Difficulty III-IV
Length 7 Miles
Flow Range 250 - 2000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 51 minutes ago 332 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 05/06/2019 4:10 pm

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 laurelriverstore@gmail.com ; 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.

Rapid Descriptions

Pinball / First Rapid

Class - II Mile - 0.4

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

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 until December 2019.  On Dec 15 April Morton was swept into the sieve, which also had a log in it. The members of her group responded quickly but were not able to extract her in time. 

Suddy Hole

Class - III+ Mile - 1.9

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

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. 


Class - III+ Mile - 2.4
Start on river right moving towards river center over the first drop. Run the slide that immediately follows down the center.


Class - II+ Mile - 2.9

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. 


Class - II+ Mile - 3.1

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 (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

Class - Mile - 3.7
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Run this five foot ledge on the right of the island.

Frank Bell's Rapid (Deep Water Rapid)

Class - IV Mile - 5.7
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
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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Frank Lorch
6 years ago

Note: the put-in markers on the Directions page and the Map page are not in the correct place. The put-in is as described on the RiverMain page: it is essentially a big gravel parking lot near the corner of where 25/70 meet 208. If you see the Espresso/Coffee shop (worth a stop BTW) at the corner, you're just about there. Also, there is no Hurricane, NC (at least not in this vicinity).

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9 years ago

Great River! Had a blast. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHZvI8kZ1Mk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18R_NlNYtNg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVmSD2lg63Y

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Ben Gaston
17 years ago

Did this run Saturday at about 2 or 3 inches below 0 on the bridge painted guage, guessing it to be about similar now on the Ivy gauge. Bony in the early stages, scrapy at a couple spots, but pretty good III creekin, esp. the Narrows. Very tight, very fun. I would also recommend hiking the 10 minutes back up to Stackhouse instead of running to Hotsprings, as those last 3 miles are mostly flatwater save for the 2 big ones.

Gage Descriptions

The USGS gauge is on nearby Ivy Creek, and must be viewed as a rough guide only.

The Big Laurel gauge is painted on the river left side of the bridge at the putin and can be best viewed from river right on the downstream side of the bridge.  -4 inches is minimum runnable for most people, but you can scrape down as low as -6, and 4 feet is roughly the upper cutoff. If you are on Facebook, you can "like" Laurel River Store. Matt & Jemima, the owners can look out their window and see the painted gauge. When Big Laurel (or Laurel River) is running they usually post the levels a couple times a day. 

You can also use two gauges on the French Broad to determine the level on Big Laurel by creating a virtual gauge. The Marshall gauge is upstream of where Big Laurel joins the French Broad and the Hot Spring gauge is downstream. If you take a reading in cfs from the Hot Springs gauge and go back 5 hours in time and take a reading from Marshall, you will get the time corrected difference in flow (as a bubble of flow takes 5 hours to travel from Marshall to Hot Springs). For example if Hot Springs is 3100 cfs at 9 am and Marshall was 2500 cfs at 4 am (5 hours earlier) the difference in flow is 600 cfs (your virtual gauge reading). Big Laurel has the largest catchment basin (drainage basin) between Marshall and Hot Springs and is acutally larger than the others combined. The formula is made more complex by the variability the travel time from Marshall to Hot Springs. The 5 hour difference works well for flows up to about 3500 cfs at Marshall. For flows of 6,000 cfs at Marshall use a 3 1/2 hour travel time. For those who are mathematically inclined you can interpolate between the two and get pretty good results (within a couple inches on the painted gauge). 

450 cfs = a scrapey run

500 cfs = -4 inches on the painted gauge (minumum for most people)

600 cfs = -1.5 inches, you can get down without bumping

660 cfs = 0 on the painted gauge

1000 cfs = +7 inches on the painted gauge

2000 cfs = + 1 ft 2 inches on the painted gauge (getting beefy in places)

3000 cfs = + 1 ft 8 inches

  In any situation where Big Laurel is running above 0, the level will probably be dynamic with the level changing. Calculate the virtual gauge over a couple / few hours to see if it is rising / falling and how fast. To get digital data for the references gauges go to the USGS streamflow page for NC http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nc/nwis/current/?type=flow and click on the number to the left of the gauge name. This brings up a page with graphs of the gauge height and flow for that gauge. Above the graph is a box where you can change the "output" from a graph to a table, you can also select the nmber of days you want (1 or 2 is a good idea, otherwise you will be scrolling through a lot of data). You then can select data points for Hot Springs and (5 hour earlier) data points for Marshall. 


Reference the French Broad R at Marshall gauge for the French Broad (the last 3.3 miles of the run).  The minimum suggested water level for the French Broad is 1200 cfs for this gauge.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2004-06-14 Low Fatality Failed Rescue Read More





Kevin Colburn


Lee H Thonus


Kevin Miller


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1212147 05/06/19 Kevin Colburn updated image position
1205158 08/04/15 Kevin Colburn map accuracy
1201871 02/26/13 Lee H Thonus
1210912 01/25/19 Kevin Colburn updated image position
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1202375 07/11/13 Lee H Thonus
1205228 08/07/15 Kevin Colburn added description + hazard
1210904 01/25/19 Kevin Colburn updated image position
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1210908 01/25/19 Kevin Colburn updated stats
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1211480 03/20/19 Kevin Colburn updated image position
1211524 03/25/19 Kevin Colburn updated image position
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1212089 04/30/19 Kevin Colburn updated image position
1203378 05/15/14 Lee H Thonus Virtual Gauge Update higher flows
1190833 11/04/06 Kevin Miller n/a
1202244 05/23/13 Lee H Thonus
1202561 08/07/13 Lee H Thonus
1203309 04/23/14 Lee H Thonus Virtual Gauge Update