Image for Nantahala River White Water Paddling
Dog Friendly: No
Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter
Time To Complete: Cascades- 10 – 30 mins; Upper- 1 – 2 hours; Gorge- 1.5 – 5 hours
Difficulty: 3

The Nantahala Gorge is ideally set up for intermediate paddlers. It has myriad small surf waves, forgiving eddy lines, and rapids with just enough power to challenge and entertain. There is also the capability to set up elite slalom courses through Nantahala Falls, and the playhole near NOC has been tweaked through the years, hosting the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships in 2013. Combine those resources with the class IV-V options upstream, and it’s easy to see why this area continues to be such a strong paddling destination.

What Makes It Great


Cascades | 0.7 miles | Class IV-V 

The Cascades are a very high quality and easily-lapped series of drops. The river channels well, allowing for a wide range of runnable flows (and some big holes at high water). Since this is a dewatered section of the Nantahala, the Cascades run only when Whiteoak Creek is high from a rain event, or during one of a few scheduled releases per year.

Upper Nantahala | 3.1 miles | Class III+ 

This is a scenic and busy section of river that provides a great cool down from the Cascades upstream, or a way for aspiring advanced paddlers to get accustomed to more continuous whitewater. The entire section is road-scoutable- watch out for wood. As far as flows go, the same thing applies as the Cascades… there needs to be rain or a scheduled release.

Nantahala Gorge | 7.5 miles | Class II-III 

The gorge section is also road-scoutable nearly from top to bottom, and provides a beautiful and stress-free way to get into the world of whitewater. Notable rapids include Patton’s Run (right off the bat), Delebar’s Rock, Whirlpool, Quarry, Surfing Rapid, The Bump, and Nantahala Falls. The Falls represents an intimidating class III benchmark for many intermediate paddlers, and the rocks are always lined with photographers and throwbags on a summer day.


Who is Going to Love It

Unique Experiences

Jump Rock 

About 5.5 miles into the run, you’ll see a very obvious large rock on river right (about 10 feet out of the water). It’s a great pit stop to jump or launch boats off of into the invigorating Nantahala water.

SUP Surfing 

There are several great SUP surf waves on the Nantahala. The two best include one directly below the pedestrian bridge on NOC campus, and another about two miles upstream at Surfer’s Rapid.

Eat at River’s End 

This restaurant is right next to the takeout, and provides a nice après atmosphere to grab food and reflect on the day.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations


Gorge Take Out

Nantahala Outdoor Center
13077 W. Hwy 19, Bryson City, NC 28713 

Gorge Put In 

Drive upstream on Hwy 19 ~7 miles
Turn L onto SR 1442/Wayah Rd.
Large USFS paved lot on left.

Upper Take Out 

(see Gorge Putin above).

Upper Put In 

Continue on SR 1442/Wayah Rd. upstream for 3.3 miles.
Park at the 5th Bridge (if you hit Cascades, you’ve gone too far).

Cascades Take Out 

(see Upper Putin above).

Cascades Put In

Continue on SR 1442/Wayah Rd. upstream for <1 mile.
You will see all of the drops; park at the top of the action (if you hit Whiteoak Creek, you’ve gone too far).

Important Info

Nantahala Gorge Releases 
Nantahala Cascades/Upper Releases 
Nantahala Cascades/Upper Gauge 

-Cascades optimum level = 350-500 cfs

-Upper optimum level = 400-700 cfs

-It’s necessary to pay the $1 daily or $5 season pass USFS use fee (buy at NOC).

-Even in the middle of summer, the water is cold! Plan gear accordingly….


Written by Chris Gragtmans for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Malcolm Smith

High Falls
Seasonality: Spring, Fall, and Winter
The South Mills runs regularly from fall through spring but it does require rain. Look for 500 to 2000 cfs on the USGS gage Mills River at Mills River, NC. One to two inches of rain will provide a runnable water level.
Distance: 12.0 miles
The distance from the put in on Yellow Gap Road to the first available takeout at Turkeypen is 12 miles. Downstream of Turkeypen, the river maintains its scenic character, but the whitewater ends. An additional 10 miles of flatwater can be added below Turkeypen. The takeout for the lower section is where 280 crosses the Mills.
Time To Complete: 6.0 hours
The South Mills from Yellow Gap Road near Pink Beds to Turkeypen Gap can be done in as little as three hours by motivated experts. Class III paddlers should plan on a full day as there are many ledge type rapids and blind turns that require scouting.
Difficulty: 3
The whitewater on the South Mills is not particularly difficult. It is predominantly class II-III. However, it is long and it flows through one of the most remote areas of Pisgah National Forest. Cell phones do not work there. Evacuation is complicated due to flooding of the South Mills Trail when there is enough water to paddle.

The South Fork of the Mills is a rarely run gem in the heart of Pisgah National Forest. It features classic Western North Carolina scenery and good whitewater. It is the only stream around that lacks difficult and dangerous whitewater while draining a remote gorge. The area is also steeped in history. The put in is only a few miles from George Vanderbilt’s Cradle of Forestry.

