Where to go!

New River Trail State Park + New River

Fries, Virginia

Trail Distance: 19 miles

River Distance: 32 miles

Difficulty: Beginner trail, class I-III river

Winding for 59 miles in southwestern Virginia, the New River Trail State Park is a linear multiuse park that parallels its namesake, the New River, for 39 miles. In its former life, the New River Trail was a railroad right-of-way, which makes the present-day trail well graded and easy on the legs. With a number of boat launches, primitive campgrounds, and parking lots up and down the trail, crafting your own packrafting adventure is a logistical cakewalk.

For a weekend overnighter, park in Allisonia. Strap a pack on or load up the bike. It’s 13.5 miles to Fries Junction, where you can pitch a tent for the evening. In the morning, it’s 5.5 more miles to the boat launch in Fries, where you’ll blow up the packraft and float back downstream to your car at Allisonia.

Greenbrier River Trail + Greenbrier River

Cass, West Virginia

Trail Distance: 9.4 miles

River Distance: 10 miles

Difficulty: Beginner trail, class I-II river

Though a few miles in the southern district of the Greenbrier River Trail are still closed due to heavy damage from the historic summer floods of 2016, the many miles north between milepost 13 and milepost 80.4 are untouched.

Photo by Chris Jackson

Take a long day in the woods and put in on the Greenbrier River in Cass. It’s a 10-mile float downstream to Clover Lick. The river here quietly meanders through the Monongahela National Forest, and though the rapids are small, the opportunities for fishing are aplenty. Once you take out at Clover Lick, roll up the raft, cinch it to your pack or bike, and hit the trail. It’s 10 easy miles back to your starting point in Cass, the literal end of the line for the Greenbrier River Trail. Extend your trip with ease by paddling farther downstream and utilizing one of the trail system’s numerous established campgrounds or trailside camping.

 Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Stearns, Kentucky

Trail Distance: 7 miles

River Distance: 10 miles

Difficulty: Intermediate-advanced trail, class I-III river

Spanning 125,000 rugged miles across the Cumberland Plateau and over the Tennessee/Kentucky border, the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is revered for its remoteness and wild, pristine beauty. Unlike the rail-trail trips suggested above, this itinerary is recommended for more experienced trail and river users. Though most of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River is flat, there are a couple of larger rapids, namely, a class IV chute called Devil’s Jump. This rapid can be easily avoided by portaging around it on river left.

Park at the Ledbetter trailhead to begin your adventure. As of 2013, the Ledbetter Trail was opened to mountain bikes, so you can ride or walk the two miles south to where trail meets river. After some light bushwhacking to get to the river’s edge, switch gears and load up the raft. The riverside camping here is phenomenal, but be sure to choose a site that is elevated enough to keep you safe from the possibility of rising water levels. Your takeout is at Blue Heron on river right just below Devil’s Jump (which can be identified by the overlook tower above it on river right). Once you’ve packed up the raft, head back over the river toward Dick Gap and Big Spring Falls to your car at Ledbetter.

 Potomac River + Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Trail Distance: 16.7 miles

River Distance: 18 miles

Difficulty: Beginner trail, class I-II river

Riding or walking along this part of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is part history field trip, part adventure. Running for 184.5 miles in total, the C&O Canal traverses the Potomac River towpath, which once served as the economic and transportation lifeblood of the Mid-Atlantic.

Photo by Chris Jackson

Begin your multisport adventure by parking at the Dargan Bend boat launch just outside of Harpers Ferry. Once you’ve inflated the raft and secured your return transportation of choice, be it a pair of hiking boots or a bike, it’s time to hit the water. The Potomac is relatively mild with the exception of a two-mile class II stretch of whitewater between Dam 3 and Sandy Hook. Continue on for another 13 miles past Sandy Hook under the Route 340 bridge to Point of Rocks. There will be plenty of prime camping spots before you reach Point of Rocks—we recommend checking out Bald Eagle Island for some truly unique riverside camping. Once you take out, pack up the raft and hit the C&O Canal for a breezy ride back to Dargan Bend.

 Great Allegheny Passage + Youghiogheny River

Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania

Trail Distance: 12 miles

River Distance: 9 miles

Difficulty: Beginner trail, class II river

Hidden in the folds of southwestern Pennsylvania’s ridges and valleys is the bustling whitewater hub of Ohiopyle. With a year-round population just shy of 100, what this quaint town lacks in full-time residents it makes up for in its seasonal paddling scene, which attracts some of the world’s best whitewater athletes. The most popular stretches of the Youghiogheny River here are the Lower and Upper, but for low river traffic and beginner friendly rapids, take to the Middle section.

Park in the nearby town of Confluence, where you’ll launch your packraft adventure. From there it’s a mellow but fun nine-mile float to Ohiopyle. When you see an abrupt horizon line, that means you’ve arrived at Ohiopyle Falls. Take out on river left before plummeting over the 18-foot waterfall, which is technically allowed but only during certain times of the season. Deflate the raft, roll it up, and head back to Confluence via the Great Allegheny Passage. Don’t be surprised if your hike or ride feels especially slow—the slight uphill gradient can be deceptively taxing.

