When you think whitewater rafting you envision class 5 rapids, falling out of the raft and extreme thrills. Usually, you don’t consider whitewater rafting as a family-friendly activity, because of these imagined wild ideas. I am EXCITED to share with you about Wildwater in North Carolina, it is located in the beautiful Nantahala Gorge where you can take your kids age 7 and 60 lbs on a whitewater rafting adventure! Seriously, I can not begin to tell you how stoked I was when I found out we could do a whitewater trip with all our family. This kind of trip has been on our bucket list and to be able to check this off with the kids was incredible. FULL DISCLOSURE: This trip was taken on a hosted stay at Fontana Village and Marina

Our kids were really excited to be heading to Fontana Village and Marina for a backcountry stay and extended time at the village in one of the 3 bedroom cabins. When I told them that we were possibly going to be able to go white water rafting they could not believe it. Abbie who has T1d said, “Mom, stop joking around. They will never let someone like me and my age go on a trip like that.”  While she had a point that many destinations are too extreme for someone her size and age, Wildwater on the Nantahala River was going to be the perfect place for her first whitewater trip.

The kids could barely contain their excited anticipation as the morning of our whitewater rafting trip dawned. “When are we leaving? How long is the trip? Do you think I will fall out of the raft?”, were just some of the questions racing through our kids’ minds. Matt and I took time to answer and re-answer the questions they peppered on us about our white water rafting adventure.

FINALLY, it was time to load the family into the GMC Yukon and head to the Nantahala Gorge. We put the address to Wildwater into our GPS, however, we did find that cell service in the surrounding area can be touch and go, and we recommend charting your trip BEFORE you start down the road. Roads here in the area between Fontana Village and Bryson City, are curvy and twisting, offering beautiful views of the Nantahala National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains. Peacefulness and tranquility abound as you breathe in the lush greenery and stunning landscapes.


We found Wildwater with ease and pulled into the parking lot, where we all clamored out of the car eager to begin our trip. It’s here I need to let you in on a bit of a secret, Abbie is a bit fearful of water activities. While she was thrilled to be part of this adventure, the moment we pulled into the parking lot, a spark of fear flashed in her eyes. With some encouragement and promises that all would be well, she bravely grabbed my hand, and we walked to the check-in area.

We were able to meet the owner, Trey, who would be our guide on this trip. Admittedly, when the owner is part of your adventure, the whole experience is taken to the next level. The team at Wildwater was efficient and had us outfitted with our gear in no time.

Safety is the top priority here and we had a 30-minute safety talk before we even headed out to the Nantahala River. I found the time that they took preparing us for our white water trip was extremely helpful, especially for the kids. Trey gave them tips and encouragement on what to do, how to do it and pep talked them through every step! I give Wildwater high marks in the safety area.

Safety talk:

After the safety talk, the white water adventure begins! We all grabbed the sides of the raft and walked it to the launch area. The guides stabilized the rafts as the family tumbled in and secured themselves. We had been taught to sit on the edge of the raft with our foot nearest the side tucked in. You should have seen Abbie tucking in that foot! She gave me a look of excited anticipation as the guides launched us into the Nantahala River!!

Whitewater Rafting:

The Nantahala River was the PERFECT place to introduce our children to the exhilaration of white water rafting with class 1 and 2 rapids!  We had a wonderful time connecting as a family on the river in a way you can’t on land. We had to use teamwork, encouraging one another as the guides called out the commands of 2 hard paddles on the right! There were moments of relaxation as the Nantahala pulled us down the river with her gentle (and sometimes rapid) currant. Breathing in the crisp mountain air and drinking in the beauty of the river banks drew us deeper into the whitewater experience.

8 miles and 3 hours goes by fast and before we knew it we were headed toward Nantahala Falls. This last hurrah of the trip is where we got to safely experience a class 3 rapid. We knew it was coming, but when we saw it for the first time, our pulses quickened and our adrenaline rushed!  The guides called out the commands and we dug our paddles into the Nantahala, and we cascaded down the falls. The cries of success could be heard reverberating across the river!


After the falls our time on the Nantahala came to an end. We started to get comfortable as our raft slowly drifted toward the unloading area. Trey said, “This is where most people get too relaxed and we have more people fall in here.” No sooner were those words out of his mouth that the raft behind us bumped a small rock and we heard, “Ahh!” and a splash. Matt and Nate had gotten a bit too comfortable and that little bump sent them into the river for a little swim! Laughter, dripping wet clothes, and smiles brought our journey to an end as we pulled our rafts onto the shore. We’ve been on lots of adventures and this one shot to the top of the list.

Successfully taking our family on a whitewater adventure was one of the most exciting things we have ever done. We really connected as a family, enjoyed the beautiful Nantahala River, and made new friends. Abbie overcame some fears and mastered T1d on the adventure, which is AMAZING.

Wildwater exceeded our expectations on so many levels, from safety, professional guides, and their conservation efforts. Our family respects the environment and we want to support locations that have conservation and eco-friendly travel at the forefront of their operations. Wildwater participates in a river clean up projects on the Nantahala River, an adopt-a-highway program, and a solar hot water project at the Chattooga River location. They not only provide great adventures but are actively protecting the planet while doing it!

General Information:
  1. No experience needed
  2. White water is moving water, Class 1 and 2
  3. Rafting is fully guided
  4. Adults escort littlest ones on all courses/trips
  5. Great activities for multi-generation families to do together

Wildwater Nantahala, Yurt Village, Group Lodge & Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours are located on Hwy. 74 West, 12 miles Southwest of Bryson City, North Carolina.

10320 US 19 W
Bryson City, NC 28713


Reservations #: 866-319-8870
Local Rafting #: 828-488-2384

Happy Adventures!

Matt, Brandy and the Gleason Crew

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Wildwater is Gleason Family Approved!

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Want to read more about where to stay near Wildwater? Check out Fontana Village and Marina.

Fontana Lake

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these companies, and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not buy these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your outdoor goals.