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White Water Rafting Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg White Water Rafting for the Entire Family

We are often asked by our guests about what types of family fun activities are there to do in the Gatlinburg area. One of the more common questions is about Gatlinburg white water rafting and where you can do it.  I will break it all down for you below so that you get that white knuckle experience you are longing for during your vacation in the Smokies.

Gatlinburg is a really great place to do some white water rafting. All of our rental cabins are 20 to 30 minutes away from all of these attractions, which is a huge plus! No experience is necessary for most of these rafting trips, which means family fun for everyone. The local guides will set up your gear for you and keep you safe during your journey down the river.  Whether you are an experienced rafter, or a first-timer you will find your thrills in Gatlinburg. There are several rivers with class III and IV rapids just minutes away that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping! I will list a few of the companies in the area that offer white water rafting tours and you can decide which one fits you best.

Rafting Outdoor Adventures

Rafting Outdoor Adventures

Rafting Outdoor Adventures is located about a half hour drive east from downtown Gatlinburg. Two of the Gatlinburg white water rafting trips they offer are the Upper Pigeon River and the Lower Pigeon River trips. I will detail them below.

The Upper Pigeon River trip is an exhilarating 2 hour white water rafting experience. You will experience intense class III and IV rapids which sends your heart racing. This rafting adventure is for all people ages  8 and up, and there is no experience necessary. Your guide will assist you throughout your journey and answer any questions you may have during your trip.

The Lower Pigeon River trip is geared more toward younger children and does not take your through those gnarly fast paced rapids. The Lower Pigeon trip is a relaxing 2 hour float trip with predominately calm water throughout. This is perfect for non-swimmers and most children ages 3 and up. You will be introduced to beginner-level class I, II, and III rapids. Safety is the number one goal. Along the way you will have multiple chances to swim in calm, flat water. Personal flotation devices will be provided and you do not need to know how to swim to participate.

Wildwater Rafting

Wildwater Rafting

Wildwater Rafting is a larger company with rafting operations in multiple states. They are also located about 25 miles from Gatlinburg in Hartford, TN. Offered are two rafting trips on the Upper Pigeon River and the Lower Pigeon River. As mentioned above, the lower Pigeon river trip is the more gentle adventure of the two offered. The Upper Pigeon River trip is where you will find your class III and IV rapids. Some of these rapids have names such as Double Reactionary, Roller Coaster, and Big Rock!

A canopy tour and zip-line that traverses the Big Pigeon River is an another activity you can do while visiting Whitewater Rafting. They offer two zip-line options, with one going across the river and another traveling through the forest treetops.

Jeep Tours are also available if that is your thing. You can take a ride and explore wildlife, back-roads, and historic sites from the comfort of a Jeep.

Rip Roaring Adventures

Rip Roaring Adventures

Rip Roaring Adventures has been in business for over 20 years. They are also located about a half hour east of Gatlinburg. They offer the same types of Gatlinburg white water rafting trips as the other companies above. They have a shower and a changing facility available on site. For the people in your group who may just want to watch the action, they have a picnic area and a fire-pit to sit around and relax.

Be sure to leave the flip-flops at home. Secure footwear is required for any of the rafting adventures. Wet-suit rentals are also available on-site.

Smoky Mountain Outdoors

Smoky Mountain Outdoors Rafting

Smoky Mountain Outdoors offers all of the same types of rafting trips as other companies in the area. They also have a couple of different options the others do not offer.

Extreme Upper River Rafting is a high intensity Gatlinburg white water rafting adventure. It is available to anyone ages 12 and up. Previous rafting experience is highly recommended for this trip. Each 4-person raft will experience intense rapids, hydraulics, and big waves. If you want to take yourself to the limit check out this one out!

Inflatable Kayaking is a different type of activity also offered on the Lower Pigeon River. All of the trips are guided, and everyone has their own kayak.  Anyone participating must be at least 12 years old, and the ability to swim is required. Inflatable Kayaks are designed for the inexperienced or experienced alike. You will learn how to enter and exit rapids, surfing, spinning, and sliding in your kayak.

