Elk - B) Twisting Falls Gorge: Big Falls (Route 1306) to bridge above Stone Mtn Church (TN)

Elk, North Carolina, US


B) Twisting Falls Gorge: Big Falls (Route 1306) to bridge above Stone Mtn Church (TN)

Usual Difficulty IV-V(V+) (for normal flows)
Length 4.8 Miles

Nate at Big Falls

Nate at Big Falls
Photo of Nathan Helms

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Elk River at Big Falls
virtual-10481 250 - 700 cfs IV-V(V+) 00h31m 254.17 cfs (running)

River Description

Clay Wright contributed on 2002-03-06 02:57:09:
Big Falls (at top of this reach) has been run, with cut head and a broken back (OC-1) but several clean ones. Some flat, but good rapids, one chunky double ledge, Twisting Falls portage (narrow and high, but not scetch) then a 10-15' and a ramping 33'er which is sweet!

A long shuttle is the only drawback to this cool run!

Kevin Williams added on 2003-04-21 11:39:02

Amazingly beautiful remote gorge with some truly memorable rapids!

START EARLY to allow time for the monster shuttle (more than an hour each way) and to scout the many horizon lines, plus the twisting falls portage takes considerable time. Pay careful attention for this mandatory portage, you really don't want to miss the left eddy after the class-III drop that leads into a 15' fall and then without escape into the falls proper. Portage on the left and don't go too high - apparently there is a goat trail right along the rocks above the drop. we went straight up and ended up on a 2-hour hell hike that ended with tying 11 throw ropes together to lower the boats back to the river. Yuk!

Since we accidentally portaged all the way around the falls I can't verify this but I was told that there is a nice 16' fall above a 44' fall that ends the gradient of the run. It looked clean, but by that time it was dark.

Most drops are pretty straightforward but intimidating class IV and a few deserve a long look. One not too terribly heinous drop had strainers, undercuts, a sieve or two, piton rocks, a high pinning potential and ended in an undercut cave. Lots of steep slides (4') reminiscent of Swallow Falls on the Top Yough in MD. Some are stacked almost on top of one another but all have at least small pools in between. Look out for wood in the most inconvenient places and be careful of running out of eddies before drops.

I can't wait to run this river again but next time I'd set shuttle the night before and camp at the campground along Big Falls Road (leads to the put-in).

