Bellyaking on the French Broad

Where to Bellyak: French Broad Section 9

Standing in the shadow of so much gnar, Section 9 of the French Broad is often overlooked as a beginners-only run. Only 45 minutes from Asheville and with a quick shuttle, Section 9 is good at almost all levels. It is a popular run for SUP, bellyak, and all other manner of river craft, due to the year round flows, beautiful scenery, and good play. The multitude of read and run rapids don’t hurt either.

Rating: III(IV)

Quality: 4/5

Length: 4.2 miles down to Stackhouse, + 4 miles if going to Hot Springs

Put-in: Barnard

Take-out: Stackhouse/Hot Springs

Elevation: 1513 – 1309 (-204 ft) – to Hot Springs

Gradient: 27 fpm avg, 40 fpm max above Stackhouse, 22 fpm avg below

Gauge: USGS French Broad River at Marshall

Levels: 700+ cfs, 1200 < optimum < 3500 cfs. 4000+ cfs gets flushy and powerful

Drainage: 1405 miles2

Shuttle: Car, bike

The most common section is a run from Barnard to Stackhouse, approximately 4 river miles. The alternate takeout is in Hot Springs, which doubles the length of the run for the two hardest rapids on the river – Kayakers Ledge and Frank Bells. The run below Stackhouse consists mostly of The Windy Flats, which can be really slow when the water is low or the wind is up. The river’s scenery is the most majestic in this lower half though, so paddling all the way down to Hot Springs is recommended if you haven’t done it before.

Bellyaking on the French Broad

Dropping into S Turn

French Broad Section 9 – Rapid by Rapid

A few easy rapids below the put-in lead to Maze – a long class II rapid with multiple lines. Not far downstream is Turtle Rock, which is usually run river-left or through some river-right slots at higher flows. The action ramps up below at S-Turn and Big Pillow (the names should clue you in as to what to expect at these class III rapids). After some class II and the river-left wave-train at Sandy Bottom, watch for The Ledges – a long class II-III rapid most easily run right of center. The last drop can be scouted on the right.

One of the many ways through Maze

Calm Pool above Sandy Bottom

Coming through Pillow Rock

Downstream an island splits the river. Pit Stop, the right side, is easier than the technical left side at Pinball. When you see a big, distant house on the right, be sure to stay left as big pieces of rusty rebar stick out of the river. Take out just below at Stackhouse, or continue to Hot Springs.


Continuing to Hot Springs

After 2 miles of The Windy Flats, Kayaker Ledge waits on the right side of an island.  At high flows the hole is terrible, so go left of the island. Downstream, a long pool leads to the second island. The right side hosts Frank Bells – the only true Class IV on the river.  There are multiple options but the easiest line is to start left of center and work back towards the center for the last drop, which gives up great enders to long boats. After passing under a railroad trestle, the river will broaden. Watch for one sneaky ledge/hole shortly above the take-out in Hot Springs. Take out on the right just before bridge.

What have we learned?

Details aside, every Southern paddler should make it a point to paddle French Broad Section 9. The South’s oldest river breaches through the crest of the Appalachian range creating – in the process – a classically beautiful mountain river valley filled with memorable whitewater. It’s a good time, every time.


From I-26 Exit 19 north of Asheville, drive 15 miles west on Hwy 25/70 and turn left onto Sharp Hollow Rd.  In 1.1 miles turn left onto Barnard Rd, which leads 1.2 miles down to the put-in.  For the take-out, continue past Sharp Hollow on 25/70 4 miles and turn left onto Stackhouse Rd, which drops 2.3 miles down to the mid-point access at Stackhouse.  If you want to run down to Hot Springs, stay on 25/70 2 miles past Stackhouse Rd, turn left across Big Laurel Creek, and drive another 4.7 miles over the mountain.  Make sure to turn right just before the bridge over the river in Hot Springs, then turn sharply left back under the bridge and to the take-out lot on the right.