What Makes It Great

Paddlers will immediately notice the fantastic water quality of the South Mills due to the lack of development in the watershed. Drifting downstream, surprisingly good, pool-drop whitewater leads to an obvious horizon line. This is the sliding entrance to High Falls, an un-run twenty foot cascade that lands on rock. Expert paddlers will find this waterfall intriguing at high flows, when the landing is padded.

Below High Falls, South Mills continues to deliver fun ledges, never exceeding class III. Some scouting may be necessary, primarily to look for wood.

A spectacular rock wall on river right drops straight to the water about six miles into the trip. After the wall, the river slowly mellows out as it meanders toward Turkeypen, where most boaters will take out.

If the twelve mile paddle leaves you hungry for more, consider the car-less shuttle. Run back to your car on the South Mills Trail, and then climb the Cantrell Creek Trail to Horse Cove Gap. Forest Road 5018 will bring you back to the put in. The twelve mile run climbs significantly and will take a couple of hours.

Don’t try to run or bike back up the entirety of the South Mills Trail. It will be flooded during good paddling conditions.

Who is Going to Love It

Strong class III boaters are going to have the most fun on the South Mills. The whitewater is reminiscent of Spring Creek in Madison County but the river is longer and more exposed due to the isolation of the valley. Class IV paddlers will not find the river particularly challenging , but will still enjoy the solitude and beauty of the drainage. High Falls will provide entertainment for even the most jaded hair boater. The multisport athlete is going to get the most out of this run. The trail run shuttle eliminates the need to spend several hours in the car. The running will be soggy, but the trails are some of the best in Pisgah.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Asheville take 280 South to FS 297 (Turkeypen Rd). This is the Turkeypen Trailhead and it is the South Mills takeout. Walk the half mile trail down to the river to ensure you don’t miss the takeout. Return to 280 and turn south toward Brevard. In five miles turn right on 276 North and follow it 11.5 miles to FS 1206 (Yellow Gap Rd). In 3.5 miles bear right on FS 476. Follow it to the dead end where you will see the river.


Written by Adam Herzog for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Adam Herzog

What is it that makes Asheville one of the top paddling destinations in the country? Is it the 38 inches of rain that fall annually, or the dam released rivers that run throughout the year? Is it the surreal beauty of the mountains and the remote gorges that the rivers have cut through them? Maybe it’s the laid back Southern culture, the abundance of breweries, or the wealth of steep creeks and warm water play waves that course through the Appalachians. For all these reasons and more, this quirky city of 88,000, nestled in a verdant basin inside the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a whitewater paradise.

With its long, warm days, spring is the optimal time to paddle in Western North Carolina. Due to the snowmelt and rainfall fueling the waterways at this time of year, it’s easy to find yourself on a new river every day of the week. Whether you’re an expert freestyle paddler training for a world championship, an adrenaline-addicted creek boater searching for thrills, or a beginner hungry to get on some friendly features,  there is a river awaiting you in the mountains of Asheville.

French Broad River

Paddlers enjoying the splashy class II rapids of the French Broad.
Paddlers enjoying the splashy class II rapids of the French Broad.

The most popular stretch of the French Broad is the 3.5 mile intermediate run between the Madison County put-in and the Stackhouse take-out. Although it won’t present much of a challenge to the expert paddler, the beauty and seclusion of this run makes it a favorite for whitewater enthusiasts across the board. Paddlers will enjoy an even distribution of splashy class II and III rapids, with a few sequences and holes to keep it punchy. For a longer day, continue to the second take-out in  Hot Springs , and enjoy two larger rapids, Frank Bell’s (IV) and Kayaker’s Ledge (III+) along the way.

After a heavy rain, expert kayakers can tackle the challenges of the North and West Forks of the French Broad River. These two creeks have a completely different temperament than the friendly features of Section 9. Although the North Fork is considered a class IV creek, it includes two class V rapids and some mean sieves. The West Fork is solid class V with bigger drops and bigger threats than its brother. A missed line on either of these creeks could have serious consequences. Be on the lookout for the additional dangers of errant wood and lumber.

The Green River

David Clarke running Gorilla on The Green River Narrows.
David Clarke running Gorilla on The Green River Narrows.

Melina Coogan

The scenic, dam-release  Green River , which runs roughly 300 days out of the year, is considered the Holy Grail of whitewater in the Southeast. Three distinct sections of river offer a beautiful day of paddling for boaters of all abilities. The boulder congested Green River Narrows, a low volume, class V steep creek, serves as the main staple for Asheville’s advanced paddlers. Precise boat control is necessary to navigate the big slides, mandatory boofs and tight, technical rapids that plunge through a deep, heavily forested gorge. Expert kayakers from across the country visit the Green to test themselves against “The Big Three”: Gorilla, Sunshine, and the sinisterly named Go Left or Die.

