I’ll preface this by saying, I am not a hardcore rafter. I am just married to a crazy whitewater kayaker and occasionally tag along.
So when I was told we would be rafting the Nolichucky on our trip in Johnson City, I was excited but more than a little nervous.
I was visiting Johnson City for the Southern Travelers Explore Conference put on by Wherever I May Roam. This was a nice addition to our FAM Trip Itinerary!
USA Raft was a fantastic outfitter to go with though and I felt safe the whole time. We all made it down without falling in – thanks mostly to our guide, Tim.
If you are like me and love knowing exactly what you are getting yourself into before you go, then read on for what to expect rafting the Nolichucky River!
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Visit Johnson City for part of my time here. However, all opinions are my own. This article may contain affiliate links that I earn a small commission from at no additional cost to you.
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Nolichucky River Rafting: What to Expect
The Nolichucky River has a natural flow so it is not a “dam released” river. That just means that a dam isn’t upstream releasing the water so that people can raft on the river.
We took the half-day Nolichucky Gorge trip and from the time we left USA Raft to the time we floated back up, it took us just under 5 hours. We made many more stops than usual though.
They also offer a full-day trip that includes lunch on the side of the river.
Rapids on the Nolichucky Gorge range from Class III-IV and I am always surprised at the difference in ratings from river to river.
If you’ve been on the Pigeon River down in Hartford, TN, they classify it as III-IV but it is much easier in comparison to the Nolichucky.
Here you’ll find one Class IV – Quarter Mile – and three III+ rapids – Last Chance, On The Rocks, and Roostertail. These ratings are according to American Whitewater, but in my book those Class III+ are IVs.
Then there are multiple Class III rapids which are the ones that I love. Fun with minimal consequence and you can mostly enjoy the views.
I can’t believe this hasn’t been designated a Wild & Scenic River yet. The views were stunning and I have been kicking myself for not bringing my GoPro. I’ll definitely be back to film it.
The river is rocky which makes it so technical and you have a gorgeous mountain backdrop the entire way. Train tracks run parallel to the river most of the way and we actually had a train come by which sends you back in time almost.
So the synopsis for this river is go as soon as you can. You will not be disappointed. We ran the river at about 1000cfs which was perfect for me.
You can check the water levels and get more information on river characteristics on the American Whitewater’s Flow page. You’ll find the Nolichucky River gage there.
Side note: If you raft, kayak, or SUP often, consider donating to the American Whitewater Association. They are a non-profit whose mission is to protect and restore America’s whitewater rivers.
They are a great resource and we donate each year.
What to Bring Rafting
I’ve already done a whole post on what to wear whitewater rafting and it also includes what not to wear so I won’t go into that here.
But there are lots of additional items you might want to bring. A towel and change of clothes for one.
I had under packed for my trip so I didn’t have a good change of clothes to bring and I was pretty cold afterward.
If you want to bring your phone or anything else on the trip then I would recommend a dry bag or box. (Psst – they make great gifts for outdoorsy women.) You can also use the bags specifically for your phone and hang it around your neck.
Just be sure to tuck it under your PFD (life jacket). They tell you not to bring anything on the trip that you don’t want to lose though and it is possible that you’ll lose it. So just be sure you’re okay with that.
You are allowed to wear a ballcap under your helmet if you’d like to shield your eyes. You can also wear sunglasses on the river but make sure you have croakies for them.
If you don’t have some then they sell them at the store at USA Raft. They also had helmets with the GoPro mounts on them if you want to bring your GoPro.
USA Raft Adventure Resort
I was so impressed with USA Raft Adventure Resort. They offer multiple different activities, have plenty of lodging options, and the location right on the river couldn’t be better.
We were just there for the day so I did not get to experience an overnight stay. It looked like so much fun though!
USA Raft is located on a dead-end road just outside of Erwin, TN. The Appalachian Trail runs right by the campground.
It is situated right on the Nolichucky River so you get to fall asleep to the sounds of the river. I always love that.
The outfitter is just under a 15-minute drive from downtown Erwin so you are still nearby civilization if you forgot something.
Most sites that they have here are allocated for tent camping. We did see some camper vans, but the space was pretty tight so I would ask about the size that they can accommodate.
They do have campers already set up there for rent though.
There are multiple riverfront campsites where you can put your tent right by the river. Many of the sites come with a fire pit as well.
They also have bell tents for glamping! These bell tents face the river and have a gorgeous view. It doesn’t get much better than this.
If you aren’t comfortable with roughing it as much then you can book one of their cozy cabins. Cabins come with shared bathrooms and kitchens plus A/C other than in Quarter Mile.
You can also rent larger cabins for big groups. Perfect for a family trip! Oh and dogs are allowed everywhere except for Love Shack for a small fee.
I feel this goes without saying, but these days you never know – if you prefer luxury accommodations then this is not for you. My family loves camping and being outdoors so this was my kind of place.
I am pretty sad that I didn’t get to stay here! If you want to get into camping but are nervous about going solo here are my tips for camping alone as a woman!
I was honestly surprised at all of the amenities that they offer here. There is a nice store at the entrance to the campground and they offer WiFi throughout.
I did not use the WiFi while there so I can’t attest to the strength. All guests have access to the bathhouse and a sauna which comes in handy after the river trip.
The Take Out Bar serves drinks on property and has plenty of outdoor seating. As for fun things to do, there is cornhole, volleyball courts, and they even have a stage for live music.
Other Things to Do
What was really surprising was all the other activities that USA Raft offered. River trips definitely aren’t your only option here!
They offer caving tours at nearby Worley’s Cave where you climb through a limestone cave with an experienced guide.
A new tour that they offer is rock climbing at Rocky Fork State Park. You’ll be hooked to a rope exactly like you would be on an artificial rock wall.
You can rent onewheels while you are here and ride them around the campground. Onewheels are like a skateboard but with one big wheel in the middle that almost splits the board in half.
For private boaters or people that want to hike a section of the AT, USA Raft offers shuttle services. This saves SO much time at the end of the day which is a life saver when you are tired.
There are two river activities other than rafting – SUP and tubing. Both are done on the Lower Nolichucky where there is Class I water.
If you are an avid stand up paddler then you can take a 3-day SUP clinic here. You’ll learn tons of new skills!
Oh and they offer rafting trips down the French Broad River near Asheville, NC.
You could also lounge in a hammock the whole time you’re here if you so choose.
Rafting the Nolichucky River
So are you planning your trip to the Nolichucky yet? I just went and I’m dying to go back. There is so much to do and I only had one day at USA Raft.
This is a great family trip and I would say the perfect intermediate whitewater experience. It’s not as easy as the Nantahala or Pigeon but not as hard as the Gauley or Chattooga Section IV.
If you are adventurous and love whitewater, this is the place for you! I highly recommend a Nolichucky River Rafting trip. Especially with USA Raft!
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