Big Laurel Creek - Hurricane to Hot Springs

Big Laurel Creek, North Carolina, US


Hurricane to Hot Springs

Usual Difficulty III-IV (for normal flows)
Length 7 Miles
Avg. Gradient 50 fpm
Max Gradient 80 fpm

Big Laurel Creek

Big Laurel Creek
Photo of Kevin Miller by Will Reeves taken 12/14/02 @ +3"

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03453000 250 - 2000 cfs III-IV 01h07m 86.1 cfs (too low)

River Description

Big Laurel ranks as one of the classic Western North Carolina whitewater runs thanks to its great moderate Class III/IV rapids, nice scenery, and frequent runnable flows.  At low flows and medium flows Big Laurel is a great training ground for paddlers making the transition from river running to creek boating.  At higher flows it is a booming river in its own right.  Paddlers should be aware of an easily avoided sieve partway down on the left side of Stairstep Rapid, as well as a stout easily avoided hole on the right side of Suddy Hole. Hiking and swimming has picked up dramatically along Big Laurel in recent years so expect company in the summer.  The trail borders the entire run and offers easy scouting and portaging.   

The putin for this run is in Hurricane, NC. The takeout is in Hot Springs, NC. Big Laurel drops 200 feet in 3.7 miles before flowing into the French Broad, the last 3.3 miles of the run. To avoid paddling the French Broad, take out in Runion (below Stackhouse).

Shuttle Directions: From Hot Springs, take US 25 north for 4.7 miles to Hurricane, NC. In Hurricane, US 25 turns right at a stop sign, just after passing over Big Laurel Creek. Turn right, following US 25 north. The putin is immediately on the right from the large gravel parking area.

From the gravel parking lot at the putin, turn left onto US 25 south and take an immediate left, following US 25 to Hot Springs. Continue on US 25 south for 4.7 miles. In Hot Springs, turn right just before the bridge over the French Broad River onto Paint Rock Rd. At the end of this road, turn left onto Lovers Leap Rd. Pass under the US 25 bridge and the takeout is just upstream of the bridge. A public, dirt parking lot is available at the end of the road if parking is not available at one of the commercial outfits at the takeout.

To run only the Big Laurel portion of this run, head south for 2.0 miles from the put-in in Hurricane on US25. Turn right onto Stackhouse Rd (NC-1139). The road ends at a riverside parking area in Runion.

Matt & Jemima Cook are boaters who purchased the restaurant / store at the put-in. When Big Laurel is running they frequently post the levels on Boatertalk and the Laurel River Store Facebook page. If you are on Facebook and "like" Laurel River Store, you can get those daily updates when Big Laurel is running. They can also arrange shuttles / put you in contact with local shuttle services. e-mail ; phone 828-260-6462, alternate phone 828-773-1053.

Reference the French Broad, NC -Bernard to Hot Springs (Section 9) AWA page for more information on the last 3.3 miles of this run.

Typical Weather Conditions for Hot Springs, NC

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average High (F) 47 50 60 70 77 84 87 87 81 71 61 50
Average Low (F) 27 30 37 44 52 59 63 63 57 46 38 31

See also Chris Bell's Asheville-Area Boating Beta Page.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-08-07 14:37:35


Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.4Pinball / First RapidIIPhoto
1.0Stairstep RapidIII+Photo
1.9Suddy HoleIII+Photo
2.2Lower PreludeIIIPhoto
3.4Humble PieIIIPhoto
3.7Confluence with French Broad RiverAccess
4.7Kayak Ledge (Needle Falls)III
5.7Frank Bell's Rapid (Deep Water Rapid)IV

Rapid Descriptions

Pinball / First Rapid (Class II, Mile 0.4)

Kimberly @ Pinball

Kimberly @ Pinball
Photo of Kimberly Esbenshade by Lee Thonus taken 06/13/13

Pinaball / 1st Rapid is the 1st horizon line that you come to. Almost all paddlers will run the opening left of center. At the bottom is a rock squarely in the most direct path. One method is to boof left into an eddy above and left of the rock. This is fairly easy. The other method (shown in the photo) is to angle right of the bottom rock. The problem is that there is a hidden underwater rock that you will hit if you cheat and head right too soon. It will pinball you into the rock at the bottom which you are trying to avoid. This is much more of a problem at lower water levels. At higher levels the pinball rock is further under water and you can start right earlier. I'm leaving the old text below.

