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The Complete Guide to Floating the Nolichucky River (Tubing)

The Nolichucky River has earned its reputation as one of the most beautiful rivers in the United States and offers some of the best whitewater rafting in the Southeast. It was referred to by the Cherokee as “Rushing Water” as this river is as strong as it is beautiful.

The Nolichucky begins around the Mount Mitchell area in Western North Carolina, from the confluence of both the North Toe River and the Cane River. The river travels northwest into Erwin and Greeneville TN, where it then meets and confluences with the French Broad River.

The naturally flowing river is popular among those who love to go whitewater rafting or tubing as it ranges from Class I-IV rapids. The Nolichucky offers a great mixture of high adrenaline rapids to relaxing floats with incredible views and floating it is one of the best things to do in Johnson City!

Whether you want a DIY float or a professional guide, floating the Nolichucky River is a must when visiting East Tennessee! 🚣

Below, I will walk you through the best places for guided tours as well as my recommendations on the best spot for a DIY tubing float.

Complete Guide to Nolichucky River Tubing

Girl floating down the river on an inner tube in the Nolichucky River with mountains in the background
DIY tubing on the Lower Nolichucky River

Nolichucky River Guided Tours

Whether you want to go whitewater rafting, tubing, canoeing, or kayaking, guided tours tend to be the best experience as well as the safest option as you are being guided by professionals!

These guides are trained to expect the unexpected and know all the secrets and best spots—allowing you to fully enjoy your ride down the river.

The Nolichucky River is broken down into 2 major sections:

  1. Nolichucky River Gorge — Class III-IV Rapids
  2. Lower Nolichucky — Class I-II Rapids

Below I will recommend a few tour companies that can safely guide you through your whitewater rafting, tubing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or fishing experiences.

1. USA Raft Adventures

USA Raft Adventures is an established full-service adventure company that offers rafting, lodging, caving, and even more in Erwin, TN on the Nolichucky River as well as the French Broad River. Whatever activity you are wanting to do, USA Raft Adventures probably offers it!

Below are the most popular tours that USA Raft Adventures offers on the Nolichucky.

Nolichucky Gorge — White Water Rafting
  • River: Nolichucky River
  • Location: Erwin, TN
  • River Rating: Class I-IV
  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Minimum Age: 10+
  • Price: $83 per person

For those seeking an adrenaline rush, this one is for you! You will experience Class IV rapids while enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Nolichucky Gorge!

Lower Nolichucky — White Water Rafting
  • River: Nolichucky River
  • Location: Erwin, TN
  • River Rating: Class I-II
  • Duration: 3-4 hours
  • Minimum Age: 4 +
  • Price: $50 per person

If you and your family prefer a more mellow float with mild rapids, this option will be the best for you. You’ll have chances to take a swim in the slow-flowing waters, do a little bird watching, or simply take in the amazing view.

French Broad Rafting — White Water Rafting
  • River: French Broad
  • Location: Marshall, NC
  • River Rating: Class II-III
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Minimum Age: 8 +
  • Price: $52 per person

Although this tour is technically not on the Nolichucky River, the French Broad River confluences with the Nolichucky (meaning the two rivers junction or meet). This tour is perfect for families, or those wanting a more exciting raft, as there are a few Class III rapids to get your heart pumping!

Nolichucky Tubing
  • River: Lower Nolichucky River
  • Location: Erwin, TN
  • River Rating: Class I-II
  • Duration: 1-2 hours (per trip)
  • Minimum Age: 8 +
  • Price: $15 per person 1st lap + $10 each additional lap

Tubing the Nolichucky is one of my favorite activities as you do not have to worry about anything besides floating and enjoying the water and scenery. This tour starts at USA Raft and ends 1.5 miles downstream at Chestoa Recreation where a shuttle bus will pick you up and take you back. The average float time is about 1 hour per lap.

2. Blue Ridge Paddling

People going Whitewater Rafting on the Nolichucky River with Blue Ridge Paddling

River: Nolichucky River & French Broad River
Location: Erwin, TN
River Rating: Class I-IV
Duration: 1-6 hours
Minimum Age: 6 + (Depending on activity)
Price: $60-$85 per person

Blue Ridge Paddling offers whitewater adventures on both the Nolichucky River as well as the French Broad River. Offering self-guided ducky (inflatable kayak) trips, guided ducky trips, and whitewater rafting.

This company also offers Kayak instructions for those looking to master the activity of kayaking — great for beginners!

3. Wahoo’s Adventures

Nolichucky White Water Rafting
  • River: Nolichucky River
  • Location: Erwin, TN
  • River Rating: Class III-IV
  • Duration: 4-5 hours
  • Minimum Age: 7 +
  • Price: $125 per person

Wahoo Adventures has offered high-quality outdoor adventures since 1978 and was voted #1 on TripAdvisor. They have received two Outfitter of the Year awards from the Professional Paddlesports Association.

Tours are offered on the New River, the Watauga River in Elizabethton, and the Nolichucky River.

4. Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC)

Nolichucky Gorge Rafting: Full Day (Lunch)
  • River: Nolichucky River
  • Location: Erwin, TN
  • River Rating: Class III-IV
  • Duration: 4-7 hours
  • Minimum Age: 12 +
  • Price: Varies – Depending on Group Size

Nantahala Outdoor Center, founded in Bryson City NC in 1972, offers tours on the Nolichucky from March-October. NOC specializes in offering the smallest, most-intimate rafting trips allowing you to fully enjoy your experience. They only offer group bookings, so bring your family and friends! Lunch will be provided.

