White water rafting Georgia is about as popular as eating a ripe Georgia peach. That’s because the rivers in Georgia, like white water in Tennessee, and the Carolinas, are what makes the South a destination playground. Home to the Ocoee River, which became the focus of worldwide attention when it was chosen as the venue for the white water events of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Georgia offers a variety of river adventures for both beginners and experts.
White water rafting in Georgia is popular primarily because of the National Wild & Scenic Chattooga River, located in the northeast corner of Georgia in the Blue Ridge mountains. The Chattooga River flows southwest and is considered the actual state border of Georgia and South Carolina. Therefore, that’s why you’ll notice many reviews list it as both a South Carolina river as well as a Georgia river. The Chattooga River was designated a National Wild and Scenic River status in the early 1970s. At the time it was still an undeveloped river corridor, with only a handful of small white water outfitters on it. I know. I was one of them! Therefore, because so few rivers in the Southeast were protected and undeveloped it was easy to create a movement to preserve the Chattooga for all present and future generations.
Top White Water Rafting Georgia Rivers –
There are only a handful of white water rafting Georgia rivers offering class II to class-V water, including:
- The Chattooga
- The Ocoee River
- The Etowah River
- The Hiwassee River
- The Nantahala River
- The Toccoa River
- Chattahoochee River
However, there are many rivers that are flat water, or maybe have class I white water – which is essentially rippling water easily navigated by total beginners. Many of the outfitters listed here rent equipment ranging from inner tubes to canoes, kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and stand-up-boards. Therefore, if you’d like to try a river adventure on your own, check with these outfitters. They usually offer short instructions, with no instruction as the rivers you run are usually shallow 2-10 feet deep, and pose little risk to responsible adults with the proper gear.
However, if you prefer coastal flatwater, and the occasional alligator or two, plan on paddling (not tubing) Cathead Creek. Your trip will take you through the rare tidal forest, overgrown with freshwater vegetation and teaming with wildlife. Alligators, night herons, and ibis can be seen as well as dolphins and manatees during the warmer months.
The Chattooga – White Water Rafting Georgia
“Paddle faster. I hear banjos.” You can find this quote on plenty of t-shirts. However, it only references the movie Deliverance, it wasn’t part of the movie. Deliverance, starring a young Burt Reynolds opened in 1972, and made the Chattooga River a household name. Roughly 800 paddlers used the river in 1971. By 1973, 21,000 boaters logged river time on the Chattooga. With four sections, the Chattooga offers flat water, and class I water on sections one and two. Section III of the Chattooga provides the intermediate paddler with Class II and III rapids. Midway down, class-V Bull Sluice juices things up a bit. If you don’t want to try the famous rapid, don’t worry, it’s easy to portage (carry your raft around on dry land).
The Ocoee River – White Water Rafting Georgia
The Toccoa River and Ocoee River are both names for a single 93-mile-long river that flows northwestward through the southern Appalachian Mountains. It is a tributary of the Hiwassee River. Three power generating dams are operated along the river. As a result, making it notorious for its whitewater rapids on the Tennessee side.
The river is called the Toccoa for its 56 miles through Georgia. However, until it reaches the twin cities of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee, at the truss bridge and the two roads, aptly named, “Ocoee Street” and “Toccoa Street.” From the bridge on the river is called the Ocoee through Tennessee. Once heavily mined for copper ore, and polluted and ugly from extensive logging. The area has since been cleaned and greened and is home to many small tubing, rafting, and outdoors companies.
The Etowah River – White Water Rafting Georgia
The Etowah River is a 164-mile-long waterway that rises northwest of Dahlonega, Georgia, north of Atlanta. It’s more popular with kayakers and tubers than rafters. With the exception of the upper reaches of the river (Hightower and Etowah Falls sections). The river is rated as a Class I river with flatwater interrupted occasionally by small shoals and rapids. Therefore, it’s suitable for novice paddlers. The long stretches of flatwater make it the perfect river for family boating. Especially if you have young children or toddlers.
The Hiwassee River – White Water Rafting Georgia
Like many of Georgia’s smaller rivers. The Hiwassee is rated Class II & III, and is ideal for beginners and families. A designated Tennessee state scenic river, the Hiwassee River is primarily Class I (moving water with small waves and few obstructions) and Class II (easy rapids with wide, clear channels and some maneuvering required). Certain sections may be considered Class III, rapids with high waves capable of swamping an open canoe. Therefore, requiring complex maneuvering. However, the Hiwassee is popular with beginning rafters, kayakers, and canoers because reach set of rapids has a pool below it. That gives beginners a chance to catch their breath and appreciate the run they just made.
The Nantahala River – White Water Rafting Georgia
The Nantahala River runs through western North Carolina in the Nantahala National Forest, near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Two-lane U.S. Highway 19/74, once part of the infamous Cherokee Trail of Tears, runs along the river, picnic areas dotting the route. A cold river, the Nantahala runs through a narrow and steep gorge where in some areas the sun reaches the ground only when it is directly overhead during the middle of the day.
