Pigeon - 1. Walter's Power Plant at Waterville to Bridge at Hartford

Pigeon, Tennessee, US


1. Walter's Power Plant at Waterville to Bridge at Hartford (The Dirty Bird!)

Usual Difficulty II-III+ (for normal flows)
Length 4.2 Miles

The Dragon Baby

The Dragon Baby
Photo of Brian Nicholson by Chris Young taken Summer 2000

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03460795 300 - 3000 cfs II-III+ 00h44m 431 cfs (running)

River Description

The Pigeon was for many years so polluted that is was biologically dead.   The river ran a coffee brown for most of the 20th century,  containing toxic chemicals such as  dioxins, furan, and chloroform -- all from the Champion paper mill in nearby Canton.   As noted by Joyce Coombs "the Pigeon River was once so polluted that North Carolina classified the best use of its waters to be for waste disposal."     In the early 1990's the trend was reversed.   The modernization of methods used at the paper mill led to significant reduction in the use and discharge of toxic chemicals.  According to "a spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services ... dioxin concentrations in fish samples taken from the river have decreased 99 percent since 1990."  - Smoky Mountain News  Jan. 31 2007.   In the late 1990's snails and common mussels were reintroduced to the river - the river was again alive!    Since 2000 more than 20 species of fish have been re-introduced to the river.


Rafters, kayakers and canoeists also returned to the river.   This five mile run offers a number of big water Class 3 - 3+ rapids,   Powerhouse,  Roller Coaster,  Lost Guide,  Double Reactionary and Accelerator.   The river has a number of popular playspots,  in the first mile of the river,  Snap  Dragon, Lost Guide, below Double Reactionary.    Although the I-40 flanks the run on river right,  you are paddling through a scenic gorge that on the eastern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.





StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2014-02-28 20:11:16


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.4Big RockII
0.5Full of WaterII+
0.6Razor RockII+Playspot
0.9Second HelpingN/A
1.4Big BendN/A
2.3Lost GuideIII+Playspot
3.2Double ReactionaryIII+Portage Playspot

Rapid Descriptions

Powerhouse (Class III+, Mile 0.1)

The rapid starts just a few hundred feet below the put in. At the start it is a wide rapid that offers lines to the left, middle and right. The first half of the rapid consists of a series of shallow ledge drops. From there the center line becomes much more challenging, with big irregular wave and holes. The more conservative lines are to the far left or right. On the left you can work down the left side by eddy hopping.

Big Rock (Class II, Mile 0.4)

Below the pool is the house sized Big Rock.  You can run either to its left or right.  Behind the rock is a large eddy.   Below the current channels to the right.   The easiest line is to the left; on the right is a large but very bustable hole.

Full of Water (Class II+, Mile 0.5)

Ledge below Big Rock that will swamp any boat turned sideways.   Easy line to the left to avoid the ledge hole; or just hit the hole head on.

Razor Rock (Class II+, Mile 0.6)

The rock is on river left,  just below is a great play spot.  The easiest line is "to stay in the middle of the current about 20 yards off the left bank. Trying to get into the eddy below Razor is harder the higher you hit the eddy.  Below Razor Rock there is a 10-yard wide hole just off the left bank."  - description from "Crunchy"  (aka Chris Clevenger)

Snapdragon (Class N/A, Mile 1.5)

A nice hole that becomes a wave at higher flows. At lower flows, the middle to river right side of the hole is the deepest spot. The hole is shallow, but take time and search for the sweet spots to throw blunts and cartwheels...or whatever you would like to do. The eddy is on river left and can hole up to 10 people. When you wash out, paddle back hard to make the eddy. If not, catch the next eddy below and work your way up through the rocks. This takes practice, but it can be done without getting out of your boat. Paddle hard to the rocks and then put you boat slightly on its right edge into the crack. Throw your paddle out of the way and use your arms for the rest of the work.

Lost Guide (Class III+, Mile 2.3)

The river pools after Roller coaster, signalling the entrance to Lost Guide.   It is a long rapid, well over a quarter mile in length ending just to the left of a tall pyramid shaped rock.   There are three prominent lines;  a far left line along the left bank.  A far right line; starting about 10-15 feet from right bank and threading a series of holes and ledges (with small eddies on the right).   After skirting the Lost Guide hole on the right,  then working to river center for the last drop.   A variant on this line is to run more center and then work to the left of the Lost Guide hole.   Most rafts plow straight ahead through the hole,  not recommend for canoes or kayaks.   The last drop, at river right and center,  offers a popular play spot for all crafts.  The hole on river left is highly retentive and best to avoid. The pyramid rock is a popular lunch spot.

