Horsepasture - US Route 281 to Lake Jocassee

Horsepasture, North Carolina, US


US Route 281 to Lake Jocassee (Bust your Butt falls to the lake.)

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 4.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 400 fpm
Max Gradient 1200 fpm

Stairstep Falls

Stairstep Falls
Photo taken 02/02/11

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level

River Description

Local expert Ron Stewart
Class: III-VI

The Horsepasture has been designated a Wild and Scenic river from Hwy 281 to Lake Jocassee. For more info click here.

Gorges State Park

First mile is 387 feet,

Steepest half mile is 1200 feet starting at Windy Falls.

There are a several options on how to run the horsepasture. First is to put in above turtleback, and run down to just above rainbow falls, then hike back out. The trail out from rainbow is rather good. The problem here is you are hiking 3/4 mile one way to run a 20 foot slide, and then hiking 3/4 mile back out. This is a hike and huck, and is alot of effort for one drop.

The second option is to use the same put-in and run down to Stairstep falls, then hike back out. The trail from Stairstep falls to rainbow is not as good as rainbow to the parking lot. Below Stairstep falls is where the river get really steep.

The most popular option is to put in above turtleback and paddle to the brink of Windy Falls and then hike 3 miles and around 1000 vertical feet out of the gorge. The hike is tough, but if you are paddling the horsepasture, then you should be in good enough shape in the first place to hike out. There is only really one bad stretch that is really steep, and it lasts for about 3/4 mile. This gives you all the best whitewater, and though it is action ppacked, is really only a mile and a half from the putin. Right below turtleback, an easy slide with an off vert 15 foot drop at the end, get out on river left, because the class 6 150 foot Rainbow falls is right below. You will die if you go over it! Portage on the left and then putin at the bottom, after gaining a sense of why they call it rainbow falls.

The very next rapid is one of the hardest and nastiest on the run. Called ugly sutff, this rapid is an unpleasant pile of boulders that comprise the breakdown detritus of Rainbow Falls. This new pile of rocks is very unfriendly. The top is a boulder garden with undercuts. At the crux most run a line on the left that is critical to run properly. Stay high on the ridge of rock and don't fall into the nasty crack in the center to your right. A higher water line on the right is cooler but as critical. Hit a nice tight 8 foot boof angled right, just missing the rocks all round you. you are then flushed back together with the left line and funnel through a tigh slide into a pool above the next rapid, Slab Falls.

This one is pretty straightforward. Its a 12 foot drop that lands on bedrock. Run further to the left for a smoother hit. Don't boof it too hard, just drop your nose a little for smoother transition. Below here you enter the first set of class 4-5 boogie water, with technical and difficult boulder gardens. After a few of these you come out above the best rapid ever.

Stairstep falls could be the best rapid out there. Its 6 or 7 off vertical slide/falls ranging from 6 to 20 feet high. The whole rapid drops around 60 or 70 feet, and barring possibly dangerous holes at high flows, not much can go wrong in here. The only problem with this one is that it seems a hike back up for a repeat would be difficult and time consuming. At the bottom, the river turns 90 degrees to the right and enters the hard stuff.

Below Stairstep, the river gets even more difficult. There is high difficulty and high quality class 5 boogie for a while, with boulder drops that would be very big named deals on any other river. Scouting is hard but recommended if no one knows the run. There are bad spots in here. These culminate at One of the hardest rapids in the gorge.

Corner pocket is a tricky drop with a cave halfway down on the right and a surgy boulder jam at the bottom. Enter driving super hard left to carry away from the cave on the right. Some do catch the cave eddy to break it up as well. Then head down against the gigantic bowling pin rock in midstream and boof into the pool below.

Now for the big ones! Names vary, but we'll just call them sidepocket falls as they are called by non whitewater enthusiasts. The first drop of sidepocket falls should be run center to left, avoiding the channel on the right that turns both parts into one direct scary experience. You don't want to go left too early as the first part can hurt, but smoothely transition the first 8 foot ledge center and then join the rest of the flow to ramp off a great 10 foot melter into the pool below. Now you are above the most intimidating drop on the run.

