South Fork Mills River, North Carolina, US
|Usual Difficulty||II-III(IV) (for normal flows)|
|MILLS RIVER NEAR MILLS RIVER, NC|
|usgs-03446000||450 - 1500 cfs||II-III(IV)||01h00m||310 cfs (too low)|
The South Fork of the Mills River is a gem of an excursion following a strong rain in Transylvania and Henderson counties. This section, and the river’s headwaters, are entirely within Pisgah National Forest and thus has excellent water quality, even following heavy precipitation.
Starting where US Forest Road 476 ends at the S. Mills River Trail, the ‘South Mills’ travels 12 miles through a beautiful and remote valley before passing under the Turkey Pen bridge. Most of the whitewater action is contained to the first few miles of the section, between the put-in and High Falls, a Class VI waterfall with no foreseeable safe line. Between the put-in and the High Falls, there are several class II-III slides, a couple boof moves, and a boulder garden or two, along with a few scattered logs thrown in for good measure. It’s advisable for all paddlers to be on high alert, as fallen trees can appear around blind corners with limited eddies to scout from.
Below High Falls, the South Mills is mostly scenic class II read-and-run, with a few scattered class III slides and boulder gardens, depending on the water level. The whole run’s scenery is exquisite, with notable points of interest including: Otter Hole, High Falls, Wolf Ford, Copperas Rock and Cantrell Creek Lodge.
To reach the take out, find Turkey Pen Road on the west side of Highway 280 (Bolyston Highway), 6.2 miles south of where Highway 191 departs Highway 280 southeastward towards Hendersonville. Travel up Turkey Pen Road (high clearance and four-wheel drive is recommended) approximately 1.2 miles to its terminus at the Turkey Pen Gap parking area (Pisgah National Forest). The trail in front of you, departing the parking lot downhill behind the kiosk, will be the trail you hike out on following the paddle. It’s not a bad idea to walk down to the bridge and note something unique about it’s presence so that you know which bridge to take out at – you’ll pass a few along your trip downstream, and they all look the same.
To reach the put in, travel back to Highway 280, and turn right (south) towards Brevard. Turn right on Highway 276, entering Pisgah National Forest. Travel 11.6 miles on Highway 276 and turn right on Forest Road 1206 (Yellow Gap Road) shortly after passing the Cradle of Forestry on your right. Travel 3.3 miles on Forest Road 1206 and take a right on Forest Road 476. If this gate is locked, then park at the gate (not blocking it) and walk with your gear through the gate. The put-in will be about a mile down this road. If the gate is open, drive down Forest Road 476 until you reach the end of the road. The river will be on your right, and there will be a single-track trail beginning and heading downstream, river-left, where the gravel road ends.
This is your put in!
It is advised to bring a paper map with you. Pisgah Map Company makes a great one and are for sale at The Hub bike-shop at the Highway 280/Highway 276 intersection along your shuttle route. A trail (South Mills River Trail) follows river-side for most of the run, but crosses the stream quite often, and thus is not a great emergency exit route as the river will often be too swift to cross by foot. Have a map, know your access points, and be prepared for a full day in the most beautiful place on earth – Pisgah National Forest.
An unadvised alternative put-in is on Thompson Creek, a small tributary that greets the South Mills a mile or so upstream of the normal put-in. This micro creek can be accessed through a road-side campground on Forest Road 476. There are many logs/portages, and otherwise yields just a few steep slides and a small boulder garden or two.
From a couple of facebook posts.
Mark Miller I did it a few years back. I would call it mostly class two with a couple III and one IV. The falls is after the the biggest rapid. It is not a fast shuttle or a fast run. Prepare to be on the water for 3 to 4 hours. Scout your take out, there are many bridges you will go under and they all look the same. I'm not sure what the level was but the davidson wasnt running and the north fork was low.
Keith Sprinkle Beautiful. Not hard but long, saw not one person in 14 miles when we did it in the spring. I highly recommend it for a wilderness experience even though the whitewater is mostly real easy. Go with good flow.