Fall foliage with a blue overlay

A Fall Guide To Rafting in the Southeast

September 18, 2023
Rafting in Fall
Rafting in Fall

Once the morning temperatures start to cool off, the same annual questions start to fly. “How soon ‘til the leaves change color?” “Is this Fall?” Surprisingly, our Blue Ridge and the Great Smoky Mountains have one of the longest autumn color seasons in the country. This is attributed to our mountain peaks, deep valleys, and varying microclimates. You can find some color by driving through our National Forests in the southeast, but we recommend a unique perspective this year. Rafting in the Fall!

Witness autumn’s colorful transformation from a raft as the warm sun reaches the river through a kaleidoscope of yellow, red, and orange foliage. Rafting in the fall allows you to soak up the peacefulness of the changing forest, smell the campfire from the riverbanks, and feel the adventure of a new season upon us! 

At NOC, we are always on river time, so we try not to focus on exact dates since no one can predict dear mother nature.

Our fall leaves start to arrive in the southeast’s highest elevations, +6,000-5,000, in the last week of September and the first week of October. This is a beautiful time to see the color atop the highest ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, TN.  

October First & Second Weeks: 3,000-5,000 feet elevation

(about 1.52 km)    

Fall rafting in Nantahala Gorge

This is the perfect time to head out to Bryson City, NC, and meet us at the top of the mountain for an aerial tour of the changing canopy and vistas from our Mountain Top Zipline tour. The 1/2 Mile Mega Zip is just one of the seven sections of ziplines on our tour, and it is sure to warm up your fall morning. After a hearty lunch at River’s End Restaurant ( the chili is perfect for fall days), head down the mountain to the Nantahala River for some whitewater rafting! We love to see the mountains change as it descends the mountains and our favorite rapids under a new tent of orange and red. You can do both on a glorious fall day with our River to Ridge Package. 

While the Cherokee National Forest is spectacular at any time of year, the fall foliage makes the scenery even more breathtaking. Early October is the perfect time to join us on a trip down the Middle Section of the Ocoee River. Watching the leaves change and outline the scenic bluffs of the Ocoee River Gorge is amazing. Located in Eastern Tennessee, the Ocoee is an easy drive from Chattanooga and Knoxville for a quick fall getaway from the busyness and back into nature in the season of change. And fall break trips from Atlanta offer the perfect opportunity to escape!

October Third & Fourth Weeks: 1,000-3,000 feet elevation

(about the height of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world)  

On the border of Georgia and South Carolina, the Chattahoochee National Forest provides the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River with unparalleled views while you are rafting some of the best Class IV whitewater in the southeast. The fall color here is highlighted by the tulip poplar, dogwood, and maple trees that line the riverbanks. Perfection. 

The third oldest river in the world, the French Broad River, is the quintessential fall mountain excursion! Located deep in Western North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest, this river features warm(er) water, long-range, scenic mountain views, and plenty of splashes just outside of Asheville, NC. 

Fall whitewater rafting trip on the French Broad River by the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

The fall season offers some of the most comfortable temperatures of the year in the southeast! Although you will certainly get wet when joining us for a rafting trip, a late summer heatwave can still make it quite hot outside. There is no need to be worried about the temperature during fall when the weather is so much more pleasant! If it is a cool day in the fall, keep in mind that we provide splash jackets and pants to cover your clothes at no additional cost. Each one of these trips offers a unique opportunity to view the breathtaking scenery, and we are so excited to share it with you! 

Rafting in the fall is one of the best and most unique ways to enjoy the leaves changing from a different perspective. The trip sizes are a little smaller, and we’re not in any rush! Drinking hot coffee on the way to the put-in, then putting on a warm fleece and flip-flops afterward and warming up by a campfire! It’s the best.

Steven Foy Director of Outpost Operations


Find your Fall adventure with NOC!


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