Linville, North Carolina, US
|Usual Difficulty||V (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||110 fpm|
|Max Gradient||270 fpm|
|LINVILLE RIVER NEAR NEBO, NC|
|usgs-02138500||1.70 - 2.70 ft||V||00h24m||1.33 ft (too low)|
If there is one river in the southeast that truly has it all, it is the Linville River. Born atop the highlands of the Blue Ridge near Newland and Linville, North Carolina, the Linville River floats slowly and quietly for several miles. Just after passing under the Blue Ridge Parkway though, it breaks through the main crest of the Blue Ridge unlike neighboring rivers like the Watauga, Elk, and Nolichucky, which follow a much more reasonable path through the gentler northwestern end of the region. As a result of the river following this difficult path, there is only a relatively short horizontal distance the river has to drop the abrupt 2000 feet all the way down to the Piedmont lowlands below.
What allows the river to cut through this ridge instead of flowing off the backside like most streams is a geologic fault plane. This contact between materials that were thrust up and on top of each other millions of years ago made an excellent spot for the river to begin its work cutting through the billion year old core of the Blue Ridge. The river quickly was able to down cut through the weak region in contact with the fault plane and this process produced a giant gorge that runs right down the middle of Linville Mountain that is in some spots as much as 2300 vertical feet below the surrounding high points along the rim. The high gradient and complex geology of the gorge create intense and demanding rapids that are sustained for distances unparalleled in the eastern United States.
Due to the rugged terrain produced by this type of structure, much of the gorge was not logged completely, so there are still old growth areas left. The wilderness area designation also helps with maintaining the rugged feel of the gorge. The hiking trails alone are serious, with one mile in Linville equating out to more like 2 anywhere else in the southeast.
In turn, the Linville River is hands down the most epic, beautiful, and quality stretch of whitewater to be found east of the Mississippi. Nowhere else in the region can there be found a stretch of non stop class 4-5+ rapids for a duration of around 6-7 miles. Most streams of this caliber can go a maximum of 1-2 miles before flattening out. There is a considerable amount of bedrock that produces wild and memorable rapids, as well as insanely complex boulder jumbles that create anywhere from excellent clean drops to more marginal manifestations. The scenery is unbeatable anywhere in the SE. The views of Babel Tower, Sitting Bear, Hawks Bill, Table Rock, North Carolina Wall, Shortoff Mountain and many more vistas leave the paddler taken aback. There are more than a few spots where the canyon walls rise straight out of the water and rise for hundreds of feet. No banks, no boulders, just overhanging rock walls. At normal flows the run though continuously filled with rapids, has a pool drop nature, which provides a relatively controlled environment where decisions can be made one at a time, with enough space in between to admire the surroundings.
The same factors that make this run so incredible also make it a place where mistakes and misjudgments can prove to have dire consequences. The geology of predominantly granitic gneiss produces sheet like boulders that are angular and fall on top of each other in ways that produce many voids and gaps between them. When water flows over these boulders it also flows around, through, and under them. Also there are many instances where these boulder lie on bedrock, which creates hazards as well. Due to these circumstances, the character of the streambed is the most dangerous encountered in whitewater boating. Most rapids have many undercuts and sieves, and due to the way the boulders stack, changes occur frequently. Other examples of this type of streambed are the Lower Rocky Broad, the Lower Meadow, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The four things any paddler considering Linville must have are flawless boat control, water reading skills, scouting skills, and good judgment. In a nutshell, this is not the place for the inexperienced boater. Someone who triple crowns the Green everyday but has only been boating for 2 years is not necessarily ready to deal with the unbelievable amount of serious decisions that must be made on this run. Running things blind is a horrible idea, as often there is only one safe line or sometimes none at all with little warning. If you are a survival boater, keep driving over to Wilson Creek or Watauga, because the Linville WILL call your bluff.
Put Ins and Take Outs
In the early days of boating Linville, there were few methods of accessing the gorge other than puting in at the falls and taking out at the Hwy 126 bridge just a half mile above Lake James. The run was typically done as an overnighter. With improved trail knowledge, advances in equipment technology, and the growing willingness to hike with your boat, a myriad of putin and takeout options have become popular. There are several access points and many can be used as put ins AND take outs depending on the desired stretch one wishes to paddle, and what kind of shuttle set up one wants. Some of the stretches require two cars, yet some only require a bike shuttle. Others again can be jogged in as little as 30 minutes. You have to decide what stretch you want to paddle/deal with, and also factor in your shuttle situation, tolerance for hiking and or flatwater paddling, and how long of a day you want. Though there are many trails down to the river that are not used often due to poor trail conditions, there are a series of decent trails into the gorge that are best broken into East Rim trails and West Rim trails.
