Monday, July 18, 2016

Our White Water Rafting Adventure

This day was phenomenal and full of new experiences. None of our family of five had been white water rafting before. During my research of the area, one ad that kept popping up was for white water rafting. I instantly got it in my head that it was something we must try. I am so glad we did! White water rafting was loved and a favorite for all of us.


We actually weren't sure if we'd get to go white water rafting on account of the weather. We woke up in the middle of the night to thunderstorms, accompanied with tons of lightening and heavy rain. Our white water rafting trip wasn't until 2:30 in the afternoon. We had made plans to do a hiking trail or two before lunch and leave time, but the rains kept us in the cabin. No one seemed to mind much.

We made a huge brunch, watched a movie from the hot tub, read books, and enjoyed the cabin. When we left at 12:30 (yes, the drive took us an hour even though the starting point was only 20 miles away), it was still raining heavily but the thunder and lightening had subsided. We lucked out big time because as soon as we arrived to the starting point, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. It wasn't too humid, the temperature was warm but not hot; it was the perfect afternoon!

We booked our rafting trip at the same time we booked our cabin. Reservations are recommended, plus if you booked before late May you received a 30% discount. After reviewing the Rafting companies in the Smokies, we went with Smoky Mountain Outdoors. They're the only rafting place in the Smoky Mountains to receve 5 stars on Trip Advisor and their Facebook page has just as stellar of reviews.

It took nearly an hour to drive from Gatlinburg, TN to Hartford, TN, where the Rafting company is located. We followed GPS and were taken along many back roads. Thankfully our guide told us of a couple of different ways to get back to Gatlinburg that saved us some time and gave us spectacular views.

When you make reservations, you're told to check in an hour before your rafting time. You'd be wise to stick to this because there was a long line at check in, even longer lines for one last potty break, and our group left early because our guide was running early. After they called our group number (there's only 6 people plus the guide to a raft. Since we're a family of 5, it was just us and our guide in a raft, however you do out in large groups of rafts together), we were introduced to our guide and fitted for life jackets, helmets, and paddles.

After a brief run down of rules and how to paddle (we all needed to learn how), we were all set to head out on the Lower Pigeon River. Due to the size, ages, and weight of the minis, we had to do the Lower River portion of the rafting. The lower portion was all Class 1 and Class 2 rapids - all very doable with young kids. Our guide was absolutely wonderful! Not only was he great with the kids, he kept things lighthearted, informed us how to keep the kids safe during rafting, and was extremely knowledgeable about rafting and the Smoky Mountain area. To say we had a phenomenal experience is an understatement! 

As I mentioned above, our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the area. All throughout our trip down the river, we learned about all of the trees, wildlife, the river itself, and the Rafting company. We could not have asked for a better guide.

The boys did such a great job with paddling and following the rules that the guide said they were ready for the bigger rapids! Only Elizabeth's small size is holding us back. We're already planning a return trip in a few years to take on those Class 3 and 4 rapids!


We were given the opportunity to get out and swim in the river. Here's the video:


Our trip down the river lasted right at an hour. We were then bused back to the starting point to return our life vests and helmets and of course, buy the lovely pictures the company takes on the rapids. 

At our guide's suggestion, we took the Foothills Parkway back to Gatlinburg. Yet another gorgeous drive for us to take in, even though it was still nearly an hour drive.

By the time we got back to the cabin, it was after 4 p.m. We had planned on heading to downtown Gatlinburg to listen to bands and do some tasting at the local moonshine distilleries. However, our Rafting guide told us about a very cool drive we should take in the southern part of the National Park. So we found ourselves showering and devouring a quick dinner before heading down to Cades Cove to (hopefully) spot some wildlife.

The drive to and through Cades Cove was gorgeous. It was also very informative and educational for the kids as we did see some wildlife and we got to walk through an early mountain village. However, the drive was VERY long! We spent nearly 4 1/2 hours driving from our cabin, through the Cove, and back to the cabin. Oh yeah, and the drive back was done in the pitch black because there are no streetlights anywhere. If it weren't for the Full House episodes we put on the DVD player to keep the kids occupied after dark, it would have been a spooky drive.

The road to Cades Cove followed a stream. Our next visit will include an entire afternoon and evening spent in Cades Cove so we can play in the stream. There were so many people wading in the stream catching salamanders and hiking to see bears in the trees.

Wild turkeys greeted us at the entrance to Cades Cove.

Somewhere in this picture is the very back hairs of a large black bear. As we drove along, we noticed a crowd of people along the road taking pictures of a bear. By the time I was able to exit our van, the bear had began retreating back into the thicket. I was kind of bummed and kind of relieved this was the only bear that we saw....I'm not sure how the kids (or myself!) would have handled it if we happened upon a bear during a hike. We spent the rest of the night saying that we were "going on a bear hunt from our car."


Towards the end of the Cades Cove loop was this early mountain village. All of the houses (except for one or two) are original structures that were brought to the Cades Cove location from various spots throughout the National Park. This was great for hands on exploring for the kids.

Of course we couldn't pass up the opportunity to swim in the stream...because that's what you do in the mountains.

I wonder if the early mountain community had paved trails and an orange traffic cone in the 1800's??

Matt was soooo excited to teach the minis all about the mill works. Had we gotten around to this trail earlier in the day, we would have been able to see the mill in action.

After our lengthy and somewhat unplanned drive through Cades Coves, we put the minis to bed (at almost midnight!!) and I soaked in the jacuzzi. Seriously, so much busyness and activity yet so much relaxing too. It really was my kind of vacation!

To read about our first two vacation days, read Road Trip To Tennessee and 4th of July in Tennessee.

Tomorrow's post: A Day In Western North Carolina.