Run the left hand chute! The right hand chute (which appears to be the obvious route) runs into a pinning rock.

Stairstep Rapid (Class III+, Mile 1.0)

Sally at Stairsteps

Sally at Stairsteps
Photo by Kimberly Esbenshade taken 07/16/13 @ low runnable level

Stairstep is the 1st horizon line after Pinball. The first 3 steps are not large, but by the 4th one you need to be lined up properly to run the big drop into the hole (not a keeper). This is followed by a succession of fairly large breaking waves. Stairstep gets harder with higher water levels; above a foot it is fairly beefy.  Next to the 1st step there is a large boulder in the center of the river (boaters will pass to the right of it) with a fairly large eddy behind it. A lot of boaters catch this eddy. You can do so but be aware that there is a sieve at the lower end of that eddy that a few people have been sucked into. Fortunately all flushed out. The tree trunk that was on river right has been gone for a couple years.  

Suddy Hole (Class III+, Mile 1.9)

Peter VG at Suddy Hole

Peter VG at Suddy Hole
Photo taken 07/11/13

Suddy Hole consists of two drops. Most boaters will eddy out after the 1st. As you look at the horizon line of the second, you will see a "dead" tree across the creek and at the bottom of the rapid. This tree is still partly alive and has a prominent "Y" about 15 ft from the bottom.  If you aim for this tree, you will be on the most commonly run line. The nasty recircing Suddy hole is on boaters right. There is an exciting line on river left at higher (above 6 inches) levels. 

Lower Prelude (Class III, Mile 2.2)

Kevin at Lower Prelude

Kevin at Lower Prelude
Photo taken 07/11/13

Prelude (sometimes called False Narrows, Upper Narrows, and sometimes considered part of the Narrows) is a longish rapid and fairly intense, especially at higher water levels. 

Narrows (Class III+, Mile 2.4)


Photo of Eric Paysen by Kevin Miller taken 12/14/02 @ +3"

Start on river right moving towards river center over the first drop. Run the slide that immediately follows down the center.

Cliffside (Class II+, Mile 2.9)

Peter VG at Cliffside

Peter VG at Cliffside
Photo by Lee Thonus taken 07/11/13

The path with enough water takes you to river right and to the base of a cliff. One good stroke at the right time keeps you from being pushed into it. Peter Van G is stylin it in the photo. 

Flume (Class II+, Mile 3.1)

Pete at Flume

Pete at Flume
Photo taken 07/11/13

Small entry drop, then the main flume, run on river right. Smooth tongue leads into a breaking wave (low levels) or hole (medium and up). Hole is usually punched fairly easily. 

Humble Pie (Class III, Mile 3.4)

Humble Pie

Humble Pie
Photo by J. Michael Lowery taken 07/15/13 @ 1 inches

Humble Pie (aka Commitment Eddy) is the last rapid before the French Broad. Below about 8 inches, you are forced to take a route on the far left. The gap between the left bank and the 1st boulder is about 15 ft. Avoid the extreme left - i.e. the 5 ft closest to the left bank.  The first hole tends to surf you to the left, the second more to the right. The boater in the picture is in the 1st hole. Above 8 inches a couple lines open up near the center. Below 0, it starts getting boney and one line is to make the "commitment" to catch the eddy behind that 1st large boulder. If you don't commit or blow the line you will be on a pinning rock. At those low levels, most people choose to make a couple quick turns around the partially exposed rocks. 

Confluence with French Broad River
To skip the 3 mile section on the French Broad, take out at the railroad tressle on river left.  Carry 0.7 miles up the railroad tracks to Stackhouse.  This also shortens the shuttle run.

Kayak Ledge (Needle Falls) (Class III, Mile 4.7)
Run this five foot ledge on the right of the island.

Frank Bell's Rapid (Deep Water Rapid) (Class IV, Mile 5.7)
This rapid is a long series of ledges and holes. Start left and avoid the holes. Aim for the right side of the bottom hole at higher water levels.

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