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 firstname.lastname@example.org ; 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
See also Chris Bell's Asheville-Area Boating Beta Page.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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).
Great River! Had a blast.
3 years ago
by Joel Kohn
6 years ago
by Bobby Cartin
8 years ago
by Robin and David Knupp
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.Â -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).Â The minimum suggested water level for the French Broad is 1200 cfs for this gauge.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
on Big Laurel Creek @Hurricane to Hot Springs
First main rapid
Sally at Stairsteps
Strainer at Suddy - Left Line
Pete at Flume
Peter VG at Suddy Hole
Kevin at Lower Prelude
Strainer in 1st Rapid (Pinball)
Strainer at Pinball
Pete G at Suddy Hole
Peter VG at Cliffside
Pete Gutillo @ Stairsteps
Kimberly @ Pinball
Middle Line at Suddy Hole 1,000 CFS
Left line at Suddy Hole-1,000 CFS
Narrows- trail level
River left sieve at Stairstep
3 clean runs of Suddy
Ward Swan at Stairstep
Don Hege on Stairstep
Narrows of Big Laurel
C-1 running the Narrows
Big Laurel Creek
Triple Drop, Big Laurel
Run Left to Avoid Sieve
Double Drop, Big Laurel Creek
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!