White Water Raft & Rail Nantahala River, North Carolina

Take a train ride to the river, then white water raft down 8 miles of the Nantahala River in North Carolina.

WildWater Rafting treated our family to their raft & rail package, but the great memories and opinions are ours.
raft and rail 17This memorial day weekend my family was treated to an amazing white water adventure with Wild Water rafting.  On our 2 day trip we were able to spend the night in a Yurt village, ride a train and experience white water rafting.  We have been smiling ever since.

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The Nantahala river runs close to Bryson City, North Carolina which is also home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.  WildWater rafting has an amazing package call the Raft & Rail where you can ride a train in an open air car, crossing Fontana lake and then entering the Nantahala Gorge where you will then raft down the Nantahala river.

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This was the perfect adventure for our family.  We boarded the train about 10 am in our water shoes and rafting clothes.  We were able to bring along backpacks that held a change of dry clothes for after the rafting.

raft and rail 3WildWater has their own car on the train, which is open air so you can enjoy all the beautiful views along the way.  There is also a WildWater guide on the train which can answer any questions you may have.  The guide on the train was also our rafting guide, “Topher”, and he was amazing.  He made our trip so fun!

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For two hours the train takes you through gorgeous country side with breathtaking views.  It is such a relaxing, fun ride to wait and see what comes next into view.  The track was built decades ago when they were heavily logging in the area and it crosses some amazing vistas.

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Eventually you will come right along side the Nantahala river you will soon be rafting.  As you ride the train, you can watch other rafters and kayakers enjoying a fun river ride.

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During a 2 hour long train ride your tummy starts to get a little hungry, but WildWater has that covered.  They provide box lunches with the Raft & Rail package and a water bottle.  The lunch was delicious and fun to eat on an open air train.  It was a huge deli sandwich, chips and 2 delicious cookies.  We were all glad to be well fed before our river adventure.

raft and rail 7 At the end of the line a bus awaits to take you about a mile to where the rafts put in on the river.  You leave your change of clothes on the bus which will meet you at the end of the rafting trip.  

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 Before getting on the river we were well instructed about how to paddle and what to do if we found ourselves falling out of the raft and into the river.  Always remember that your toes go first down the river if you fall out.  We were also provided life vests and they made sure they fit correctly.  After we had been well taught we carried our raft down to the river (boy was that thing heavy!) and we were almost on our way.

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After the raft was in the water our guide, Topher, had us practice strokes as he called commands.  It didn’t take us long before we felt comfortable enough to begin our adventure.

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The Nantahala river has class 2 & 3 rapids which are fun, but not too scary.  It is perfect for a family river ride.  This was our first time white water rafting and it was a good river to begin on.  The scenery is breathtaking along the way.  There are places on the river where the water doesn’t move as swiftly and you are able to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

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 Topher was an excellent guide, taught us well and made the trip really run.  After a challenging rapid he would ask us for a high five and we would all put our paddles together.  He also liked to scare us with a loud slap of his paddle on the water which he blamed on the “beaversharks”.  

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We also became very good at listening to the “lean in” command.  This is essential when about to hit a rock.  It keeps you more stable and less likely to fall out of the boat.  We did hit a rock one time and in all the jostling Kara fell out of the boat.  She was quick to remember the training of holding onto her paddle and pointing her feet down river.  Topher was amazingly quick to maneuver the raft around and he pulled her in in no time.  She was slightly shaken, but handled it really well. (you can tell from the pictures after that she liked the safety of being well inside the boat.)

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We were so sad when our river journey was over.  Carter immediately asked if we could do it again.  The bus was waiting at the end of our run and took us a small jaunt down the road to the WildWater building where we could take a shower, change, and view pictures from our trip while sipping complimentary hot cocoa and cider.  

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When everyone was ready and refreshed (about 30 minutes) the bus was waiting to take us on a 15 minute ride to Bryson City and our car (at the train depot).  Tipping your rafting guide is a fairly common practice.  While they are happy to get any amount, 15-20% is a good rule of thumb.  (after we asked our guide for the purpose of information for this blog post he told us he is happy to get anything, but around $20 seemed to be the most common tip).  For our family this trip was absolutely amazing.  In fact, it was one of our most fun adventures in a long while.  We talked about it all the way home and keep referring back to it with smiles and laughter.  WildWater had everything well planned to make everything run smoothly.  We loved staying in the Yurt village and then finding ourselves on a train the next morning.  Being on the train enjoying the spectacular surroundings was relaxing and so enjoyable.  Our family was able to talk and connect while experiencing something new.  White water rafting was incredible and we all learned that we can do hard things.  The staff was helpful and knowledgable and ready to make our adventure memorable.  I highly recommend WildWater Raft & Rail as your next family adventure!

Please check out our stay at the Yurt village!  



  1. 1

    jamie says

    We have rafting nearby, I think my kids may finally be old enough for a rafting trip. I need to check it out!

  2. 2


    This looks like it was a fun memorable trip! I don’t know if I could do the rafting, I’m so scared of currents, but I’m totally living vicariously through you!

  3. 3


    How fun! This is one of those few times I can’t wait for my little ones to grow up a bit so we can do activities and vacations like this as a family!

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