This list is not a full list of white water rafting companies in Gatlinburg, but hopefully it will give you a starting point. Be sure to read online reviews about  the company you choose to take you on your adventures. Online reviews are the best way to evaluate the level of service each company provides their clients.

Hikes, Waterfalls, and Quiet Walkways

We often get questions about what trail to hike , where to see waterfalls, where to picnic, etc…in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (GSMNP) I am going to share some of the places we have experienced, and hopefully it will answer some of your questions.  BUT! If you have a question and don’t find your answer,  please email us and we will do our best to find an answer for you.

I have only hiked a fraction of the 800 miles of trails in the Smokies, but I will do my best to share what I do know. I have children that accompany me on most hikes, so I haven’t been able to do many long ones. My 13 yr old isn’t big on hikes, she’s my city girl. My 7 yr old loves them and her longest hike so far was almost 5 miles.


Let someone know where you will be for the day and what time to expect your return. There is no cellular service within the park boundaries. You can not simply call to let them know you need help, or if you will be running late.

Please prepare for your hike, BRING WATER, know your abilities, and pack accordingly. REI has a great day hiking checklist.

Please read over some bear safety tips.

It is dangerous to play in the waterfalls and/or pools beneath. Deaths have occurred, caused by slipping on the rocks or jumping into unknown waters and causing head and neck injuries.

Check out the park’s page to get up to date information about trail closing, and weather updates along with another info about the National Park.

On to my hiking experiences…

Baskins Creek Falls 

I have hiked to Baskins Creek Falls once. It is, in my option, an underrated waterfall. Baskins Creek Falls is a beautiful 40 ft, two tier waterfall. The trail is less crowded, the hike is rated easy. The trail is accessed from Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The trail-head is around 0.2 miles after the one way stretch of the motor nature trail starts. When I hiked Baskins Creek Trail it was just to hike through the woods for a little while. I met a gentleman on the way in and asked if there was anything worth seeing if I kept going, he informed me there was a waterfall. I can’t say I would have hiked to the falls if I hadn’t known it was there waiting for me. I still can not find any information about this particular waterfall on the GSMNP website, even on their waterfalls page. They mention Mingo Falls, which is not within the park boundaries, but nothing about Baskins Falls, which is located in one of the busiest tourist areas within the park.

Grotto Falls

Grotto Falls is a rather popular spot. The round trip distance is about 2.5 miles. The trail actually runs behind the 25′ falls. It is a very refreshing experience to feel the mist behind the falls after the hike up. The trail-head for Grotto Falls is also located off of Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail loop. Parking for this trail can be a nightmare as well as Rainbow Falls and Laurel Falls. The lot fills up quick, there are pull offs along the roadside after the parking area, then everyone seems to find places to park. You could end up hiking a 1/4 mile along the road just to get to the trail-head. (Go early if you want to beat the crowd.)

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls is, I would guess, the most popular of all the falls and very crowded. I recommend going very early or during a down time. Unless, you don’t mind the crowds. I like to go when I can enjoy the walk and hear nature and not the normal noises of a busy day back home. To get to and back from the falls it is a 2.6 mile round trip. The trail is paved all the way to the falls. It is easy for stroller and wheel chair access, the trail is however up hill all the way. There is a log bridge with hand rails at the falls, but it is not accessible to wheel chairs and strollers.

Middle Prong Trail

Traveling to the trail-head you may wonder if you have taken a wrong turn. You can enter the park through the Wears Valley entrance, near Townsend, or head towards Cades Cove and  make a left towards Tremont Institute. After about 2 miles the road turns to gravel for the next 3 miles and dead-ends at the trail-head. This trail is also used by horses, so it is wider than some. It is easy to navigate and runs parallel to Little River. There are multiple waterfalls/cascades, an old car they say has been there since logging days, and lots more to take in.


