Aquatics Trips

adult tubingWCU is located in a beautiful and temperate rain forest. The bio-diverse mountains and valleys around the Cullowee area are surrounded by a clean watershed that supplies numerous streams, lakes, and some of the oldest river systems in North America.  The French Broad River is part of a system of waterways that is thought possibly to predate the continent. The Nantahala River, which, in Cherokee means “Land of the Noonday Sun” feeds into the Little Tennessee River and is steeped in Native American history.  On the Tuckasegee River, derived from the Cherokee word daksiyi, meaning “Turtle Place”, Native American fishing weirs can still be viewed. Join us as we explore this natural water wonderland! We have trips where you can learn new skills as well as those where you simply float with the current and take in the breathtaking scenery. Look for rafting, canoeing, kayaking, SUPing (standup paddleboard), and tubing. 

 Aquatics Difficulty Ratings

Please read the descriptions of difficulty levels carefully before signing up for an aquatics trip. Aquatics staff will be happy to answer questions (email

Gentle: Introductory level; average fitness.

Moderate: Good condition; possibly some proficiency in paddling skills.

Strenuous: Above average fitness; some proficiency in paddling skills required.

Important Guidelines for Aquatics Trips

Read the following information carefully before registering for aquatics trips.

  • Trips will go out rain or shine, but they may be relocated or canceled if there is a long-duration storm. Trips could take more or less time than indicated due to streamflow, dam water release, or weather. All participants will be expected to help load and unload gear. Trip leaders will not launch during thunderstorms, and we will wait for 30 minutes after the last thunderclap to launch the watercraft. We will stay in the vans or under appropriate cover during bad weather.
  • All trips will leave at the time shown on the schedule. Be at the Nature Tent/Office at least 15 minutes early. You should have drinking water with you for all trips. Fill your water bottles before you leave the dorm. Two quarts of water are recommended. Bring all of your other required gear and supplies, too.
  • Personal flotation devices or life jackets are provided and must be worn. You do not need to be a great swimmer to enjoy our river trips; however, you do need to be sure of your abilities should you be separated from your boat or tube in still or moving water. Trip leaders will do their best to alert you to possible trouble spots, but one thing is for sure in paddling sports; the water is the boss and occasionally can have a few surprises downstream.
  • Wearing the correct footwear is required for all aquatic trips (see the Shoe Requirements). We will enforce this rule to help with walking in awkward or slippery terrain as well as to protect your feet from sharp objects like glass, metal, and sharp rocks that often can be found in rivers and streams. Footwear must be sturdy and must stay on securely in moving or still water. Participants without proper shoes will not be allowed to go on the trip. If you have any doubts, please have a Nature Staffer check them out well before departure time.
  • The skills for paddling smooth lakes, flat water, or estuaries are not the same as those needed for Class I-II+ Rivers. If you’ve never paddled moving or whitewater, or if it’s been a long time since you have used these skills, please sign up for an instructional or introductory trip.

American Whitewater rates the sections of the rivers that we’ll use by the following scale:

Class I: Easy - Fast-moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions and all are obvious and easily avoided with basic training.

Class II: Novice/Intermediate  – Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels, which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily avoided by trained paddlers.

  • The difficulty ratings for these trips are not exaggerated; a measure of physical strength is necessary, especially in the occasional rescue situation.

 Helpful Tips for a More Successful Trip

  • Do not take anything (rings, watches, jewelry, meal cards, keys, etc.) with you on the river if it would break your heart to return without it. The Robber Fish can snatch your stuff, so leave valuables in your room or in the van. Protective straps are recommended if you need to wear glasses on the river. If you want to bring a camera, make it a waterproof disposable, not your favorite camera.
  • Synthetic fiber and wool garments will help keep you comfortable. As amazing as it might seem, it can be very cold on the river in July! Cotton actually will make you colder. A rain or paddling jacket will be very welcome if there’s a shower! (No ponchos allowed.) It’s a great idea - and a requirement to be prepared.

Shoe Requirement

The point of these requirements is to keep your feet protected from rocks, broken glass, etc. Your shoes must stay on your feet throughout the trip and have a sole thick enough to stop sharp objects. Slip-ons, ancient shoes that are barely together, or other footwear that does not protect your feet will not be allowed.

OK for ALL Aquatics trips


Tied, closed-toe shoes with thick enough soles to protect the bottoms of your feet, such as sneakers, tennis shoes, and running shoes; thick-soled water shoes that secure around the foot and have adequate toe protection.


Not allowed

Open-toed sandals, crocs, flip flops, shoes that slip on, or don’t tie or fasten tightly enough to keep them on.

OK for hiking in a creek (water stomp), but NOT for float trips

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots.

OK for canoeing, kayaking, or tubing but NOT hiking


Open- and closed-toe water shoes with thick soles that stay securely on your feet with straps around the back of your heel.

  • 700: Morning Canoe (Family Friendly)Limit 13

    Do you want to canoe on a beautiful lake with us? Bring a family member or a friend to check out the spectacular views while paddling this mountaintop lake. Drive Time: 30 mins each way.

  • 702: Am Canoe & Waterfall HikeLimit 13

    This is an excellent trip for paddlers that like to hike. We will paddle south to an island on Bear Lake, then to a cove by a wooded shore surrounded by rhododendron and other beautiful flora where we will land our canoes. Then we will take a short 30-minute hike (mostly uphill ) to a 100+ foot pristine waterfall. We will eat lunch on the island or by the waterfall (your choice). Bring shoes suitable for both water & hiking. Drive Time: 45 mins one way, depending on rural road conditions.

