildwater throughout the southeast, but I’m going to share my experience with them whitewater rafting and zip-lining in South Carolina at Wildwater Chattooga.
What You Need to Know About Wildwater Chattooga
Wildwater Adventures started when great-grandpa, Jim Greiner, first fell in love with the Chattooga River near Long Creek, SC in 1971.
Yep, Wildwater Chattooga started more than 50 years and is on its 3rd generation of kiddos running it.
What began as an endeavor in rafting the Chattooga has now morphed into a multi-location, multi-adventure family business that encompasses multiple locations in…
- North Carolina
- South Carolina and
What makes THIS location so incredibly special is that the Chattooga River is considered a free-flowing wild and scenic river, meaning that no one can develop along its banks, nor can anyone build a dam.
You won’t see condos, restaurants, shops or even any houses as you paddle this river.
In fact, it’s so regulated that you won’t even see any other rafting groups.
There are only a few companies licensed to guide on the Chattooga, and they coordinate who is on the river when, making this adventure truly once-in-a-lifetime!
Ready to get the adrenaline flowing yet?
You’ll have several options based on the age of your smallest adventurer.
For those 8 and up, opt for the mini for 4 hours if you’re beginners or Section 3 if you’re up for a moderate 7 hours on the water, including a stop for lunch and a hike or two.
If the youngest in your group is age 12 or older, you can choose from either the overnight trip or the strenuous 7-hour Section 4, which also includes lunch and hiking.
At check-in, you’ll be fitted with a:
- wet suit
- personal flotation device
- splash jacket
- And for a small extra fee, you can opt for wet boots
These were totally worth the extra spend, as my feet more readily positioned themselves without cumbersome shoes in the way when my legs were clinging for dear life to the raft tubes!
I took part in a Section IV rafting trip labeled “for the experienced and adventurous rafter,” which offers “the southeast’s most fabled set of rapids, the Five Falls.”
Five heart-pounding Class IV/V rapids are strung together over a 1/4-mile gorge, where the river drops more than 75 feet through rapids called…
- Sock’em Dog
I tried not to think too long and hard on it and chose to focus on the word “rafter”!
That’s the ticket. 🙂 Just like a float trip back in Missouri, right?
Thankfully, trips are led by highly-experienced guides and safety is No. 1!
After suiting up and picking your sandwich choice for lunch, you’ll head out for your safety briefing.
Here you’ll learn…
- What to do if you fall out of the raft
- How not to club someone with your paddle
- And, most importantly, to give strict attention to your guide’s commands
While boarding the bus, their resident musician will serenade you, playing one of his many instruments, this time the banjo.
Each trip of this level has a medic along as well as 2-3 very experienced kayakers who forge ahead and set up ropes in case anyone were to fall out of their raft and need to swim for help.
While on the river, you’ll hear commands from your guide such as 2 forward and 2 back for help with paddling the raft.
In maneuvering through the falls, listen for instructions to…
- lean right
- lean left
- lean center
- get down as you plunge over the falls!
Once you’ve gained a victory getting through and over the falls, you might want to reward yourself with some rock jumping into the cold waters to get your heart back into your chest.
During the course of the trip, you’ll pull to the bank a few times to stretch your legs or to get the blood flowing in them again.
I know mine felt like jelly when I tried to stand up the first time from tightly hugging the raft with everything in me.
To get your sea legs geared up for the next stretch, you’ll take a short hike to reach stunning Long Creek Falls, which is actually part of the Appalachian Trail.
The next time you stop, you’ll be treated to a delicious lunch, including your custom-made sandwich or wrap, on their custom-made table (a flipped-over raft) river side :).
Once you’ve had your fill, you’ll head off on the brief jaunt to Possum Falls.
You’d never imagine these waterfalls exist just a short hike away!
At the end of the day’s 7-hour trip, a small motorized fishing boat will meet you to pull you the last bit back to the bus, so you can end your trip relaxing on a high note instead of with sore muscles from paddling for 2 more miles.
After helping get all the supplies and rafts back on the bus, you’ll be basking in the warm glow of what you’ve accomplished and how much fun you had during your day on the Chattooga!
I think I was even more nervous about the zip-lining, knowing I would be mostly responsible for my own safety on this excursion and my ability to brake correctly.
I’ve never been too coordinated when it comes to this type of thing from falling off a motorbike at camp to walking down the bunny slope while skiing after falling off the lift.