Mingo Falls

Mingo Falls! One of my favorite. You have to drive to the Cherokee side for this one, VERY much worth it. I decided to drive over the mountain and take the short hike. I figured the walk was short, therefore if the waterfall wasn’t spectacular, I wouldn’t have hiked to far to see it.  It is a less than a  1/2 mile trip to get to the towering 120′ falls at the end. There is a small bridge that crosses the bottom of the falls and you are able to stand in front of it and take in the entire falls with all of its splendor. The hike to the falls is a steady climb, it is rated moderate in difficulty. There are stairs during part of the hike. The reaction of my daughter at the age of 3 says it all. We got to the bridge, I told her “here we are” and she responded with “that’s it?” while looking down at the small rocks below the bridge. I told her to look up and her response changed drastically. “WHHHOOOOAAAAA!” One of those “to remember” moments. Mingo Falls is simply breath taking…. go see it.

Rainbow Falls

I hiked to Rainbow Falls 10 years ago with my younger brother and no children. I haven’t tried it with the kids yet. We started around 8 am and returned around 4 pm. It is a 5.4 mile round trip. At the end you are rewarded with an 80 ft waterfall. We hiked at a leisurely pace and took everything in. The hike is up hill all the way, to the falls.  It has 2 log bridges to cross, a small waterfall along the way with a sitting bench, great place to sit and have a snack before continuing on. Rainbow Falls is a very popular hike, the parking lot, as well as, the sides of the road fill up fast with vehicles.

Quiet Walkways

There are multiple stops along Newfound Gap Road, from Gatlinburg all the way to Cherokee called Quiet Walkways. I do not have first hand experience with many of these. There is a small booklet at the visitors centers called New Found Gap Road auto tour, you can purchase for $1. It has every quiet walkway, lookout and point of interest listed in order of mile markers.



Hiking in the  is a go to for me when looking for a trail. They have information on more than 70 trails, and the information they provide is stellar. You can see trail list in alphabetical order, order of difficulty, by location, top 10…and a few more. Each trail has directions to the trail head, a description of the trail itself, including elevation, mileage, and difficulty rating. There is also lots of great information at the park’s visitors centers. They have small brochures on many different hot spots in the GSMNP. They do cost $1-2 each, but full of good info.

Other Helpful Information

If you need gear, GSM Outfitters is my new go-to Outdoor store. It is a small locally owned business. The owners are very knowledgeable and eager to help. They have clothing, gear, accessories and a coffee shop. They offer a military discount on your purchases, and often have sales.

If you are looking for a guided hike with a very knowledgeable naturalist, try Just Get Outdoors. Owned and operated by Liz Domingue, I have been on a few excursions with Liz and have learned an abundance of facts on each one. She offers planned hikes, over night trips, small groups, or one on one hikes. A little info about the owner Liz from her website:

“Liz  has over 30 years of experience as a naturalist, educator, wildlife biologist, photographer, and writer. She received her M.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Biology from the University of Florida in 1995 and her B.S. in Wildlife Biology from Cornell University in 1987. She is trained in CPR and is certified by The National Registry as a Wilderness First Responder.”



There are hundreds of picnic spots with in the National Park. I tend to pull up a rock and have my lunch. Sometimes in the middle of a river, other times I snack on the side of a cliff. If you are looking for something with a table, Greenbrier area has a nice picnic area, it is located off of Hwy 321 towards Cosby. Chimney Tops Picnic area has many tables, it is around mile 6 on New Found Gap Road. The number one thing to remember when picnicking, LEAVE THE AREA AS YOU FOUND IT! (or cleaner) All trash, goes with you or in one of the bear proof trash cans provided by the park. A fed bear is a dead bear. Bears start to relate humans with food and start to look toward humans when hungry. This causes the bears to be aggressive sometimes when hungry. If the animal places it’s mouth on a human, leaving marks or not the bear must be euthanized. Black bears are one of the many things people want to see when visiting the Smokies, leave your picnic area looking like you were never there.

I hope this helps some of you when making trying to make a decision on where to hike, walk, picnic, or just get grounded. Be safe out there and do your part to keep yourselves and our wildlife safe.


Safe and Happy Travels,


The Chimney Tops 2 wildfire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Chris Higgins Photography.