East Rim Access Trails
East Rim Access Trails are found spurring to the west off of the road that goes to Table Rock from Hwy 183 between Newland and Morganton, NC. A few miles to the south of Jonas Ridge is a turn to the west onto Gingercake Road. Turn here and then take the left fork a short distance in. There are two access trails that are used for putins and takeouts found along this road.
-Brushy Ridge Trail-
This trail is an excellent way to putin for a run through the steep section of the river if one does not want to mess with the Cathedral Gorge and plans to takeout at the relatively easy Spence Ridge trail. The shuttle is also only around 5 miles, which makes this an easy bike shuttle or hitch run during the summer when there are plenty of cars travelling the road. The trail puts the paddler in a half mile above the first falls in the upper stretch of the river and allows one to paddle the better part of the paddle in, but still keeps the paddle in reasonable, clocking in at around 2 miles to reach Babel Tower Rapid. The two miles above Babel are beautiful, go fast, and are interspersed with fun class 3-4 bedrock rapids. Once again this trail is only worth using if you plan on hiking out at Spence Ridge. The trail is around 1.7 miles to the river. To reach the trailhead, go right at the fork in the road at Gingercake and after around a mile, turn left onto Mtn Park road and go around half a mile to a circle that has little parking area on the right. There is a little sign in rock with the letters BRT. Park here and take the obvious path into the woods. The majority of the hike is relatively flat and smooth. About 1.3 miles in the trail starts knife ridging out Brushy Ridge and begins to drop precipitously. Stay on the ridge and take a look around for a few good views. There is one spot where the trail disappears, but continue down and to the right and keep going through the tight and brushy stretch until you drop into a saddle where a crude campsite is located. From this saddle, drop to your right (North) down a steep slope 250 feet to the river. This trail will take around 45 minutes to an hour to hike and is similar in effort to hiking in at Babel Tower, though the going at the end is a little rougher than anything on Babel Tower.
-Spence Ridge Trail-
Though Spence Ridge has been used as a putin for those going to the lake, it is more widely used as a takeout for the upper gorge. The only thing one will miss is the Cathedral Gorge, which is the crux of the run. Taking out here makes for a lower stress day than going all the way to the lake or running Babel to Conley. The trailhead is 5 miles down the road towards Table Rock and is signed and has ample parking. The trail does one long switchback before following a little stream steeply all the way down to the river above Cathedral Gorge. Going up from the river the hike is around 1.7 miles long and typically takes anywhere from 40-60 minutes to hike with a boat. Another big attraction of this hike out is that you avoid the horrendous carry out at Conley Cove. Conley Cove gains 1100 feet in just over a mile, whereas Spence Ridge only gains 800 feet over a longer distance, 1.7 miles.
West Rim Access Trails
Access located on the West Rim spur to the east off of NC 105 (Kistler Memorial Highway). This road is reached by either coming in from the North off of 183just south of the intersection with 221 in Linville Falls, or coming in from the South off of Hwy 126 a few miles west of the crossing of the Linville River at the takeout. This highway is the one used to run shuttle if one is doing the whole river. Luckily in between the falls and the lake are a few other putin/takeout options.
-Linville Falls Trailhead- [AW ACCESS ALERT: The Blue Ridge Parkway (National Park Service) currently prohibits paddling on the Linville River within Park Service boundaries, which extend to roughly 1/3 of a mile below Linville Falls. Violating this current closure can result in a $5,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. We are leaving the description of the Linville Falls Trailhead accesson this page as a factual record of a valuable river access location, but strongly recommend against paddling the short Park Service section of the Linville River below the falls.]