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-08-04 17:37:49


Rapid Descriptions

icon of message No rapids entered. If you know names, and locations of the rapids please contact and advise the StreamTeam member for this run.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
July 29 2014 (1395 days ago)
Scott SaavedraDetails
Another comment from an old-timer. Jim Reed, Roger Beaman, Bill Hughes and I ran it on May 18,
1985. I know the date because I wrote a trip report for the CCC (The Paddler, Vol. 14, No. 3, June
1985). But I don't think we were the first. I heard a group from Greensboro ran it before we did.
We didn't run Big Falls or Compression Falls, but we ran everything else between Big and
Compression except (of course) the first drop of Twisting Falls. Ran it twice more in the late 80s
before moving west. On one of those trips, everyone backendered at the base of the 16 footer just
above Compression. Good roll practice!
September 6 2011 (2452 days ago)
bvernon (153488)
Wanted to comment from the perspective of someone who was on the first descent (I think?) in either
1986 or 87. Saw that the big falls near the end was called Compression Falls - we named that
Whammer Falls after Brian Wham who was first off that drop on that trip. At the bottom his helmet
was blown off and floated up first prompting Dale Adams to comment something like "it tore his
f-ing head off". I think Dale was 2nd off the drop. We had a large group that day and had a great
trip ! I will never forget it ! Bob Vernon
February 2 2011 (2668 days ago)
Caleb BrauerDetails
We had some hard times on the lower Elk yesterday. We tried to portage Twisting Falls on the narrow
goat trail but didn't realize it was icy until we got up there. We wound up dropping our kayaks
into the falls and had to hike out of the gorge. I wanted to post this in case anyone sees our
kayaks or gear to let everyone know that we are ok. If you happen to find a couple of wavesport
diesel kayaks (blue and citrus) or some paddles, please email me (calebbrauer@yahoo.com)
July 8 2010 (2877 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
If you want to see some great photos of this amazingly scenic, spectacular and only Class 4-5-minus
river gorge, check out my friend Woody DuBois's photos and videos at
http://picasaweb.google.com/tm.dubois/20090618ElkRiverNC# These are from our June 2009 trip. This
is one of those trips-of-a-lifetime that will not only thrill you, but that you will never forget.
P.S. I'm in the orange Prijon Hercules.
August 18 2009 (3201 days ago)
x (1)
Robert Farmer---The waterfall near the end is not 33 feet---it is definitely closer to 45 feet,
although only the last 25 feet or so are totally airborne, the first 20 feet or so being only about
65 degrees, but still plenty fast.
August 11 2009 (3208 days ago)
x (1)
Hey Kevin, The falls near the end of the run, which I am calling "compression falls" can be run
anytime even when the gorge is not going. We found a trail that hikes down the side of the mtn and
almost right to it. You will still have to portage twisting falls due to the fact that is is almost
right above the drop. We go in there late november just to huck it for fun. Lowest ive went off is
58cfs. The pool is always good. Just remember to tuck!!
July 27 2009 (3223 days ago)
x (1)
Robert Farmer---I took a group down this @June 2009, for my third trip down. Some of the boaters
were around the Class 4/4+ level. The logs in the first drop are gone now, and it's 4+/5-, a fairly
easy move, with some consequences on the left for unimaginable screw-ups. This is possibly the best
collection of Class 4 slides anywhere!!! Only 2 drops really approach Class 5, and they are
portageable. There is one really big slide that many people portaged, but it's not really hard,
just intimidating, as long as you're on the right line. Thrilling, but without much cost. There is
one rapid where we did the in-boat portage; with more water, you can "wheelchair" across, but on
this trip, to speed things up, I got out and dragged the other boaters across the rock, so they
didn't have to get out, dropping off the ledge into a slide. There are a lot of blind horizon
lines; it's great to just bomb down on your second run, but the first run requires a lot of
scouting. The price that you pay is the horrendous portage. It was a lot more overgrown than I
remembered (different time of year, maybe?). We cleared it out a bit, but you need to have a sense
of adventure, and start your day early. You can take about 3 different variations, depending on
whether you want to run the last 45-foot waterfall; I ran it on my second trip, accidentally
boofed, and had a very painful paddle out and couple of weeks after. It is so beautiful, though.
There is a rope hanging next to this falls, I noticed, too late. I don't know if it's for
portaging, though---it's probably for cliff divers in warmer weather, but it hangs into the water,
so it would be hard to use, probably. One of our boats got dropped about 60+ or so feet. If you're
portaging the falls, stay high and left, or there was a lower way, too, but it was pretty airy, as
well. Anyway, this is a 5-star run, a great classic, with esthetic quality comparable to Linville
Gorge or the Blackwater, or Tallulah Gorge. Sure the portage is bad, but you can do it once, right?
Bring a saw and do a little volunteer trailwork, and for crying out loud, don't be one of those
boaters who doesn't carry a throwrope, ok? You need to do this one at least once in your life.
June 2 2008 (3643 days ago)
Kevin YountDetails
Could anyone tell me whether the 33 footer near the end of the reach runs regularly or only when
it's high enough for the rest of the run? Also, is it possible to hike up from the take out to this
January 29 2006 (4498 days ago)
Robert FarmerDetails
It's mostly fun Class 4+, with some 5. The first major drop has two logs in it. My first time, they
were underwater and not visible. My second time, I got briefly stuck between them--very scary;
watch out!
-At the mandatory portage, don't run the last 10ft ledge, just go straight up the hill and cross a
very large log. The rest is more obvious. To avoid the big drop here, keep going left, around the
corner, and up a bit. Cross a muddy, slippery drainage above a cliff. Use a rope to drop about 20
feet into a gully.
-And it's not "Sone" mtn church--it's "Stone" Mtn Church.
-One of the street signs is missing, up the hill a bit, complicating the shuttle, as of 2003. The
shuttle's not too bad if you know where to go, but that's a big if.
-This is a super-beautiful, most-excellent, one of the best-on-the-east- coast runs, even though
it's achievable for mere advanced or beginning-expert boaters. Probably runs rarely, though.

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