How the Gatlinburg Wildfires Affected Us.

Gatlinburg Wildfires

On November 28, 2016 the perfect storm formed over the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. This is our story on how the Gatlinburg wildfires affected us. The wildfire started in the Chimney Tops and spread to cover 11,000 acres in the park itself. Drought conditions and extreme winds caused the wildfire to grow rapidly. Wind reached gusts over 80 mph, these winds carried embers and knocked down electric poles starting fires in multiple places in and around Gatlinburg. The National Park Service has the Park’s complete story here.

Receiving the News

On Monday November 28, 2016 I received a text alert, at 8:45 pm. It said there was a smoke alarm going off inside Roaring Fork. I immediately called Chris. He pulled up our security cameras and we watched as our log home and the entire street burned. We watched until all the cameras went offline and sat helpless over 200 miles away as one of our dreams burned to the ground. Both of us were in shock and couldn’t imagine what we would find in the end. We were thankful we still had a place to go, Bella Vista. We sat together quietly that night, not really knowing what to say to each other.

Four hours later we received another text that smoke alarms at Bella were now being set off. Multiple calls came in from the alarm service as each door and window sensor inside Bella Vista melted.

Not knowing how bad things really were, we contacted the fire department and never thought we would reach an emergency service so over whelmed they had no idea what to tell us. Nothing could be done. The fire had reached so many homes the fire department was speechless. The size of the fire was unimaginable. No one was prepared for the wind to pick up and carry it down the mountains to homes.

Seeing the damage

Emergency services allowed home owners back into the area at the end of the week.  There was one way in and cars were backed up for miles. It easily took 2 hours once in line to get into the restricted area. The devastation was mind-blowing. I can not describe the smell or my emotions as we drove into our beloved town as it was still smoking.

Roaring Fork

Roaring Fork Lodge before the fire.

We went to the site of Roaring Fork first. The property is at the end of a road lined by cabins, some belonging to locals we call friends. As we drove toward the end of the road, everything was gone. There were only black holes left with smoke slowly rising above each empty space where each cabin once stood. Before the fires,  I always looked forward to rounding the corner and seeing MY cabin sitting above the river below, one of my favorite sites. On this day as we drove down the road and rounded that corner, the space was empty.  What was once my pride and joy that I loved sharing with all of you, now an empty black hole as well. Many memories were made there by my family and many others.

I am a “stuff” person. My things have great meaning to me. Staring into a hole with all of our things melted and distorted into piles of blackened soot was debilitating to me. It was all just stuff, but it was our stuff. We worked and saved for all of these things, each piece having a story or memory behind it.

Roaring Fork after the fire.


I want to share one experience I had that day. It made me feel that in the end it would all be OK. The temperature was in the low 50’s on that Friday and there was no sign of life, except the people looking at what was left of their lives. I hadn’t noticed a bird or even an insect. Then, as I stood there, a butterfly flew right in front of my face and landed on the dirt next to me. I squatted down and it stayed as if it was telling me it would be OK. Then, just as it came, it flew back into the black and gray forest. From what I have read, butterflies usually don’t fly around in less than 60 degree weather. I held on to that moment as we left and started to see the damage at our other home away from home.

Bella Vista

Bella Vista before the fire.

Bella Vista is at the top of a small mountain with about 12 other cabins down below. As we entered Laurel Oaks Resort, it looked similar to the rest of the properties. Each structure a smoking black hole in the ground. All but one cabin was gone in the entire development. It still amazes us that every house burned except for one. After seeing all the damage around the resort, turning into Bella’s driveway and seeing only the mountain view remaining really didn’t surprise me. Once again we stood over a hole and looked at what remained. As Chris and I let it all sink in, we realized Bella still had one thing that could not be taken away… the view.

Bella Vista after the fire.

After staring into a black hole and recognizing melted pieces of the belongings that were now only memories, we departed and wouldn’t return until January as we started planning the rebuilds.