DIY Lower Nolichucky River Tubing

  • River: Nolichucky River
  • Location: Erwin, TN
  • River Rating: Class I-II
  • Duration: 2-4 hours
man floating on tube down the Nolichucky River in East TN
A beautiful day to go tubing in East TN!

If you have had some experience with river tubing and would like to go on a DIY float, this guide will be perfect for you! Located on the Lower Nolichucky River (Class I-II Rapids) you’ll have a relaxing float with a few spots that will get your adrenaline going!

Safety is always a #1 priority and we highly recommend that you wear a life jacket anytime you are floating down the river as water can be unpredictable!

We recommend checking the CFS levels (cubic feet per second) of the Nolichucky River on the day you plan on river tubing as you do not want to go when the water is either too high or too low for safety reasons. We do NOT recommend tubing without a guide if the water levels are over 2500 cfs. Check here for current water levels.

Packing List

  1. Bathing Suit or fast-drying clothing
  2. Sunscreen
  3. Water
  4. Sunhat
  5. Water Shoes
  6. Cell Phone with waterproof case
  7. Waterproof Bluetooth speaker
  8. Waterproof bag to keep your car keys

Floaters Tip: Keep in mind that you will not have great cell phone service while floating the Nolichucky River, so download music in advance if you would like to listen to music while enjoying your float!

Parking

The first thing you want to do is take two cars, one you will park at your endpoint and one at your starting point.

google map view of parking spot
ENDING POINT – PARK CAR HERE

End Point – Traveling from Erwin, TN: Take the Storytelling/Jonesborough exit from I-26 onto Highway 81 South/Jonesborough RD. Continue on this road until you reach Arnold RD on your right (located right before a bridge). Take Arnold Road until you find parking with boulders located on the left side of the road (see image above). Leave towels in this vehicle as you will be arriving wet! Take everything else (keys, cell phone, tubes) with you to the Starting Point location.

End Point – Traveling from Jonesborough, TN: Head down W Main Street in Jonesborough and onto Highway 81 South/Jonesborough Road towards Erwin, TN. Drive until you reach Tommy Campbell Road, where you will take this road until you reach Arnold RD. Parking will be on your right (see image above). Leave towels in this vehicle as you will be arriving wet! Take everything else (keys, cell phone, tubes) with you to the Starting Point location.

Also Read: 9 Best Waterfalls to Visit Near Johnson City 🥾💦

STARTING POINT – PARK CAR HERE

Starting Point -Traveling from Erwin, TN: If you are traveling from Erwin, TN take the Storytelling/Jonesborough exit onto Highway 81 South/Jonesborough RD. Follow this road for a few miles until you reach the New River Hardwood Log Yard, shortly after this you will find a spot to park your car on the left side of the road. Wait until you find the spot where there is parking on both the left and right side of the road, park here and head down to the river with all of your gear. This is your starting point, so make sure you have your tubes with you! Don’t forget to take your keys for your 2nd vehicle, you will need these when exiting the river.

Starting Point – Traveling from Jonesborough, TN: Head down W Main Street in Jonesborough and onto Highway 81 South/Jonesborough Road towards Erwin, TN. Drive about 12 miles or about 15 minutes until you see the river and find a little spot to pull off and park on either side of the road (this will be before you reach New River Hardwood Log Yard). Park here and head down to the river with all of your gear. This is your starting point, so make sure you have your tubes with you! Don’t forget to take your keys for your 2nd vehicle, you will need these when exiting the river.

READY, SET, FLOAT! 🍩

Once you are prepped and ready to start floating, we recommend that you immediately start paddling across the river to the left side of the river fork. Now begins your float down the Nolichucky River. 😎

Most of this float is smooth sailing. Within a few minutes of floating, you will reach a small rapid that will then lead to a slightly bigger rapid by a large rock sticking out of the river, try to paddle to the right side of this rock.

You eventually reach a point where there is another fork in the river. Whenever you reach a fork, ALWAYS take the left side. All the sides to the right are very shallow and will leave you getting stuck and you’ll eventually be walking (no fun in that!).

One of the left-side forks in the river leads to a large rapid (Class II-III). If your tube gets close to the bank, push off with your feet, and don’t let it pop your tube!

About halfway through your float, you will reach another rapid and there will be a large boulder on your left and large rock formations on your right — this is a great location to get out a swim. Keep in mind that this is private property.

The very end is known as “Big Rock” and this is where you find the largest and best rapid! A couple of us have actually been knocked off of our tube here. You should have your life jacket on so if you do you’ll pop back up in no time. 😋

Right after Big Rock, you will find a sandy beach area on your right and this is where you will get out. Head up where you will find your second car.

Dry off, pack up your tubes, and go pick up your “starting car.” A cold beer at one of Johnson City’s breweries awaits!

We hope you enjoy floating the Nolichucky River as much as we do! Whether you decided to go White Water Rafting with a tour guide or tubing the river on a DIY float, we hope you had a great time!

Please remember to be safe and always wear your personal flotation device or life jacket. Also, pack out ALL trash you pack in! 🌿

Where do you like to go tubing/rafting on the river around Johnson City? Any suggestions for us?

📍 PIN IT — NOLICHUCKY RIVER TUBING GUIDE

Disclaimer: Not to be taken as professional advice. The authors of this blog, Take Me to Tennessee, assume no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this post that may lead to physical harm.