While the first drop was pretty straight forward, the second drop of sidepocket is tough and has the potential for carnage. The line is to ferry into the flow on the right and drop off a 15 foot clap onto a bedrock slide. This bedrock slide piles down a sluice into a big nasty hole and a bad piton on the right. At high flows you can go right of the piton and the hole, but at normal flows, you can't. So go far left at the bottom. You are going into the hole either way, its just a matter of whether you want to go in the hole perpendicular with momentum or sideways after pitoning your lights out. Fight out of the hole, its friendlier than it looks or feels.

Next is another whitewater fantasy known as highway to heaven. Right after Sidepocket the river bends left into this gigantic low angle slide. Down the middle is the way and its pretty easy, but when you get to the lower midpoint, there is a slight pool, and the second part deserves caution. You want to right the bottom converging slide high on the left to avoid an epic piton. The tradeoff is that you end up in the backwash of a feature that is similar to the speed trap below gorilla, but bigger. The good thing is that there is not hole, just a big gyrating whirlpool of an eddy. Just point it into the gut and peel out to the pool below. I have been in there with 2 other boaters before, and my buddy and I went around for a minute before noticing the paddle, boat and helmet of another paddler who had been in there the whole time with us. Laughs were had by all.

After this, there are several more class 5's before windy falls. The first has a huge boulder in the middle of the river with a difficult line to the left of it avoiding some nasty wood. This one changes, so take a quick look. Then there is a double ledge that can be boofed on the right. After another smaller drop comes the last drop before the git out.

The final drop where most people get out is a nasty one. It is a 12 foot ledge that has a bad curl at the lip that throws you to center, where you don't want to be. A nasty hole develops and the outflow hides a subsurface pinch sieve that has caused problems before. The seal launch on the right is fine.

Below here most will exit their boats in the first break in the verical river left wall and hike to the campsite at Windy Falls. This involves handing boats up a 10 foot step in the rock. I like to use myboat as a ladder. The two drops above Windy Falls have seen some action. Look in Leland's book for some good pics. The first is a spout with big contact at the bottom. It drops 20 feet. The second one is a diagonal ledge down and to the left and you wanna be right to say the least. This one is almost 20 feet too.

Take a peer off the lip of Windy Falls. It is the most rugged place in the east!

Now eat some poewrbars and gear up for the hike out. From the Campsite, head up the trail straight up the mmountain. After a few hundred yards, you hit a more level grade and begin to wrap south around the side of the gorge, and then east through some ropy but relatively level grade. After a mile you hit Powerline road (not marked), which is a nice gravel grade that you make a left on, heading up hill. From here is 2 more miles of huffing. There is a middle stretch that climbs 600 feet or more in under a mile. This is the crux. Go slow and breathe. Top out and then go another 3/4 mile to the parking area where you started. This last stretch has some uphill but is mostly level or downhill.

You can also portage Windy Falls. When you hit the smoother grade after a few hundred yards from the Windy Falls site, you will see a ridge that breaks off down the mountain on your right. It is on a bend to the left away from the river. Take this trail down,down,down. When you hit an old road, go right and back upstream to the river.

You can also portage through the falls, but I only know of 2 groups that have ever done it, one having to spend the night. Bring minimal climbing gear for this.

Paddling down to the lake takes on a minor expedition feel. You can either paddle the 7 miles across lake jocassee, or hire a boat to pick you up at the confluence. Hiring a motorboat is the preferred option. The main problem here is portaging the 400 foot double falls of Windy Falls, which is quite dangerous, and then portaging more at Roostertail and the massive rock flow below it. There are some more really fun rapids below here before it quickly subsides into calss 3, but this is a real expedition.

There have been some major access issues with the horsepasture in the past.