It is truly amazing the damage a fire can do. As we walked through the remains we would recognize pieces and were able to identify items. Things also surprised us as we were looking though. The dishes in the dish washer were unharmed. some had broken when the dishwasher fell from the second story, but other than that they were in almost perfect condition. Any ceramic items, pottery, were only covered in soot. One small vase still sat on top the hot water heater where I had put it one day while cleaning.

Since that day in January we have rebuilt Bella Vista, purchased 3 more properties and are currently working on Roaring Fork’s rebuild. Roaring Fork will once again be my pride and joy, and I can not wait to share it with you and hear of the memories you make.

In the End

The wildfire ended up killing 14 people and injuring 190 more. Damage caused by the fire was estimated at over $500 million.  Over 2460 structures were damaged or destroyed and 17,136 acres were burned.

I have heard so many stories from families that break my heart and I can not imagine losing my forever home. My heart goes out to each family who lost everything. Many families and home owners have started to rebuild or have completely rebuilt as of now.


Main Image Photo: The Chimney Tops 2 wildfire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Chris Higgins Photography.

Who are we?

Hello everyone!

I wanted to take this time and use my first blog post to introduce myself and my family to you. I’m Sarah, my husband is Chris, we have 3 beautiful girls, 3 dogs, 1 cat, 1 hamster and 5 ferrets! Our furry friends outnumber the people in our family! I’m going to share with you “Our Journey” from our first visit to Gatlinburg to present day.

Our first visits and Roaring Fork

The first time I visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was in 1992, on my very first family vacation at the age of 13. I fell in love with the mountains. I fell further in love on my second trip, when Chris and I spent our short honeymoon in Gatlinburg in 2006. While Chris and I were there, we talked about how we should buy a cabin some day. I cemented my love for Gatlinburg after spending a rained out “camping trip” (spent in rental cabins) with my little brother Sean.

As time passed, we started our family. We had our first daughter, and did most of our traveling to visit family After having our youngest daughter, we visited again, and, yet again, spoke about buying, only this time just a few months after Chris showed me the listing for Roaring Fork Lodge. It was beautiful, and we made the decision to buy it.  Me, an Army veteran with no other work experience, and Chris, previously a produce manager for Winn Dixie, had grown our first small business large enough to buy our own cabin in the mountains. Little did we know, the was the first step on the path to our second small business.

Purchasing the cabin went smoothly enough, and after a short time, and a little red tape, it was finally ours! I was amazed with the view from Roaring Fork’s deck, and even the cabin itself was breathtaking. After enjoying it for ourselves, we spent months after the purchase getting it ready to share with all of you. It didn’t take much, just some cleaning and a few safety musts.

Front view Roaring fork Lodge

Roaring Fork Lodge before the wildfires.

Bella Vista

Roaring Fork, our beloved home away from home, was doing so well we decided to buy a second cabin, Bella Vista. The view at Bella was spectacular, CHECK THAT OUT!!  I took this photo with my iPhone. I had nothing to do with it of course, the beauty was provided for me.  Chris and I had made it happen. Not one property but two. I loved both cabins and loved sharing my special places with all of you.

Still riding high on our latest purchase, and setting Bella Vista up for rentals, tragedy struck. The Gatlinburg Wildfires took both of our beloved properties. I have a separate post, “How the Gatlinburg  Wild Fires Affected Us” if you would like to read our story.

Bella Vista Mountian view Gatlinburg

 The mountain view at Bella Vista from any of the 4 private decks. You can see downtown Gatlinburg in the valley.


Starting Over

Star Dancer

As we began planning the rebuilds and waited for things to start moving, we decided we needed a headquarters during the rebuilds, and a place to continue doing what we loved to do. We found Star Dancer in 2017.

Star Dancer was in great shape. The previous owner took very good care of the home and his guests. It was ready to go after some repairs  from wind damage caused by the storms that spread the wildfires.

Once back in shape, Star Dancer did not disappoint! I was floored by an even better mountain view. The previous owner explained to me from the deck you can see the mountains in North Carolina all the way left, and all the way to the right was  Mt. Leconte, the tallest mountain in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Beautiful right?!