Double Reactionary (Class III+, Mile 3.2)

On river left the current funnels through a narrow passage of two large boulders.   The result is two big offset waves that you need to thread for the main line-- which most rafts follow.   A fun alternative line is to ferry from the large staging eddy on river right to river left.   From there to catch a tongue which will propel your boat from left to right.   Continue to carve to the right to catch the river right eddy. The rapid can be easily walked on the right, or sneaked by bouncing down the ledges just to the right of the hole.

Ferry out into the main current for the next ledge drop which offers the second most popular play spot on the river,  the Hawaii 50 wave or Superglue.   This wave is frequented by kayaks, canoes and rafts.; often there are long lines in the river right eddy for a chance at a surf or play move.  The only caution is that Accelerator is a few hundred feet below.   Roll quickly or be prepared for a quick rescue to the eddies on river right.

User Comments

2009-05-05 04:19:14 (1907 days ago)
x (1)
The Pigeon Runs alot in the off season, the Key to catching it is knowing the right # to call and
how to "read" the data that you get. The number is 1-800-899-4435, you want the walters (?) lake
level and in-flow. This is posted at 8am every morning. what I was told (and seems to hold true) is
when the in-flow is over 400-500 cfs the lake fills up around a foot an hour. If the in-flow is
this high or higher and the lake is 1 to 3 ft down then they will release at least some. That said
it relates to the weather, summer dry, no rain= no release. Winter, fall or spring and rain is
forcast the you are a go. The higher the in-flow the better your chances are. I lived there for
over 2 yrs and have been skunked by looking at the take out and saying it runing lets go. They can
and will cut it off at anytime, exp. if they see you attempting a moon light run. That has been one
of the best things I have done in a boat (raft, wish I was in my Kayak). Hope this helps.

2009-04-10 07:06:02 (1932 days ago)
x (1)
I have worked as a commercial guide some time now, living in the southeast. I call the Pigeon River
home in the spring and summer months, and spend as much time playing on that river as working. This
spring, thankfully, we have gotten a substantial amount of rain, and it seems as though a couple
rapids have changed. The biggest change that has happened this season seems to be the bottom hole
of Lost Guide, the first class IV rapid, about 3 miles from the put in. It seems that some rocks
have moved, making the bottom of the rapid steeper, and also making the hole more of a hydraulic,
and less of a wave. This has become a GREAT surf spot, for both kayaks and rafts, with a huge eddy
on the river right side, just below the hole. Its easy to paddle into, and super easy recovery
below the rapid. This has become the best surf spot on the Pigeon by far, hope everyone enjoys!!

2006-08-26 18:26:31 (2889 days ago)
x (1)
Very soon, Blue Ridge papermill will be coming up for its new permit. I hope AW and any other
whitewater or outdoor enthusiast will do there part in fighting the renewal of this permit. The
Pigeon River is at stake.

an alternate line at Lost Guide is to run far right (about 10 ft from the river right bank) and
then cut left after passing the hole.

At Accelerator, start river right at a small curling wave and cut diagonally left across the rapid.
For the post about Maytag be careful running this hole. Ther is rebar in the hole and it can do
some damage. Rooster Tail does have rebar in the hole. I have been a guide on the river it is

2005-05-25 15:41:33 (3347 days ago)
Kevin ColburnDetails
A Report From the Pigeon:

a local rafting company manager was in a shredder yesterday with us three hardboaters and he
pointed out new rebar lying lengthwise in the playhole after LOST GUIDE RAPID. It's normally called
"ROOSTER TAIL RAPID" -- the next rapid after LOST GUIDE. I didn't know its name but he
said that's what everybody calls it. The rafting mgr said they normally allow their customers to
jump and swim this normally safe rapid but now with the rebar they can no longer do that. He
pointed out that if someone were to roll at this popular playhole it could do some serious damage
to one's head. I skirted the meat to the right yesterday and was fine. My two friends from
Knoxville ran the meat and were fine. It was about 3000 CFS so we didn't really see it but the mgr.
assures us that at regular flow it's visible and quite a problem. So, he requested that we spread
the word to all hardboaters: "Catch an eddy way before ROOSTER TAIL if you swim LOST GUIDE and
it's probably best to not play in that wonderful hole anymore." You can still run the meat of
the rapid and not get hurt --- well as long as you don't flip in the meat.

By the way, the bottom hole at the Rooster Tail rapid is still good to surf, the top hole is the
one with the rebar in it.

