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Getting on the water in the summer can take a vacation from awesome to fantabulous! The Great Smoky Mountains includes many rivers and what better way to enjoy them than in a kayak or a canoe. Here are some of our favorite spots for creeking and tracking or just floating (you will have to paddle at some point unless you are sittin’ pretty in the middle seat).

a man and a woman in red kayaks

Here are some of our favorite spots:

Canoe at River John’s near Townsend, Tennessee – one of the sweetest towns you’ll ever visit.

Take The Trip Down the Little River. “From the point of departure to River John’s down the river is approximately 7 1/2 miles. For those who are set on paddling straight through the trip, you can make it in 3 to 3 and 1/2 hours. Most people take a little longer and enjoy stopping from time to time along the river. There are rope swings over the river in some spots” (swing at your own risk). Take a snack or lunch and stop to eat on the river bank – be sure to bring your canoe up far enough and keep an eye on it or it could float away.

a silver canoe with two wooden paddles

River John’s canoes are durable and as safe as the people doing the paddling. They seat one or two persons. Visitors will be briefed upon departure about safety on the Little River, and some canoeing do’s and don’ts to keep each paddler safe.

The Little River

The major portion of the river visitors will travel is calm and serene. There are occasional places on the river where small rapids can be “quite thrilling.” The pace on the river is a little slower and filled with serene enjoyment. The banks are covered with “flora and fauna, turtles, birds and the occasional glimpse of other wildlife.”

Kayak rentals also are available at River John’s.

Canoe & Kayak Rental Fees:
The rental fee of a canoe or a kayak $40; shuttle $20 if you have your own canoe or kayak. Contact River John’s at 865-982-0793.

So, what’s the difference between a canoe and a kayak?

People kayaking down a river

In a kayak, the paddler is seated and uses a double-bladed paddle pulling the blade through the water on alternate sides to move forward. In a canoe, the paddler kneels or sits and uses a single-bladed paddle to propel the boat forward, moving the paddle from one side of the boat to the other.

Canoe Basics 

Canoe with one paddle with an ore on one end.
A very versatile activity-from canoe camping to whitewater canoeing. Canoes come in many different sizes and shapes to meet different needs. Regardless of the type of canoeing, paddlers will need some instruction prior to departure. Canoes are also great for cruising a lake, looking for the perfect fishing hole or taking extended day trips on larger lakes and rivers – think overnight camping trip. Don’t forget to pick up a lifejacket wherever you rent.

Here are 3 fascinating facts about the history of Canoes, according to Wisconsin River Outfitters

Kayak Basics

Life jackets are required here too. Kayak with one paddle with an ore on each end.
Start by grasping your paddle with both hands and centering your paddle shaft on top of your head. Hands will be in the proper starting position when your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Scooped sides of the paddle should be facing you. There are several strokes for going forward, backward, stopping and turning. See the link above for these strokes and directions for getting in and out of a kayak safely.

History of Kayaks, according to Brittanica.com, goes back at least 4,000 years. “It originated with the Eskimos of Greenland and was later also used by Alaskan Eskimos. It has a pointed bow and stern and no keel and is covered except for a cockpit in which the paddler or paddlers sit, facing forward and using a double-bladed paddle.

Eskimos built kayaks by stretching seal or other animal skins over a driftwood or whalebone frame and rubbing them with animal fat to waterproof the covering.”

Kayaking – for beginners or the experienced is available in several spots in Tennessee’s smoky mountains.

Kayaking in a duckie on the Pigeon River
Paddle with Smoky Mountain Outdoors

At Smoky Mountain Outdoors, take a trip down the river in an inflatable kayak in the Smoky Mountains. Drive yourself along the way, escorted by an expert rafting guide. Visitors will learn all types of spins, surfing and sliding techniques too.

Ziplining also is available, and the company offers combo packages.

When you are finished, you can shower, change clothes, and get ready for more fun in the Smoky Mountains, whether that’s visiting another attraction, going out to dinner or heading back to the hot tub in your American Patriot Getaways cabin. Check out our blog on favorite lunch spots and romantic dinner locations in the area.

White Water Rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors is located at 3299 Hartford Road, Hartford, TN 37753, 800-771-7238

Rafting with Big Creek Expeditions

At Big Creek Expeditions, white water rafting trips are available in Gatlinburg at 3541 Hartford Road, Hartford, TN – for ages 8 years or 70 pounds and up. Big Creek Expeditions also offers a Paddle & Saddle combo where you see the Smoky Mountains by land and water with a 6-mile horseback trail ride in Sevierville and a whitewater adventure on the Upper Section of the Pigeon River. The horseback tour includes 70 acres of scenic pioneer trails. Ride through mountain streams and take in mountain views – a romantic adventure or family fun.

FREE on-site amenities include the 10-acre Family Adventure Island featuring a nature trail, barbecue grills, picnic area, beanbag toss games and a playground at the water’s edge. Professional photo of the adventure, gift shop items, and meals are available for a fee. Contact Big Creek Expeditions at 877-642-7238.

Kayak Lessons

At Smoky Mountain Kayaking, kayak lessons are available, as well as tours for the inexperienced as well as the expert paddler. Tellico and Chilhowee Lake in East Tennessee offer paddlers “a unique opportunity to explore dynamic and diverse ecosystems. This wild environment changes daily with the changing weather, stages of the moon, water levels, and the different seasons.”

How to book a tour: choose a day and desired time, choose Tellico Lake or Chilhowee Lake, call or Email your choices, receive confirmation, go paddling!

Contact Smoky Mountain Kayaking at 865-705-8678 or SmokyMtnKayaking@aol.com.


Paddle Grapple competition, has been postponed from its August 1 date. But, keep a look out for the rescheduled date or plan for next year. It’s a great time worth planning a trip around.

Paddlers meet at the Tsali Recreational Area – Paddle Grapple is a 3- or 6-mile flatwater kayak, canoe and SUP (stand-up paddleboard) race on beautiful Fontana Lake, which is nestled at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, just a few miles from the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

Event Information
Distance: 3 or 6 miles

Other Ways to Enjoy the Water

If rafting or tubing are definitely more your style, be sure to check out our blog post all about places you can make a splash in our local rivers!  Of course, if you prefer, there are plenty of places to go swimming in the Smokies, too!

When you finish a day on the river or lake, head home to your relaxing Smoky Mountain Cabin.  Hop in your hot tub for even more water and the massaging jets, along with your favorite beverage as you watch the sun set over the mountains.

Ready to book your adventure in the Smoky Mountains?Living room at The Bear's Lair - a rental cabin in Pigeon Forge

Give American Patriot Getaways a call at 800-204-5169. Let our experts help you find the right cabin and all the right fun, food and entertainment.

You can also contact us online by searching our cabins in Gatlinburg and in Pigeon Forge.  Check out our Pinterest boards if you want a cabin close to the fun and the food! See our boards where to eat in Gatlinburg and where to eat in Pigeon Forge.

If you need more help planning your Smoky Mountain Vacation, be sure to check out all our vacation guides, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram!

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