Five Boaters Arrested on Horsepasiure River, NC
American Whitewater and ACA rush to rescue!
By Jason Robertson
On September 22, 1998 five boaters, including the American Canoe Association's (ACA) Dave Jenkins, were arrested while trying to run Bust-Your-Butt Falls on the Horsepasture River. Earlier in the summer, American Whitewater's Access Director, Jason Robertson, and Dave Jenkins, were hassled by a security guard while hiking on Forest Service property by the Falls. The guard pulled out a pistol and tried to confiscate Jason's camera to prevent him from taking photographs of the snow fencing and "No Trespassing" signs along the river. In a similar show of ridiculously superior force and at tempted intimidation, the five boaters that were cited with trespassing in September were surrounded by more than 20 miners from a quarry located beside this State and Federal Wild and Scenic River. The miners were car- rying blunt objects and definitely appeared threatening, regardless of their stated intent. American Whitewater and the ACA submitted a law suit November/December 1998 charging that the landowner's actions were illegal, and that he violated the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution by impeding the public's right to use a navigable waterway. Contact Jason Robertson for more information on this lawsuit, or refer to the Aug/Sept (1998) Journal for greater detail.

Horsepasture, NC Issue: Development Threats and Access
The Wild and Scenic Horsepasture River plunges an amazing 700 feet per mile for two miles through a dense rhododendron forest. The top drop, which is located 100 yards downstream from the Highway 281 bridge, is a 40-foot slide called Bust-Your-Butt-Falls. The Forest Service had an option for buying this land; instead it decided to a larger chunk on the ridge that the owner had threatened to develop for housing. Bust-Your-Butt-Falls' new "owner" has posted dozens of "No trespassing" signs around the falls, hired a full time security guard to keep people off the property, had the county post "No Parking" signs, and even wrapped his property like a Halloween cupcake in bright orange snow fencing. American Whitewater and the American Canoe Association met with the Forest Service Supervisor, John Ramey, and discussed our concerns with him. We explained that this river receives regular, albeit limited, use by kayakers and that we expect the Toxoway, Horsepasture, and Thompson creeks to have more and more visitors as steep creeking's popularity rises. Our organizations have joined together and are challenging the landowner's ability to close access to a federally designated Wild and Scenic River. American Whitewater and the ACA feel that this case is extremely important at a national level, because of the fact that this is a Wild and Scenic River and that the designation implies a public easement along the river. Furthermore, the failure of the Forest Service in advocating for public access here is in direct contrast to their position on the West Fork of the Chattooga in Georgia where the USFS has pursued legal action against a developer for blocking access on another Wild and Scenic River.

Contact: Jason Robertson or Dave Jenkins with the American Canoe Association, 703-451-0141.

U.S. Waternews Article on the Horsepasture from Nov. 1998. In other words, if you feel like puting in at the 281 bridge, call AW first. Don't mess up access. This problem will be worked out soon.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2012-09-04 19:17:51


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.5Bust Your Butt Falls5.0Access Waterfall Photo
0.7Turtleback FallsIV+Putin Hazard Waterfall Photo
0.8Rainbow FallsPortage Hazard Waterfall Photo
0.9Ugly Stuff5.0Hazard
1.0Slab FallsIV+Waterfall
1.6Stairstep Falls5.0Access Waterfall Photo
1.8Unnamed BoofIVPlayspot
1.8Corner Pocket5.1Hazard
1.8Heinous ThingIV+
1.9Thrasher Pike A (First drop of Sidepocket Falls)5.0Hazard Waterfall Photo
1.9Thrasher Pike B (Sidepocket Falls)5.1Hazard Waterfall Photo
2.0Highway to Heaven5.0Hazard Photo
2.1Unnamed SlideIV
2.2Unnamed Double DropIV
2.2Sieve Rapid5.1Hazard Waterfall
2.4Windy FallsN/AAccess Portage Hazard Waterfall
4.5Lake JocasseeTakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Bust Your Butt Falls (Class 5.0, Mile 0.5)

(RM) Butt Buster Falls Ride

(RM) Butt Buster Falls Ride
Photo of Drunken College Kid by Rob Maxwell

Class 2 move, but very high speed. There have been some back injuries here. Off limits as of right now

Turtleback Falls (Class IV+, Mile 0.7)


Nasty hole at higher flows. And a 150 foot waterfall just around the corner.

Rainbow Falls

(RM) Rainbow Falls

(RM) Rainbow Falls
Photo by Rob Maxwell

Mandatory portage, unless you're a hairboater named Rock.

Ugly Stuff (Class 5.0, Mile 0.9)
Don't run it blind without a guide. There is a line on the right and left.