He also said that the river widened a bit after the floods and therefore the Pigeon holes aren't as
good as they used be.

2005-04-01 15:06:10 (3401 days ago)
Michael BriereDetails
This river has change since the floods of 2004, like most rivers here in the SE. Snapdragon is gone
as well as the play immediately below this. The hole at the bottom of Guide Sucker is good, not the
ledge, but the hole next to the rock. There are tons of holes to hit on the fly. The waves at
Rollercoater are gone as well. Still lots of fun but it is "The Dirty Bird!"

2004-04-30 17:08:25 (3737 days ago)
Travis ProffittDetails
Quite possibly one of the best river runs in the south! If you've never checked out this totally
awesome river you definitely should! Lots of fun, pillowy water that can treat you well if you give
it the respect it deserves. When you get to Hartford, don't get out! There's some fun ledges below
the traditional take out that can be a lot of fun to play on. Oh yeah, and Maytag near the lower
run's takeout! Pretty fun rapid with a pretty munchy hole! This river has improved tons in recent
years about people should support an environmental victory! If you're ever in East Tennesee you
have to get on this river and try it out! Happy paddling!

2002-10-25 22:11:38 (4290 days ago)
Chris GuptillDetails
One more little note about Accelerator:
It was created when the folks building
I-40 blasted out part of the river bed.
Thus, it's an unnatural rapid. being
upside down in your boat here is real
bad, as the natural angular cleavage of
the rocks in the area and the blasting
combined make for a rather chaotic
river bed. I've run the hole here a
whole lot of times (I was a guide
there), and it is frequently run by hard
boaters. But for pete's sake, hit it
straight. There are a lot of nasty little
obstacles just below. if you want to
avoid the hole, I would suggest setting
up more center. There's a green
highway that will take you straight
Oh, and at lower flows, running the
cheat line on the right in the Guide can
almost be harder and more
dangerous from a flipping stand point
in the hole. That side is real shallow,
and I've seen a number of head
injuries there from boaters who rode
down underwater. Hit the hole straight
and you're golden.

2002-05-02 09:51:04 (4467 days ago)
Lawrence BrewerDetails
A few additional notes on the Pigeon:
Powerhouse rapid, the first ww after the putin, is a 100 yard stretch of solid Class III. Just
after that is Full of Water, a short Class III drop that is playable.

Lost Guide is a Class III rapid with a Class IV slot (raft line middle, just left of the pourover).
I've seen kayaks and people held and recerculated in the hole and a number of commercial rafts flip
there. The hole isn't as sticky now as it once was 5-6 years ago (spring floods shifted the rocks
there) when a raft guide had to be resusitated on the rock just below the rapid.

The other 2 rapids which, along with the Guide, constitute the Big 3 on the Pigeon are Double
Reactionary and Accellerator and you'll find them around 3.5 miles down. On Double, the entire
river is pushed through a 15-20 foot slot on river left, where Tombstone rock creates a 4-5 foot
curling wave to the right. There is also a hole in the entrance that slows you down before getting
to the curler. The rapid is III+/IV depending on level.

Just after Double, on river right, is a great P&P surf spot for advanced paddlers called Super
Glue. It's very surfable, but there is great potential to smack the rock that causes the hole if
you flip...quite a few teeth have been lost there.

Accellerator is about 75 yards after Super Glue. It is a 25 yard stretch which loses 12-15 feet of
elevation, with a river wide horizon line. The kayak line is right-to-left, skirting the Class IV
President's Hole at the bottom. The raft line is to barrell over the hole. The good thing is either
way you will hit it with a lot of speed. The bad thing is it is the worst swim on the river
(Powerhouse is bad, too, but the rock aren't very sharp...Accellerator is lined with some cutters).
There is also significant foot-entrapment risk here.

Summer releases are usually between 1,000-1,200 cfs which is pretty tame. If you get the chance to
go 1,800 to 2,000, it'll be a pushy, fun ride. 2,500 and up starts washing out the drops but still
makes for a fun raft trip.

BTW, the river has really made a lot of progress returning to health in recent years. According to
TWRA it is again supporting a significant fish population and is on par with most other area rivers
as far as pollution levels (thanks for your work, AW!!!). However, it still has a brownish tinge
and some suds from the Canton, NC papermill releasing color into the water.
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August 2008

Pigeon Releases
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Pigeon Releases
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Pigeon Releases
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Pigeon Releases
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Pigeon Releases
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Pigeon Releases
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Pigeon Releases
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Pigeon Releases Hartford,TN runs 04/28/08 - 08/30/08
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