  • 703: Evening Canoe (Family Friendly)Limit 13

    Join our group as we enjoy a peaceful and relaxing trip to beautiful Bear Creek lake. Listen to the quiet sounds of the lake and enjoy the sights at dusk. Bring a flashlight or headlamp just in case it is dark when we get back to our take-out point. Drive Time: 30 mins one way.

  • 705: Last Canoe Trip (Family Friendly)Limit 13

    During the last full day of SUUSI, you might want to come to enjoy this canoe trip on the beautiful Little Tennessee River. You are going to have some fun paddling and sightseeing. We will give some basic paddling instructions before we canoe downriver through a few easy-to-navigate obstacles. If time permits, we should be able to frolic and play in the stream at the takeout. Only one child is permitted if there are two adults in the canoe. Two children may go with one adult. Drive Time: 45 mins one way.

  • 706: Stand-up PaddleboardLimit 10

    Would you like to learn the basics of Stand-Up Paddleboarding? Our participants will learn some basic paddle strokes and skills, paddleboard & equipment care, as well as other safety information. After a little instruction, we will put our newly-learned skills to use on the lake. For those who are interested, we will conclude with some relaxing yoga postures and time for reflection and gratitude while enjoying the peaceful waterfront. Join us as we spend an afternoon taking part in one of the fastest-growing outdoor paddling activities on the water. Drive Time: 45 mins one way.

  • 707: White Water Rafting MondayLimit 14

    Let's head to the river for a rafting adventure, running the rapids on one of North Carolina's ancient rivers. The Nantahala River Gorge is as scenic as it is challenging, and the morning affords more space for solitude, reflection, and the ability to experience the sights with fewer people on the river. Don't bring anything on this trip that you can't afford to lose in the river. The outfitter will provide a complimentary splash jacket. Drive Time: 45 mins each way.

  • 710: Kayaking the French BroadLimit 14

    It's a great day to go down the river on the French Broad River. We will eat lunch riverside on picnic tables at our outfitter's before we launch onto this scenic river, where we will float by the Biltmore House, stables, bike trails, and other beautiful spots. The wildlife and scenery make this a perfect trip for everyone! Bring extra drinking water (32oz. or more). Drive Time: 60 mins one way.

  • 712: Duck The Tuck 1Limit 13

    We will be paddling downstream in inflatable kayaks (Duckies) on the Tuckasegee River. Previous experience with basic paddling will be helpful on this trip. There will be some whitewater paddling instruction. Come ready to learn, have fun, and enjoy a scenic & exciting paddling trip. The white water rating is Class I-II+. Do not bring anything that you can not afford to lose to the river. This trip is also offered on Thursday. Drive Time: 15 mins one way.

  • 713: Duck The Tuck 2Limit 13

    See trip # 712 for more details. A second Duck the Tuck! Join us as we kayak the Tuckasegee River. The white water rating is Class I-II+. Do not bring anything that you can not afford to lose to the river. Drive Time: 15 mins one way.

  • 714: Teen AdventureUnlimited

    Teens will join us in nature as we begin our wonderful week together. Spend the afternoon reconnecting with old friends or meeting some new ones as we enjoy some outdoor time together. There will be several options for you to enjoy such as tubing down the Little Tennessee River, swimming, relaxing in the shade (or sun) with music and friends, playing interactive games, throwing around a frisbee, or playing some sports. We will enjoy a picnic dinner on site. If you choose to go tubing or swimming you will need correct footwear (see description under Nature Aquatics), drinking water, glasses strap (if you wear glasses), swimwear, sunscreen, dry clothes, and a towel. Drive Time: 45 mins one way // TEENS - Register under age group programming.

  • 715: Intergenerational Tubing and Cookout (Family Friendly)Limit 42

    Tubing on The Little Tennessee River provides excitement going through some easy, small rapids and then time to relax and play as we meander downstream with fellow SUUSI friends. Your appetite will be whetted as you get closer to the picnic area and smell the aroma from the cookout drifting upstream. This area is steeped in history and during certain water levels, you can view Native American fishing weirs along the way. The Little Tennessee River is one of the most intact aquatic ecosystems in the entire Tennessee River system. Consider bringing a tiny dry bag and a way to tie it inside your tube to stow away water, snacks, water toys, etc. to enjoy while you float downriver. Drive Time: 45 mins one way.

  • 716: Adult TubingLimit 26

    The Little Tennessee River is one of the most intact aquatic ecosystems in the entire Tennessee River system. This area is also steeped in Native American history, and when the water is at certain levels you may be able to see some Cherokee fishing weirs. Come float and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. We suggest that you bring some water and a snack to enjoy while you float downriver. Drive Time: 45 mins one way.

  • 717: Messing with Boats (Middlers 12s)Unlimited

    Let's go paddle! Choose your favorite boat and paddle upstream on the Little Tennessee River and then float back down. Our Nature staff instructors will teach you how to have a safe paddling experience while you learn about boats and how to paddle them. You will need appropriate footwear (see description under Nature Aquatics), drinking water, glasses strap (if you wear glasses), swimwear, sunscreen, dry clothes, and a towel! Drive Time: 45 mins one way. // MIDDLERS - Register under age group programming.

  • 718: Glenville Lake for MiddlersUnlimited

    This half-day trip is open to all Middlers. Be prepared for a fun-filled morning exploring nature, swimming, and enjoying snacks. Drive Time: 30 mins one way. // MIDDLERS - You will be be registered under age programming.