Charleston is characterized by its wide, white sand beaches, gentle waves, and saltwater recreation. However, during the dog days of summer, many locals swap their Rainbows for Keens and head west on I-26 in search of cold, mountain rivers. The cool mountain air, rocky terrain, shaded trails, and fast-flowing rivers are only a few hours away and make for an ideal day trip or weekend getaway to escape the Lowcountry’s hellacious humidity. Mountain rivers range from peaceful floats to intense currents and are identified by class.
Class I-II is a laid-back float; Class II-III are moderate, adventurous currents; and Class IV-V are intense, heart-pumping rapids. Nature enthusiasts can select the trip most suitable for their adrenaline level. Here are the best spots for whitewater rafting near Charleston:
Chattooga River -- Located at the South Carolina - Georgia border, the Chattooga River is famous for its Class III & IV rapids and for its picturesque, albeit eerie, backdrop in the movie Deliverance. For experienced rafters, the Section IV of the river is the most extreme rapids in the Southeast. Other sections of the river provide more moderate Class I-III rapids with one test in a Class IV section. A federally designated Wild and Scenic River, the Chattooga is a protected, free-flowing river with unspoiled natural surroundings. Adventurers appreciate the serene setting, waterfalls, and swimming holes. Outposts that offer guided tours include Wildwater, NOC, and Southeastern Expeditions.
Ocoee River -- Well-known for its continuous, Class III-IV rapids, the Ocoee River meanders through the pulchritudinous Cherokee National Forest in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Located in Tennessee, the river is a short distance from Blue Ridge, Georgia. The name Ocoee means “apricot” in the Cherokee native language and is a nod to the wild apricot vines that are found along the riverbanks. With three dams powering the rapids, the Ocoee River has two primary sections: Upper and Middle. Many patrons opt for the combo trip, which allows for a longer trip through both sections and concludes with two signature drops: Hell Hole and Power House. Guided tours are available through reputable outposts such as Ocoee Rafting, Wildwater, NOC, Quest Expeditions, Rolling Thunder, Bigfoot Ocoee, and Cherokee Rafting. Interestingly, the Ocoee River hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics for canoeing.
Pigeon River -- Traversing through the Pigsah National Forest and the Cherokee National Forest, the Pigeon River is a radiant, rafting river that features two distinct sections: the Upper Pigeon and the Lower Pigeon. With dam controlled releases, the Upper Pigeon boasts Class III-IV rapids while the Lower Pigeon relaxes with a more mellow ride and Class I-III rapids. The Pigeon River flows into the French Broad River, another popular river for leisurely floats. Located in Hartford, Tennessee, the Pigeon River outposts are approximately one hour from Asheville, NC and 45 minutes from Gatlinburg, TN, making it a convenient site for those vacationing in the mountains. Notable outposts include Wildwater, River Rat, Big Bear, NOC, and Smoky Mountain Outdoors.
Nantahala -- The Nantahala River in North Carolina is the coldest river in the region. Also powered with a controlled release from Duke Power, the eight mile river stretch offers everything from a gentle float to intense rapid, ranging from Class II to Class III. The river, which is 3,000 feet above sea-level, was created in 1942 to produce energy for war-time efforts. Nantahala River outposts are located in Bryson City, NC, a quaint town with friendly people, historic landmarks, and delectable dining options. Outposts along the Nantahala include NOC, Whitewater, and Rolling Thunder to name a few.
Green River -- Situated in Saluda, the Green River is the closest whitewater rafting outfit to Charleston. The outpost, Green River Adventures, is approximately 3.5 hours from the Holy City, making it doable for a day trip. A dam controlled river, the Green River is divided into two sections: Lower and Upper. As expected, the lower section is a moderate ride, while the upper section, which showcases Class III-IVstretches, is described as a “heart-pumping adventure.” This outpost offers other excursions as well including waterfall treks, rappelling, ziplining, and more.
No matter which river and rafting excursion you select, you are sure to enjoy an exciting adventure. Moreover, breathing fresh, mountain air, splashing down a cool, clean river, and spending time in nature will replenish your soul and reset your spirit. After all, “the human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man” (anonymous). What better place to find that solace than majestic mountains and beautiful beaches? In South Carolina, residents relish both.