An 8-mile section beginning at the Nantahala Powerhouse, and running through the town of Wesser is the only 8 miles of the Upper Nantahala can be run by rafts. The Nantahala is a dam release controlled river, and runs from late spring to early fall when Duke Energy follows a regular water release schedule to help support commercial rafting. However, this ensures consist water levels in the river for paddlers and rafters.
The Toccoa River – White Water Rafting Georgia
The Toccoa River flows down from mountains near the town of Suches in North Georgia and continues through the Blue Ridge Mountains for about 60 miles to where it crosses the state line into Tennessee at McCaysville in Fannin County. Blue Ridge Lake is located approximately halfway between the Toccoa River’s origin and its exit point from Georgia.
However, the section of the river above Blue Ridge Lake is known as the upper Toccoa and the remaining portion in Georgia is called the lower Toccoa. When the river crosses the state line into Tennessee, it is known as the Ocoee River. The Toccoa river stretches from the Deep Hole Recreation Area to Sandy Bottoms in Georgia. Best known for a 13.5 mile long section of the river that features class I-II difficulty. After the Toccoa River flows into Tennessee and becomes known as the Ocoee River. As a result, it cascades through more dramatic elevation changes, including several waterfalls. As a result, it’s the Ocoee section of this river that is renowned for being the best whitewater rafting in the southeastern United States.
Chattahoochee River – White Water Rafting Georgia
The Chattahoochee River (Columbus, GA/Phenix City, AL), is a unique white water rafting Georgia adventure. Two and a half miles long, the Chattahoochee River has been called the longest urban whitewater rafting in the world. Therefore, beginning in Northeast Georgia, the scenic Chattahoochee River flows through the heart of metro Atlanta to the Gulf of Mexico. Hence, the river’s prime downtown location and its protected natural environment make it one of Atlanta’s most-loved outdoor attractions and a valuable recreational resource for millions of Atlanta residents and visitors, offering paddling, fishing and trails for running and hiking.
The short, but exciting 2.5 mile white water course has been described to be “Wild as Colorado and Warm as Costa Rica.” USA Today picked the Chattahoochee Whitewater Park as one of the Top 12 man-made Adventures in the World! The course consists of class II-V whitewater and is one of the most exciting sections of whitewater in the US! A dam-controlled release river, the Chattahoochee has two different types of runs daily. Therefore, during the morning the river will run at approx. 800cfs with Class I-III+(IV) rapids. In the afternoon, the water cranks up to ~4,000-13,000cfs (5-15x the morning flow!) with Class III-V rapids. Try running both trips for double the fun.
Tubing, Kayak and SUP outfitters in Georgia
Not everyone wants to make a raft trip their first experience on a river. Many folks, especially those with young children, prefer to start out with something easy, safe, and low adrenaline rated – like tubing, kayaking, canoeing or floating down a lazy, no white water river. If you’re one of those families, consider buying or renting your tubes and running these rivers:
Cool River Tubing – MORE INFO CLICK HERE
River: Chattahoochee River
Length of trip: One or Two Hour trip options
Perks: You can bring your dog with you on your tubing trip
Chattahoochee River Tubing – White Water Rafting Georgia
Length of Trip: 3.5 Miles and half-day (3-4 hours)
Location: Atlanta, GA
Perks: Inflatable rafts, kayaks, and SUP boards for rent
Coosawattee Tubing Company – White Water Rafting Georgia
River: Coosawattee River
Length of Trip: One hour
Location: Ellijay, GA
Perks: James Dickey used the Coosawattee River as the basis for his fictional “Cahulawassee River” in the novel, (and later the movie by the same name) Deliverance.
Euharlee Creek Outfitters – White Water Rafting Georgia
River: Euharlee Creek
Length of Trip: 45 to 60 minutes
Location: Euharlee, Georgia
Perks: Euharlee is called the Covered Bridge City because of the wonderful Euharlee Covered Bridge just down the street from the outfitters.
Webb Brothers Float Service – White Water Rafting Georgia
River: The Hiwassee
Length of Trip: Up to participants – self-directed – about 1-2 hours
Location: Reliance, TN near the Georgia State Border
Perks: The Webb Brothers’ General Store opened on May 15th, 1936, on the banks of the Hiwassee River in Reliance. Since that time the store has been a landmark for area residents and tourists. It became a traditional stop for motorists traveling Highway 30 to the Ocoee River and the Copper Basin.
White Water River Outfitters in Georgia
Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) Outpost – White Water Rafting Georgia
The Nantahala Outdoor Center is well known and respected for its raft trips and educational instruction for kayakers. Voted “Best Place to Learn” from Outside. NOC has taught more paddlers than anyone else in the Southeast. The NOC’s Chattahoochee outpost, however, is primarily an equipment rental post. Offering river trips and rentals for tubing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), rafting and inflatable kayaks.