Stairstep Falls (Class 5.0, Mile 1.6)

Stairstep Falls

Stairstep Falls
Photo taken 02/02/11

There are essentially four main drops to this rapid. The first drop is often run to the right making the easy boof into the eddy on river right. The second drop is run on river left, ideally, off a nice flake rock that boofs you nicely over the hole below. The third drop is run on river left, avoiding the rocks that are in the center to river right area. The fourth drop is also run river left-ish.

Unnamed Boof (Class IV, Mile 1.8)

A roughly 5 foot boof just above Cornerpocket. Scout from river left. A hole forms at the base of the drop and it is slighly backed up and walled in by a large slab rock on river left. Boofing center seems to be a good line on this drop.

Corner Pocket (Class 5.1, Mile 1.8)

Scout from river left. This tricky rapid features a moderate sieve on river right that the large hole / curler in the drop can feed you in to. At reasonable levels, people have been pushed into this sieve / eddy portion of the rapid and have been able to get turned around and paddle out without incident. Run the final 4-5 foot drop on the right to avoid rocks that are on the bottom left of the drop.

Heinous Thing (Class IV+, Mile 1.8)

This rapid used to have a large log going over the center of the main drop. This log is now gone and the rapid is a bit less heinous. Running center down the flume of sorts seems to work fine.

Thrasher Pike A (First drop of Sidepocket Falls) (Class 5.0, Mile 1.9)

Sidepocket / Thrasher Pike A

Sidepocket / Thrasher Pike A
Photo taken 02/02/11

Enter in roughly the center a few feet to the right of a small flake / rooster tail. Drop down a few feet and proceed with the main flow left of the large rock slab in the middle of the rapid (with a slight overhanging rock feature). This move is followed up by a 10 foot boof into a large eddy on river left.

Thrasher Pike B (Sidepocket Falls) (Class 5.1, Mile 1.9)

Thrasher Pike B

Thrasher Pike B
Photo taken 02/02/11

Often portage on river left or run on river right. Scout from rocks in the center of the river and mind the stout hole that forms at the bottom of the rapid if you run it.

Highway to Heaven (Class 5.0, Mile 2.0)

Final Slide of Highway to Heaven

Final Slide of Highway to Heaven
Photo taken 02/02/11

Immediately after Thrasher Pike B. This rapid can be scouted on river left. Before running it, you should walk down the portage trail and check for wood in the final drop. The top part of the rapid is a long, low angle slide. The line through here is largely where ever the river pushes you, just be ready to be on gaurd to maintain your balance. There is a brief flat section in the lower half of this rapid that signals the final slide. The bottom of this final section has a decently powerful hole at the bottom that you want to make sure to boof over. This hole is very similar in nature to the Speedtrap on the Green River, NC. Basically, it flows downstream on river right, and upstream on river left.

Unnamed Slide (Class IV, Mile 2.1)

Scout from river left. This rapid used to be run on the far river right, just behind the large rock on river left. However, the rocks have shift below this drop making for a solid piton potential. The more recent, more desirable line, is the enter left left of the large rock in the center (nice boof if you want) and to continue down the fan rock center.

Unnamed Double Drop (Class IV, Mile 2.2)

This rapid is just above the last rapid before the usual takeout. It's a smaller double drop with each drop probably in the five foot range. Going center on the top drop and then river left off the second drop seems to work well.

Sieve Rapid (Class 5.1, Mile 2.2)

This is essentially the final rapid before Windy Falls. Scout on river right. This rapid is often run on the river right side, down the slide and boofing over the small hole that forms at its base. Shortly after this, you boof the river right side of the main drop, being careful of the rocks and sieve that form down below.

The usual takeout is just downstream from this rapid on river left. DO NOT continue downstream without significant scouting and preparation.  There have been a few descents of these top drops above Windy Falls, but getting flushed downstream from one of these means certain death.

Windy Falls (Class N/A, Mile 2.4)

Completely unrunnable. Several hundred feet tall with multiple unrunnable drops. Mandatory portage.

