Kayaking, Rafting, Canoeing and Fishing in Some of Appalachia’s Best Rivers

KENTUCKY: RUSSELL FORK

When fall leaves begin to cover Kentucky’s small mountain roads, scheduled dam releases fill the Russell Fork and elite kayakers and rafters flock to the area for the legendary Class IV-V action. Certainly not for beginners, this top Kentucky rafting destination demands highly technical and strong paddling for any raft team looking to descend the four miles of this steep creek.

Paddlers often camp out for a weekend and run the river multiple times each day, allowing you to really immerse yourself (ideally not literally) in this Kentucky classic.

GEORGIA: CHATTOOGA

At the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, Georgia has great river running options. However, a trip to the southeast must include a descent of the legendary Chattooga River, flowing along the border of Georgia and South Carolina. Whitewater rafting through the boulder gardens, rock slides and waterfalls of the Chattooga forged Olympic paddlers and incited the popularity of rafting over the past 40 decades. Section 4 of the river includes rapids such as Bull Sluice, Woodall Shoals, Five Falls and Sock-em-dog—names known to nearly every whitewater paddler in the nation. Also see: Chattahoochee River (Alabama).

MAINE: PENOBSCOT RIVER

Flowing south of Mt. Katahdin, the famed final summit of the Appalachian Trail, the Penobscot River is Maine’s top whitewater rafting destination. An upstream dam provides consistent water to create water features such as falls, holes and surf spots in rapids ranging from Class III-V. However, be sure to look up from the whitewater chaos to appreciate Maine’s spectacular scenery and avoid any unwanted Moose encounters.

NORTH CAROLINA: NANTAHALA RIVER

Nearly every Southerner has a story about their trip down the Nantahala River. This top rafting destination in western North Carolina has been known to launch first-time rafters into a lifetime of rafting.

Rafts can be guided or unguided along this narrow and crisp waterway through a quintessential Smokey Mountain forest. The trip ends (and the storytelling begins) just upstream of the Nantahala Outdoor Center at the Class III Nantahala Falls.

TENNESSEE: NOLICHUCKY RIVER

An aspiring Wild and Scenic River, the Nolichucky in eastern Tennessee transports rafters into a beautiful forested gorge with great whitewater action – 25 named rapids to be exact! The Nolichucky Gorge, the Southeast’s deepest gorge, houses most of the bigger whitewater action while the lower stretch of the river makes for great family floating fun.

VIRGINIA: SHENANDOAH RIVER

Flowing through one of Virginia’s most popular outdoor destinations, the Shenandoah River allows rafting enthusiasts to experience the rolling, forested foothills of the Appalachian Mountains from the relaxing drift of a boat. While most visitors opt to stay in their vehicles on Skyline Drive, exploring the area by river allows a much more peaceful and true natural experience.

WEST VIRGINIA: GAULEY RIVER

West Virginia wouldn’t be the same without the Gauley River. This premier rafting destination is where the East Coast’s rafting culture began. The weekend dam releases in the fall attract boaters from across the world to experience the Gauley’s big water, Class V rafting and kayaking in rapids like Pillow, Lost Paddle and Sweets Falls. The scene here can’t be replicated on any other river with boaters perched on rocks watching the action throughout the entire run.

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