Star Dancer Mountain View

Panoramic view from Star Dancer’s deck. North Carolina mountains to Mt. Leconte.

Laurel Creek Hideaway

Laurel Creek came into the picture because Chris gets an itch every few years and sends me a cabin listing…he  is always ready to buy once I get the listing. This property was an easy decision for me. It does not have a mountain view, but it has its own special feature. The creek! The creek was completely hidden when we viewed the listing. When we viewed the actual property it was the first thing I heard and went to. Immediately I envisioned the bridge and picnic area. I go into the creek barefoot every time I’m there, no matter the temperature. You can hear the creek running by from the bottom bedroom closest to it. On days it rains, it’s louder and on days it pours you can stand outside and hear the rocks tumbling under the rush of water.

Exterior Repairs

Laurel Creek  (formally known as Lion’s Den) was in desperate need of some love when we finally got it. We worked hard to get it ready. We had the exterior freshly stained, new deck posts installed for stability, we  couldn’t have anyone falling off the deck!  The creek was completely grown over, so we had brush cleared and the creek opened up. A split rail fence was added along the driveway and a bridge across the creek leading to a picnic area with grills and a fire pit.

Interior Repairs

We had the entire main floor refinished and added new living room furniture. We bought new arcade games  for the bunk room and game room floor. The kitchen was restocked with new supplies and appliances. We replaced the washer and dryer and even removed the flying squirrels from the attic….and the bats. As much as we like critters we couldn’t let them live with all of you. No animals were harmed in this process! We called in professionals and they blocked all entrances except one, caught the exiting animals in a trap and released them. The experts permanently blocked all holes/entrances and trimmed away any branches that could be used to get to the roof.

Laurel has a special place with me simply because of all the work we put into it. It is our largest cabin, sleeping up to 22. It is nestled in the woods in a secluded area, with its own creek and picnic spot.


Smoky Mountain Sunrise

Smoky Mountain Sunrise is our most recent purchase. It is not a traditional style log cabin. The exterior is masonite siding, which I wasn’t too sure about at first. It was different. It was a brand new home. The owners had just rebuilt after losing the original home to the wildfire. Once I arrived in one piece after the steep driveway accent, and saw the care and love that had been put into this rebuild I started to feel differently, despite my initial hesitations. The view didn’t hinder my decision in any way.

Mountain View Smoky Mountain Sunrise

 View from the rear of the cabin, at the start of the flagstones staircase leading to the fire pit.

A Small Description

The exterior has been landscaped with a huge flagstone stair case and fire pit. The interior is beautifully done in dark flooring with accents on the walls and ceilings to compliment them. The two car garage is great when coming in at night, you never know if a bear will decide to say hello. For me it feels safer all the way around.

Frequent Visitors

When purchasing Smoky, one piece of information was not in the signing documents. The bear traffic at this place is crazy! We have watched a family of 5 grow up on our security cameras. Mama Bear and her 4 cubs have used the drive way as a path since the spring. There have been multiple sitings of a rather large guy just passing through, and even a frisky juvenile trying his luck at our empty ice chest on the deck.

During one visit I decided to get up before everyone and see if I could catch a glimpse of a bear just passing through. I waited on the deck for almost 2 hours starting at dawn. I finally gave up and cut my losses. Not 3 minutes later, the juvenile bear was on the deck and walked right to the chair I had been sitting in! We met eyes at the same time and freaked! I grabbed the camera and he tight rope walked the deck rail and climbed down the post. You can see the video here.

Bears are great to watch from a distance, but always stay a smart distance and NEVER leave food or trash out for the bears. If they relate humans to food it only hurts the bears. A fed bear is a dead bear. Read more in my soon to come Bear Talk post.

Summing it up

Chris and I love sharing our spaces with you, and we try our best to make  it feel like home away from home for our guests. We truly hope all of you can make wonderful memories and hope that you share them with us on our Facebook Page. We are very grateful for each and every one of you, we couldn’t do what we love to do without you all.

Happy and safe travels,



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