As someone who lived and boated in the Southeast for 20 years and moved to the PNW 14 years ago it is my opinion that you would be better served to pick the SE. We were able to paddle almost all year with a drysuit and layering. There are numerous class 3,4 and 5 runs within a 200 mile radius (of Bryson City, NC) although the vast majority are free-flowing rivers so are rain dependent. There are many more boaters in the SE so finding people to boat with is no problem. If you decide on the SE I suggest you join GCA in Atlanta or some other paddling club. It was one of the best things I did as a paddler because it increase my boating community and as a result I have made many new friends. I should add that there are many excellent colleges in the SE. My grandson attends Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC. They have a very good paddling program and are close to many rivers. Best wishes!
App State in Boone has a good boating scene and lots of good water. The Watauga put in is about 15 minutes from campus and a roadside section of the Elk is just out of town. Plenty of other good water close by.
Also realize that a lot of PNW rivers (except the coastal ones that are rain-fed) tend to have their best flows during snowmelt/runoff around late May/early June and are good through June-July.
And most colleges are out of Spring semester somewhere around mid-May. You won't be boating a lot while school is in session if you're in the PNW.
Get the best of both worlds: go to a school in the SE and work a summer or two in the PNW.
"Tragically", I went to Montana State University; the Gallatin was only 20 minutes from campus. I never actually boated the Gallatin until ~10 years after I graduated.
Last season I was doing some work on campus and had the opportunity to run the Gallatin from mid-April through mid-June. It was pretty awesome.
A forum community dedicated to whitewater kayaking, boating, and rafting enthusiasts. Come join the discussion about safety, routes, gear, models, styles, gear swaps, reviews, accessories, classifieds, and more!