Give me a roller coaster that someone else is in charge of any old time!
I shouldn’t have worried though, because again, safety and training come first at Wildwater!
With their 2 Canopy Rangers to help on each trip, this beginner was so reassured.
We got suited up and went over all the guidelines.
Then they give you a practice run at Ground School, their close-to-the-ground short zip-line as a start. Super, duper helpful!
After that, it’s a long climb up to the first platform and then…one thing I was especially nervous about: jumping off the platform into midair.
Well, that’s not the way it’s actually done, which was a huge relief!
Instead, sit down over the platform while all strapped in and then push off when you’re ready to go. Whew!
You’ll get over half a mile of air time between their canopy zip lines, sky bridges and zips across the lake, including one for racing (my husband won!) and then ending with the 1,200-foot Bell Tower Express that launches off their 50-foot tower.
Before you know it, a couple of hours will “zip” by :)!
Soon, you’ll have both feet firmly planted on the ground again.
I’m proud to say I only ran over my hand one time! 🙂
Other Available Activities
Still up for more adventures?
Why not try one of these additional activities that you can book on-site?
- Sit-on-top River Kayaking – fully guided tour through class 1 and 2 sections of the Chattooga, 6 hours
- Stand Up Paddle Boarding – fully guided tour on peaceful Lake Tugaloo, 4 hours
- Kayak Tour – fully guided tour on Lake Tugaloo, 4 hours
- White Water Kayak Instruction – fully guided tour on Lake Tugaloo and calm sections of the Chattooga, 5-6 hours
- Rope Challenge Course – facilitators challenge your group on low and high ropes as well as the climbing tower
No need to look for a place to stay as they’ve got you covered at Wildwater Chattooga.
You can choose from…
- group yurts
- family yurts
- a house or two
- some very up-to-date cabins, including one “treehouse” for 2
They’ve got something for everyone.
We opted for one of the newer cabins, which consisted of a large open living/dining/kitchen combination with fireplace, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a large covered porch with table and chairs.
Honestly, it was nicer than my house and almost as big!
With the kitchen more than adequately furnished, you can bring along all your own food and do a little cooking at day’s end.
If you opt not to cook, Wildwater can cater your food, or you can take the short drive to nearby Humble Pie for a salad, pizza, sandwich or wrap.
Granddaughter Cricket, who runs the day-to-day at Wildwater Chattooga can steer you toward the myriad of nearby waterfalls within a short driving distance.
We chose Brass Town Falls, only 15 minutes away by car.
With recently upgraded trails, you’ll be able to admire 3 different falls all within less than an hour’s walk. Each is stunningly beautiful!
We just don’t have anything like it where we live, so it amazes me that these are tucked away everywhere in this part of the country.
And depending on which Wildwater location you choose, you’ll be within a 1.5-hour drive or less of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation’s most visited FREE national park!
Wildwater’s Other Locations
Wildwater Asheville, Asheville, NC
Choose from 1 of 5 challenges, including their
- Kid Zip
- Adventure Park (with over 60 challenge activities) or
- KOLO Bike Park in the heart of Asheville
Wildwater Nantahala, Near Bryson City, NC
Choose from 1 of 10 trips near Bryson City, including…
- Rafting the Nantahala River
- Jeep tour
- And even a train ride
- Or any combo of the above
Stay in Yurt Village or rent their group lodge.
Wildwater Ocoee, Near Ducktown, TN
Choose from 1 of 4 trips, including zip-lining from ages 8+ and river-rafting from ages 12+.
Wildwater Pigeon, Near Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, TN
Choose from 1 of 4 trips, including 2 sections of the Pigeon River, to raft where you can even take your very youngest family members along starting at age 4. Yes, you read that right, age 4!
Labeled “easy,” this 5-mile stretch consists of class I-II rapids and plenty of time to play in the water.
Let them get their feet wet and hooked on adventure at the earliest age possible!
Need even more adventure?
Fly across and above the Pigeon River on the Canopy Zip Line Tours offered to ages 8 and up.
Plan Your Upcoming Visit
Are you ready to head to one of Wildwater’s locations for a whitewater rafting or zip-lining adventure?
If so, let me know in the comments all about your experience.
And don’t forget to check Wildwater’s website for any upcoming activity or lodging specials before booking your adventure!