South Fork Holston River + Virginia Creeper Trail

Damascus, Virginia

Trail Distance: 32-41 miles

River Distance: 8-14 miles

Difficulty: Beginner trail, class II-III river

The classic Virginia Creeper Trail experience goes like this: hire an outfitter for a shuttle ride to the top, cruise 17 miles downhill back to Damascus, be home in time for supper. A much more interesting way to experience the same trail, and then some, is to incorporate the river that runs alongside it—the South Fork of the Holston River.

Photo by Chris Jackson.

Stash your car just outside of Damascus at Alvarado Station. Once you’re packed, head upstream. If you’re on a bike and not pressed for time, we recommend climbing to the trail’s terminus at Whitetop Station, about 26 miles from Alvarado. The trail climbs gradually and parallels the idyllic Whitetop Laurel Creek, so take your time and soak in the rhododendron-packed scenery. Camping is available for free along most portions of the trail, so long as it’s not clearly marked private property. In the morning, enjoy an effortless cruise back to Damascus, where you’ll put in on the South Fork of the Holston River below the Drowning Ford bridge. Depending on water levels, you can put on the river right downtown and add a few extra miles to your float. The continuous class II-III rapids are easy to scout from the bank or read-and-run. You’ll be back in Alvarado before you know it.

 Shenandoah River + Appalachian Trail

Waynesboro—Front Royal, Virginia

Trail Distance: 107.8 miles

River Distance: 95 miles

Difficulty: Intermediate-advanced trail, class I-II river

Looking to spend your precious vacation time on some hard-earned memories? Enter the region’s ultimate packrafting adventure. Popular among Appalachian Trail thru hikers as an “aqua blaze” alternative to hiking through the Shenandoahs, this portion of the Shenandoah River is floatable pretty much year-round. The outfitters between Waynesboro and Front Royal, Virginia, are accustomed to hikers ditching their boots for a canoe, but you won’t need to do either. You will, however, be required to thumb a ride. But what’s an Appalachian Trail hike without a little hitchhiking?

Park near the Rockfish Gap Entrance to Skyline Drive where the Appalachian Trail crosses Afton Mountain. You can either arrange for a shuttle to pick you up off the mountain, or thumb a ride to the Port Republic boat launch a half-hour away. You can also put on the South River, a tributary to the Shenandoah, closer by in Waynesboro, but that will add some substantial distance to the packrafting portion. For the next few days, you’ll be floating the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Camping is available anywhere that’s not designated private property. Your takeout is the Karo boat launch just outside of Front Royal. Once in town, you can hop on public transportation which makes routine stops to where the Appalachian Trail crosses US-522. Follow the white blaze south back to Rockfish Gap.

French Broad + French Broad River Greenway

Asheville, North Carolina

Trail Distance: 2.83 miles

River Distance: 2.4 miles

Difficulty: Beginner trail, class I river

The French Broad River cuts right through the heart of Asheville and, as such, is fast becoming the city’s pride and joy. On any given summer day, the river is packed with inner tubers and paddlers out for a day float. Some of that energy is no doubt thanks to new greenway plans and riverfront development.

Explore just a taste of the 140-mile long river where it winds below West Asheville. Park at Hominy Creek River Park and load up the raft. You won’t find many rapids here, as opposed to section 9 of the Broad, but this calm stretch of water is perfect for first-time floaters and families. Your takeout is just a couple of miles downstream at the French Broad River Park where you can hike or bike along the French Broad River Greenway and be back at Hominy Creek all in a day’s time.

Lower Green River + Green River Game Lands

Saluda, North Carolina

Trail Distance: 1.75 miles

River Distance: 6 miles

Difficulty: Intermediate trail, class II river

Step up your packrafting game on the Lower Green River in western North Carolina. A gem of a run largely recognized for the class V Narrows section farther upstream, the Lower Green itself is a great float for boaters of all disciplines wanting to learn more about paddling in current.

Put in at the Fishtop Access parking lot on Green Cove Road. It’s impossible to miss, and will likely be packed with kayakers taking off the river after running the Narrows. From here it’s a pleasant six-mile float down to the takeout, if you’re willing to do a little road walking afterwards. If you’d rather skip the road walk, take out on river left when you see Green Cove Road cross the river. The Green River Cove Trail traces the winding path of the Green River back toward Fishtop. You may need to inflate your raft to ferry back over the river to the parking lot, but that’s the beauty of a packraft—it’s there when you need it most.

Cumberland River + Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail

Ashland City, Tennessee

Trail Distance: 6.7 miles

River Distance: 6 miles

Difficulty: Beginner trail, class I river

Floating along the Cumberland River near Ashland City, you’d never know you were just 30 minutes away from the metropolis that is Nashville, Tennessee. Bordered on one side by the 20,000-acre Cheatham Wildlife Management Area and the Dyson Ditch Wildlife Refuge on the other, the river here is a sanctuary for urban dwellers and wildlife alike.

Park a car at the Marks Creek trailhead parking lot for the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail. Whether you’re riding a bike or walking, you’ll need to make your way down Chapmansboro Road toward the river, where you can inflate your packraft and head downstream. It’s a lazy float for almost six miles down to the Cheatham Dam boat launch on river right. Hop out here and head up the street to the end terminus of the Bicentennial Trail. After a short jaunt along half graded gravel, half paved trail, you’re back where you started. It’s the ideal day trip escape from the bustle of city life.