Rolling Thunder River Company – White Water Rafting Georgia
There are other outfitters outside Georgia who run the state’s rivers. However, Rolling Thunder River Company is the only one actually located inside the state in McCaysville, Georgia. McCaysville is a small town which straddles the Georgia/Tennessee border-about 15 minutes from Blue Ridge. Therefore, if you don’t want to spend your day driving across the state to go rafting. Rolling Thunder is the closest rafting company to Atlanta. They run the upper and lower sections of the Ocoee, the Nantahala. In addition, they rent tubes and kayaks if you want a calmer water experience on the Toccoa River.
Southeastern Expeditions – White Water Rafting Georgia
As a raft guide in Georgia in the 70s, I worked for Wildwater and used to run the rivers with the guides from Southeastern Expeditions. Their guides are as good now, maybe even better than they were then. That’s probably because they are the oldest outfitter in the southeast. Hence, having been around since 1972. As a result, SouthEastern Expeditions is known for their super excellent, funny, and helpful guides. Additionally, this outfitter runs the Upper and Lower Ocoee, the Chattooga, and Southeastern. Additionally, it’s located just under 2 hours from Atlanta, Georgia. We’re far enough away to be out in the woods. However, close enough so you can reach us. They’re located nine miles outside of Clayton, Georgia on Long Creek Highway, labeled Hwy 76.
Wildwater Ltd. – White Water Rafting Georgia
Wildwater has expanded since I worked there. They’ve grown from a trailer and a rickety house where the well ran dry and we bathed in the creek, to a world class outfit. Therefore, with that vision and dedication to white water rafting then and now is what makes them one of the best white water rafting Georgia companies. Hence, they offer trips on the Chattooga, a river which runs 26 miles through a beautiful gorge with dozens of waterfalls on either side of the river.
Wildwater runs separate trips down two different river trip sections. Section 4 is 8 miles of the most challenging whitewater in the Southeast, and includes the famous Five Falls. Section IV is a trip for experienced rafters, and those looking for an adventurous day on the river. Therefore, if you choose a Section 4 trip, you should be prepared to be an active participant in your rafting experience
White Water Express – White Water Rafting Georgia
Like many of the outfitters on Georgia rivers, White Water Express is a professional river and high adventure outfitter with 38 years experience. Their safety record is unsurpassed in the industry. They run trips on the Nantahala, the Chattahoochee, and the Ocoee rivers. As a result, they were one of the pioneer outfitters that worked with the United States Forest Service to develop the rivers of the Southeast. In 1990 they were selected by the Olympic Committee to oversee all of the water sports for the 1996 Olympics. As a result, they’ve guided over one million people since 1980 and over 1000 youth groups through high adventure each year.
Shoot the Hooch – White Water Rafting Georgia
Shoot the Hooch is a Georgia outfitter that rents rafts and other water equipment (tubes, canoes, kayaks, and stand-up-boards (SUP). If you’re not a rafter, they also have tours on a 63 foot authentic stern wheel paddle boat. The paddle boat has two decks with a canopy on the top deck. There’s a wheelhouse on top deck, and tables and chairs for passengers.
The most common things will fall out of even the most secure pockets when you’re tubing. It must have something to do with all the movement, kicking and squirming around some people do in their tubes. Therefore, to ensure you don’t lose anything that would ruin your day. Our advice is simple – don’t bring anything you would mind losing.
- Buy a cheap pair of sunglasses if you want to wear them.
- Rent an extra tube to hold a cooler of drinks, water, lunch etc.
- Wear comfortable, fast driving shorts and t-shirts, NOT jeans or cotton cargo shorts.
- Do wear shorts. Bare legs will chafe on the rubber or vinyl tubing, or get burned if you move over and hit a sun-warmed part of the tube.
- Sunscreen, bug spray, and shoes you don’t mind having get wet are required.
- T-shirts are better than tank tops because the undersides of your arms will chafe on the tube from using your arms to paddle.
- If you can’t swim, wear a life jacket. Most tubing rivers are shallow enough you can stand up in them, but there are pockets of water and drop offs that can be 5-10 feet deep.
- Buddy up. If you’ve never been tubing before, or even if you have, buddy up. Tube with someone and try not to drift more than 10-20 feet away from them, especially if they’re under 18 years old.
- It can get amazingly cold on some rivers. Bring along a light jacket in a dry bag or zip-lock bag in case you get cold.
The American White Water Scale of White Water Difficulty Ratings
Class I Rapids
Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.
Class II Rapids: Novice
Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class II+”.
Class III: Intermediate
Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties.
Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class III-” or “Class III+” respectively.
Class IV: Advanced
Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. Hence, a fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. A strong eskimo roll is highly recommended. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class IV-” or “Class IV+” respectively.
Class V: Expert
Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain** large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools. Demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts.
A very reliable eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential. Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV. Class 5 is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc… each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last. Example: increasing difficulty from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as increasing from Class IV to Class 5.0.