Five Hidden Gems to Paddle in Western North Carolina
There are no shortage of beautiful waterways to bellyak on than in our home region of Western North Carolina. Not only do we have killer BBQ and more craft breweries than we can count on our fingers and toes, but we also have more than 400,000 miles of waterways in the whole state. You better keep them a secret, but here are our top 5 WNC rivers to paddle:
1) Section 8 of the French Broad
The French Broad River is the second oldest river in the world, which makes it older than my great, great, great granddad. And he’s old. So old in fact, that it has developed a certain smell only found in this particular waterway. Although the whole river is great to paddle, Section 8 is one of our favorites.
This is a 5 mile (ish) section downstream of Marshall NC, about 30 minutes north of Asheville NC. Section 8 begins below Redmond Dam, and takes out at Barnard (the put in for the most famous section: Section 9). Section 8 is rarely traveled, but is the perfect section for new paddlers, or those looking for a family friendly float. There are no real ‘rapids’ on this section, but what makes it fun is that there is consistent gradient from put in to take out, making for a nice ‘moving sidewalk’ of current. There are also many eagles and otters that live along this mostly unpopulated stretch of river. If you’re also on the hunt for somewhere to stay, one of the French Broad River Paddle Trail campsites is on this section.
2) Section 9 of the French Broad
Are you seeing a pattern here? This section has been written about before, and is the location for the evolution and development of Bellyak more than any other stretch of river. This is a great section for beginning whitewater training, with an instructor. In the four mile stretch of river between Barnard and Stackhouse, there are multiple Class 2 and 3 rapids that offer many different ways to go down, from easy straight down the middle to maze like runs that require precise navigation. At higher levels this section can be quite pushy due to the amount of volume coming down the river.
For Section 9 rapid by rapid, check out our Where to Bellyak: French Broad Section 9 post here.
3) Lower Nolichucky
This section of river, beginning at USA Raft in Erwin TN and ending at Jackson Love Bridge, is a perfect section for those looking to taste a little whitewater action in a perfectly clean and pristine river. The Lower Nolichucky is approximately one hour north of Asheville, and flows year round. Contact the folks at USA Raft to book your trip. They have expert guides, hot showers, and beautiful accommodations right along the river.
4) Nolichucky Gorge
On the books to be named a Wild and Scenic River, the Nolichucky Gorge flows through the deepest gorge in the Southeast. Over 8 miles of amazing whitewater that will delight and test the most avid of paddlers. Rapids such as Quarter Mile, surf spots like Jaws, and miles of beautiful scenery in a pristine gorge make for an amazing day on the water. For those inexperienced, having the experts at USA Raft guide you down is the way to go.
5) Big Laurel
40 minutes north of Asheville is the best section of whitewater Bellyaking known to man. The Big Laurel River. Flowing out of the shadows of Mount Mitchell, the Big Laurel is a tight, low volume creek popular with fisherman that flows into the French Broad River below Stackhouse. The Big Laurel has a trail running along the side which allows for easy scouting and portaging if necessary. Rapids such as Triple Drop, Suddy Hole, and the Narrows provide exciting, technical rapids in a beautiful setting. Check with the folks at Laurel River Store for good levels. Levels from 3” to one foot are ideal. Over a foot and the spice level goes up exponentially. Great surfing right at the put in at Cabin Wave.