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.
Runners embarking on the Honky Tonk Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K won't need headphones to hear twangy country tunes. That’s because the hilly Wisconsin Dells course features live bands and DJs along the route to keep participants energized as they race toward the finish line. The party-like atmosphere doesn’t end with the race, as a full-blown celebration complete with food, beer, and line dancing awaits runners and their family and friends. Aside from age-group awards for the top three males and females in each race, finish-line gifts include a Honky Tonk cowboy hat and goodie bag for all participants, a finisher-medal buckle for marathoners and half marathoners, and an ice bath for those who decided to pogo stick the entire 26.2 miles. The Honky Tonk marathon and half-marathon course is USA Track & Field certified and is also a Boston Marathon qualifier.
The career thrill-seekers at Outdoor Adventures of the Smokies guide quests into the Smoky Mountains by a variety of means, including helicopters, safari wagons, and ziplines. Aerial views of Tennessee's rolling farmlands and vast oceans overwhelm the senses as hot air balloons hoist at least four riders aloft from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains National Park. The lower Pigeon River's gentle class I and II rapids sharpen the skills of beginner whitewater rafters as they spend 90 minutes maneuvering frothy crests. Up to 12 land-bound adventurers can pile into monster trucks for five heart-racing laps around a track with two large hills, two petite mounds, and two traffic lights that turn yellow at the last second.
Two miles might seem like a negligible distance when you’re driving a car. But when you’re skydiving from two miles above the earth, you relish every foot that separates you from the ground. As the only safety net for their patrons, Skydive East Tennessee’s licensed instructors escort divers up to 11,000 feet into the sky, where they enjoy aerial views of the Smoky Mountains, make white beards out of fluffy clouds, and embark on 45-second freefalls. Before ever stepping foot into the company’s aircraft, the seasoned staff goes over all the details of the trip, ensuring jumpers know exactly what to expect as they leap from the plane and finish their fall with a scenic 5-minute parachute ride. A camera crew can document the whole experience, from the instruction period to the landing, and assembles the footage into a keepsake DVD set to music.
From the Friday of Memorial Day weekend until the Monday of Labor Day weekend, The Smokey Mountain River Romp sends tube riders and kayakers traversing the tranquil waters of Little Pigeon River on inflated tubes. Visitors strap on US Coast Guard?approved life jackets before letting the water steer them for a two-hour, 2.5-mile excursion past the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains before they encounter a stretch of residential Sevierville. Upon reaching the pavilion at the end of their trek, guests hop onto a shuttle that returns them to their starting point, nicknamed "the Barn," where they can feast at the picnic grounds or spend the remainder of the day fishing. Subsequent rides down the river are also free of charge, with a final journey commencing between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Appalachian Outdoors’ seasoned guides shepherd thrill buffs through whitewater adventures along the raging upper Pigeon River and the tamer lower Pigeon River. Clad in Coast Guard–approved life vests and helmets, rafters of all experience levels work together to safely paddle and solve salmon's riddles as inflatable vessels carry them swiftly through Cherokee National Forest. Though the upper river's Class II–IV rapids are only suitable for paddlers at least 8 years old or weighing 70 pounds, the lower segment's softer waters and hammock-like rocks welcome younger kids.