As a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee's School of Architecture, Jon Felderman savored free time away from his office job in downtown Knoxville. Ditching his button-down shirt and tie, Jon headed to the Pigeon River on the weekends during the spring of 1996 to begin his training as a river-rafting guide. In just a year, Felderman's skill and enthusiasm had earned him promotions from river guide to trip leader and then to river manager—all while he maintained his full-time architecture job. Finally, in 2004, the inexorable draw of nature inspired a massive change: Jon abandoned the rigors of city life for good, founding his own rafting company, Big Creek Expeditions. Staffed by experienced guides who share Jon's love of the great outdoors, today the company leads trips down both the upper and lower Pigeon River and orchestrates rafting and camping packages for overnight expeditioners.
Wahoo’s Adventures refers to itself as the “original” whitewater outfitter, having facilitated outdoor excursions on rafts, tubes, canoes, and kayaks for the past three decades. Whitewater-rafting tours take place upon the Watauga River, the Nolichucky River, and Wilson Creek Gorge, three waterways with differing levels of frothiness, much like three cappuccinos ordered by a family of bears. Alternatively, adults without rafting experience and children as young as 6 months can lazily drift down the New River while sprawled across tubes. As they pass rugged hillsides and scenic farmland, tubers can smell wildflowers, listen to chirping birds, and keep eyes peeled for Sasquatch footprints. Keeping clients safe is Wahoo’s main priority, which is why their experienced guides equip adventurers with high-quality life jackets, helmets, and paddles before taking the water.
River and Earth Adventures stands out from other wilderness outfitters by being completely operated by their own guides. Their fleet of seasoned cave, mountain, and water-navigating guides work in tandem with professional ecologists and geologists, focusing Blue Ridge Mountains excursions on environmental education as well as adventure. During all day trips, guides divulge area history and expound on forest and river ecosystems as well as geology in caves whose interiors rest at 60 degrees year-round to keep them free of snowman hermits.
Each trip also immerses adventurers in athletic activity, whether on hikes to summits and secluded waterfalls, spelunking through electricity-free cave tunnels, or rafting and kayaking down the Watauga River rapids. For those in search of extended excursions, guides lead children's adventure day camps and combination trips that further an environmental focus and bottle-cap collections through river cleanup projects.
From fly-fishing to kayaking to whitewater rafting, Endless River Adventures keeps aquatic adrenaline junkies fixed with daily river tours, boating equipment rentals, and regularly scheduled international trips. The local staff of multi-talented water buffs coordinate full- and half-day tours down the Nantahala, Ocoee, and Cheoah rivers, allowing clients to opt for guided or unguided expeditions depending on their level of experience and fluency in turtle. Mindful of the growing scarcity of natural splendor, Endless River Adventures participates in a number of eco-friendly efforts that support Nantahala Gorge and endangered waterways overseas.
Whether navigating whitewater rapids or coaching groups up sheer rock faces, USA Raft and Mountain River Guides strives to impart its passion for the region’s natural splendor. Before hitting the trail, all guides pass through USA Raft and Mountain River Guides’ training school, the curriculum of which places a special focus on leadership and group dynamics. This training helps guides foster a safe, positive atmosphere for groups of all ages and skill levels. Additionally, USA Raft and Mountain River Guides supplies sojourners with safety gear, equipment, and tips for politely turning down play dates with Bigfoot.
While the Hampton family owns and operates French Broad Rafting and Ziplines, Mitch, Michael, and Korey Hampton have also had their personal share of ups and downs, both on the water and off. At age 10, they began exploring eastern Tennessee rivers with their grandfather, and they followed that passion for whitewater rafting into their business, which had been family-run for nearly 30 years. But then their dream was threatened. A fire swallowed the business, and the family lost everything. Slowly, though, with the help of family, friends, and staff, they rebuilt their company, learning patience and perseverance while finding comfort and strength in the support of their community.
Today, in addition to their traditional water-based excursions, the family also takes to the trees on their zipline course. Ripping through the clear mountain air, they've charted mid-air trails for zipline canopy tours that send guests soaring from tree to tree more swiftly than a caffeinated eagle. The course's ten ziplines stretch in distance from 75' to 1000', ensuring the guests have plenty of time to admire their sky-high view of the woods on adventures that also incorporate rappels, short hikes, and a rumbling jaunt on a hard-nosed utility vehicle.