Lake Jocassee
Its a long paddle out, so arrange for a boat pickup.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
September 4 2012 (1962 days ago)
zfraysier (150593)
New wood in the bottom drop of corner pocket. Scout!
January 13 2012 (2196 days ago)
x (1)
Gorges state park is now open, rangers are really nice to boaters as long as we stay
respectful....enjoy HP it's an awesome run...the shuttle is nice just park in the grassy
ridge parking area and hike to rainbow, then once you reach windy falls the trail brings you back
to your car. no need for shuttle now unless you want to run bust your butt and turtle back. the
park closes @ 7:30pm but you can always leave through the gate you just can't return until morning.
Thanks, Jwall....also the old trail that took you to turtle back is closed...I spoke with a ranger
about it and he said they don't want people using it anymore due to conflict with the state forest.
July 11 2005 (4573 days ago)
From Tim on Boatertalk:
The Gauge is on the river left, upstream side of the bridge that crosses the river on Hwy 64 -
basically a few hundred yards upstream from Bust Your Butt falls. The landowner (same guy who
claims to own the river) has it posted everywhere, but to get a good a read, you need to pull over
and quickly run down to the river (trespass a little) and check the gauge. You can kind of see it
by leaning over the bridge from the road but its hard to get a good read.

I don't have a lot of experience with the gauge, but here are my thoughts: low would be around
zero, but it has been run a few inches lower. I've run it at 4 inches and I thought that it was
ideal. It was 9 inches the other day and most of us decided to go elsewhere because of the high
water, cold weather and the lack of time. The two guys that ran it reported it to be high, pushy
and a little scary. I would consider an optimal range to be 2 inches to 6 inches. It seems to hold
fairly well (a day or two, depending on the level) but needs a good rain to run. The Cullasaja is a
reasonable proxy to see how much rain fell in the area.
June 20 2005 (4594 days ago)
Jerry JascombDetails
One in our party hopped out at Hwy 281 bridge to briefly check the level. Quarry guys showed up in
Gorges St. Park looking for the "tresspasser" writing down license #'s, acting like
jerks. Use caution.
August 29 2004 (4889 days ago)
Boyd RuppeltDetails
beautiful gorge...Be careful on the river right side of Turtleback Falls. Theres a pothole-cave
that starts at the top and comes back out in the falls about 10 ft to the left and 10' below.
Swimmers have accidently gone into it head first and popped out feet first at low water. Someone in
a boat might not be so lucky...not an easy spot for a rescue. The river left/middle side is more
fun anyway! Be safe!
September 16 2003 (5237 days ago)
Horsepasture Beta: (from Boatertalk)
Date: Sep 16 2003, 20:01 GMT
From: boat_breaker

This is an absolutely beautiful run but a long day. As one of the other guys mentioned, you park in
the designated state parking lot and then take the trail down to the river. You can put in right
above turtle back falls and run down to Rainbow Falls...portage around the falls and put in at the
base. This is where the fun starts. There are some great drops with incredible scenery. Its mostly
drop pool and very doable, but its class V stuff. Then you get to Windy Falls where the river drops
about 1000 feet or so. Here you have two options: (1) hike out and back to the parking lot (about a
2 hour hike...uphill!!) or (2) portage the falls and put in below (about a 45 min. difficult
portage). If you elect to portage Windy then you basically end up in the lake and you will need to
arrange a ride across the lake or paddle for hours to get to the other side where you left the car.
There's a guy that will pick you up and get you across the lake for about $10-$20 per person
(depends on how many boaters you have).

This is a great run, but it should be respected. Its doable by competent class V boaters but its
sensitive because its in or near the Park and there have been recent deaths (non-boaters) on the
river so we need to be very careful in order to protect the access.
June 26 2003 (5319 days ago)
hoke cagleDetails
windy falls portage: begin river left,
jump up 10 foot ledge step, take logging
road up to top of ridge, take ambiguous
trail to right down the ridge, old iron
cable're doing good, keep
taking rights on trails back to the river,
smile, cuss, run big
August 21 2002 (5628 days ago)
Dave SchallDetails
Pictures of Bust-your-butt and turtle back falls can be found at:

Do more than just check gauges; join over 5,000 AW members today.

Or, consider donating