The Upper Green is an enjoyable 3.7 mile run of class III rapids. This ideal learning spot includes two challenging III+ drops: Bayless’ Boof and Pinball. The take out includes a brutal uphill hike, but for boaters who dream of one day running the Narrows, it’s well worth the cost. The mellow Lower Green is rippled with class I and II rapids for a fun and easy float. This stretch is perfect for beginners looking to log some river miles and nail their combat roll.

Big Laurel Creek

Tucked into a deep, wooded gorge, the class III/IV  Big Laurel Creek  provides an excellent introduction to creeking. Ambitious intermediate paddlers will love the forgiving nature and epic feel of this Appalachian gem. Dropping over 200 feet in 3.7 miles, the river offers up three major rapids linked together with tons of fun moves. The first big drop, Stairstep, is found one mile down the run and can be easily scouted on the trail on river left. Be wary of the next rapid, Suddy Hole, as the big, boxed-in hole on river right is the most dangerous feature on the run. Luckily, it can easily be avoided by a taking a clean line just right of center, off the river-wide ledge.

The run begins in Hurricane and concludes in Hot Springs, where it joins the French Broad River. From here, you can hike your boat upstream and take out at the Stackhouse, or continue down the second portion of Section 9 on the French Broad. If you choose to continue, you will be faced with Windy Flats, a shallow, two mile stretch of flat water, before you’re rewarded with the two most challenging rapids of  Section 9, Frank Bell’s, and Kayaker’s Ledge.

The Nolichucky Gorge

Kayakers walking the shuttle on the Nolichucky River.
Kayakers walking the shuttle on the Nolichucky River.

Melina Coogan

The  Nolichucky  River is a beautiful and playful intermediate run just over the border in Tennessee. Nearly nine miles long, this all day adventure is perfect for a warm spring day, although when the sun drops below the gorge it can get cold fast, so pack accordingly.

You will be greeted with a series of splashy, straightforward class III rapids downstream of the railroad trestle at the put in. The first major drop, a bouncy chute known as On the Rocks, has a clean line straight down the tongue. After this, you will find a set of waves and a big, juicy hole called Jaws, one of the best play spots in the area. Make sure you’re aware of the water levels, as this normally friendly hole can get sticky above 2,000 CFS.  Your next big drop will be Quarter Mile, by far the most dangerous of the river. This class IV rapid culminates in a nasty, recirculating pourover called Murphy’s Ledge. There is a solid eddy above the rapid, and its entire length can be scouted from the train tracks. From here, the river mellows out with more fun class III and small waves, the perfect playground for anyone just learning to surf.

 Pigeon River

Erich Burton surfs the play hole on the Pigeon River.
Erich Burton surfs the play hole on the Pigeon River.

Melina Coogan

The  Pigeon River  is the next step for the progressing kayaker after they have mastered Section 9 of the French Broad. This five mile run winds along the Eastern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It is packed with big water class III-III+ rapids with names like Roller Coast, Accelerator, and Powerhouse. Pushy, bouncy waves make for a thrilling but not too threatening ride for intermediate paddlers. The single class IV rapid, Lost Guide, has a juicy hole that can be sneaked on the side. Play boaters will have their pick of features for surfing and wave wheals.

This river is dam released; the water is turned on from 11:30 am to 6pm. Because of its popularity and easy accessibility, you will probably find yourself surrounded by many others enjoying themselves in rafts and kayaks. This is a recent occurrence in the river’s history: for the majority of the 20th century, severely polluted from a paper mill in Canton, the Pigeon was declared biologically dead. It wasn’t until the early 2000s, when fish, snails, and mussels were reintroduced to the waters, that the river came back to life. Soon after, paddlers flocked to this once abandoned river, although it is still threatened by contamination.


Events : The Green Race , Jerry’s Baddle , French Broad River Festival
Organizations: Western Carolina Paddlers , Girls at Play
Retailers: Diamond Brand Outdoors ,  Frugal BackpackerLiquid Logic Kayaks , Astral Buoyancy


Written by Melina Coogan for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Melina Coogan

The mountains of Western North Carolina and the surrounding (TN,GA,SC) areas are well-known for having some of the best boating in the country. Whether it’s a remote, mountain laurel-lined creek or a dam controlled river passing through pastoral farmland, there are plenty of places in WNC just waiting to be paddled. But sometimes it can be difficult finding exactly where to go.

We teamed up with former Canadian Champion and Green Race Silver Medalist Chris Gragtmans to discuss his favorite runs in the Asheville area and to help you spend more time on the water and less time researching for information online.

Chris is one of the best in the business and it was a pleasure to work with him. Here are four of his favorite backyard creeks, all written and curated by the man himself. Have a look around, and see if you can spot what river is nearest and dearest to his heart. And start planning your next whitewater adventure!

1. Green River

2. French Broad River

3. Nantahala River

4. Big Creek

Well, if this doesn’t get your mouth watering as fast as these creeks flow, then we don’t know what will. Thanks to Chris for the time spent developing these four expertly written white water reviews. Be sure to read more and get directions straight to the put-ins by following the links above.


Written by Jake Wheeler for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Angela Greenwell – The Unbored Life