Difficulty V
Length 4.5 Miles
Flow Range FT
Flow Rate as of: 10 years ago 2.91 [FT]
Reach Info Last Updated 08/26/2020 7:24 pm

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. Putting in at 281 is not recommended due to a hostile landowner and past disputes. The first option 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.

Rapid Descriptions

Bust Your Butt Falls

Class - 5.0 Mile - 0.5
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

Class - Mile - 0.8
Mandatory portage, unless you're a hairboater named Rock.

Ugly Stuff

Class - 5.0 Mile - 0.9
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Don't run it blind without a guide. There is a line on the right and left.

Slab Falls

Class - IV+ Mile - 1
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Stairstep Falls

Class - 5.0 Mile - 1.6

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 - 1.79
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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 - 1.81
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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

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 - 1.91

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

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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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 - 2.19
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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

Lake Jocassee

Class - Mile - 4.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Its a long paddle out, so arrange for a boat pickup.


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8 years ago

New wood in the bottom drop of corner pocket. Scout!

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8 years ago

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 now...you 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.

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15 years 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.

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Jerry Jascomb
15 years ago

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.

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Boyd Ruppelt
16 years ago

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!

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17 years 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.

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hoke cagle
17 years ago

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 ruins...you're doing good, keep
taking rights on trails back to the river,
smile, cuss, run big

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Dave Schall
18 years ago

Pictures of Bust-your-butt and turtle back falls can be found at:

Gage Descriptions

The run is halfway between the Cullasaja and the French Broad at Rosman. If those two are going there is a good chance the Horsepasture has water. Look for at least 4.3 on Cullasaja and at least 500 on French Braod at Rosman.

A new gauge was installed by the gauge master Tony Robinson (Google Maps link to location). To see the gauge, drive a mile or so west of the intersection of Hwy 281 and Hwy 64 and turn left onto Upper Whitewater Road. Take this one mile and you will cross the Horsepasture. The gauge is on a rock pile on the downstream river left side. Stand on the bridge and look downstream for the best view. Note, this gauge is in a private neighborhood. Be polite and quick about your presence. Do not put on the river here. If anyone official stops and asks what you're doing just tell them politely that you're checking the river level and leaving shortly. 

Recent reports site 0.2 feet as the minimum, 0.3 feet as medium and 0.4 feet as high. Due to the gauge being mounted on an angle, the range is quite narrow on 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.

No Accident Reports



article main photo

A Close Look at Cheoah River Fatalities

Charlie Walbridge

The recent death of Chris Clark at Python Rapid on North Carolina's Cheoah River is the third at this site in the last six years. In each case, the person who died was an expert paddler and their paddling partners did not see exactly what happened. Let's take a close look at the Cheoah below Bear Creek Falls and develop strategies for future runs. The river here is very fast and continuous. After a fast lead-in (Chaos), the river drops over Bear Creek Falls, a 12' drop. Below, most of the flow pushes toward the river right channel (Python). Ferrying over to the easier river left channel (the West Prong) requires careful boat control. Python itself contains several nasty holes and sieves, with a bad hole blocked by a boulder at the bottom. There is a good route through it, but paddlers need to plan their route carefully. Scouting is a good idea for first timers, although catching eddies and getting out is not  going to be easy. Groups need to stay together.. The rapid is tough enough that you can't watch your buddy all the time, but you can be ready to help if needed. Click through for links to the accident reports, photos, and comments from expert Cheoah River paddlers. (Photo above by Boyd Ruppelt)


Kirk Eddlemon


Jeff Paine


Kevin Colburn


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1190880 01/07/07 Kirk Eddlemon n/a
1201570 09/04/12 Jeff Paine Gauge description update, rapids updated
1201569 09/04/12 Jeff Paine Updated Corner Pocket description
1215217 06/10/20 Jeff Paine updated image position
1215799 08/26/20 Kevin Colburn updated description
1215800 08/26/20 Kevin Colburn updated description