Weekend Pick: Tube the Oconaluftee River in Cherokee, N.C.

With August arriving, the temperatures climbing, and the humidity choking off all motivation to hit the trail in any capacity, outdoor recreation is relegated to the river. Not that this is a bad thing, but running whitewater is not for everyone, nor is it the most economical activity to be involved in. Kayaking takes years to master, canoeing can get too dang hot, and hiring a rafting trip can put your weekend over budget in a hurry. Luckily, there is one water activity anyone can master in minutes – nay, seconds as we have practically evolved to do it – takes little to no money, and is as refreshing as it is enjoyable: tubing.

Tubing a river is as American as apple pie and as Southern as fried chicken. If you look back at the annuls of Southern water sports, the pond rope swing and monthly bath are probably the only activities that date the tubing trip. There are few things that can be as exciting as they are lazy – combining running a river and maybe a Class I rapid or two, with just sitting in a rubber donut. This weekend, grab your cutoffs, sunscreen and river shoes and head for Cherokee, North Carolina to tube the Oconaluftee River outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Oconaluftee River begins as a mountainside spring in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but by the time it reaches the town of Cherokee, it’s a broad, pristine playground ripe with trout, swimming holes, and tubing. Check out the two-mile trip that begins at the Big Cove Bridge on the tail end of the Raven Fork River and ends just before reaching the town of Cherokee. You’ll float under the Blue Ridge Parkway, bump through small rapids, and have access to The Beach, a local hangout with a sandy river bottom and rope swing. This stretch of river is banked by Great Smoky Mountains National Park on one side and the Cherokee Reservation on the other, so development is minimal. Tubers have even been known to see elk drinking from the river. If you’re looking to test your extreme tubing skills, ask Cherokee Rapids to take you to the class II chute on the Raven Fork just above the typical put-in.

Nearby: You’re in the Smokies, so hiking trails stretch in every direction. Check out the Smokemont Loop Trail for a six-mile loop hike through a historic community that thrived before the park was established.

Closest Town: Cherokee, N.C.

Directions: Cherokee Rapids (cherokeerapids.com) is located off of Highway 441 in Saunooke Village.

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