This putin is treacherous and there is no trail, and is therefore not recommended. There are plenty of other options further down the gorge on both sides. The parking for this putin trail is located 100 yards down NC 105 from its northern terminus with Hwy 183. This is the putin to be used if one wishes to paddle the chilled out and sometimes long paddle in for the upper gorge. From the falls down to Babel Tower Rapid, the river has mostly class 2-3 rapids with a fair amount of flatwater. There are a few decent class 4 rapids though. Many opt to skip this putin and go down to Babel Tower, but the river is beautiful and makes a convenient putin if one does not want to hike on both ends of a trip. This is also a great putin to add extra river mileage if one is planning on taking out a Spence Ridge. Walk the trail at the south end of the parking lot half a mile to an intersection with a larger trail. Walk straight through the intersection up and over a knoll to a spot where there is a steep treacherous route down to the base of the falls. Doing a little pre-route scouting helps here. Most people use ropes to lower down the 150 feet of slippery rocky stair steps to the plunge basin. From the car to the pool below the falls is not far on a map, but this last stretch of boat lowering takes considerable time. Plan on around 30 minutes of work to putin here. Finally, try to avoid this putin as much as possible, as it has a somewhat environmentally insensitive factor to it, due to the lack of any official trail.
This 1.3 mile trail is rough in spots, but provides a convenient putin for those wanting to start right out at the good stuff. It takes around 35-45 minutes to hike in, which consists of parking at the signed pull off 3 miles down from the 183 intersection and hiking down into the gorge. Over halfway you will reach a saddle at Babel Tower and can turn right or left onto the Linville River Trail. Turn left and upstream and go another ten minutes until reaching a little stream. Take the faint trail down with this stream 100 feet to the rock outcrop above Babel Tower Rapid. It should be noted that if one is willing to carry out here, a great 4.5 mile class 2-3+(4) run through the upper gorge paddle in is worth the effort for those less able to access the mostly class 5 remainder of the gorge. Mainly this is used as the putin for the typical Babel to Conley trip, or as a putin for Babel to the lake.
This trail is around 7 or 8 miles down from the 183 intersection and is the toughest of all the commonly used boat access trails. The trail switchbacks straight up the side of the gorge, 1.2 miles, climbing around 1100 feet. The parking area is signed. If you are taking out here you probably putin at Babel but also could have put in at the falls. Running to here as opposed to Spence Ridge adds the Cathedral Gorge to the end of the run. Some paddlers put in here for what is considered the Lower Linville Gorge, Conley to the Lake. Hiking down is easier than up, and it is recommended to bring water, a headlamp, endurance, and patience. This hike is considerably more demanding than the Spence Ridge hike out on the other side of the gorge
-Pinch In Trail-
Conveniently located half a mile below the last class 4 rapid in the gorge, this would be a convenient hike out, but the vertical gain is absurd, at around 1800 feet. Combine that with the 1.5 length and poor trail conditions and its easy to see why if people paddle below Conley they just go to the lake.
-Hwy 126 at Lake James-
This is the bottom takeout. It is reached by turning North on the graded road just west of the Hwy 126 crossing of the Linville River. Drive a hundred yards and park at the wide spot on the right, next to the river. This is also the gauge location.
Popular Trip Itineraries
Falls to the Lake - to do it all. Long day. No hiking
Falls to Spence - good full day, not too long, no Cathedral Gorge
Babel to Conley - most bang for the buck. All the hard stuff, none of the flats. Short shuttle
Falls to Babel - For the class 3 boater who just has to get in there. Shortest shuttle
Babel to the Lake - Get all the goods and the lower, but without the paddle in.
Brushy Ridge to Spence - Short shuttle, most of the good stuff, no Cathedral Gorge, nice but not too long paddle in.
Rapids and River Descriptions
There are a handful of distinct sections to the river. I will break the description into these sections and describe them each from top to bottom.
Note: No one talks about these rapids much, so I have had to name them. If they already have a name and you feel I should change them, just make a comment or send me some feedback. No need to get upset!
-Linville Falls to the Bends-
This is the top stretch and starts at the base of Linville Falls. There is a nice 15 footer above the falls, but the river is posted off limits here due to the danger immediately below.
After putin in at the base of the falls there are a handful of class 3 rapids spread out over the next 2.5 miles down to the Brushy Ridge Access point. The river is shoaly and wide in spots and is mostly bedrock bottomed. The river is very similar to section 3 of the Chatooga through here, with lots of scrapy class 2 and excellent scenery. Well into this stretch there is a nice little bedrock flume rapid and at the end of the straightaway this rapid is on the river makes a tight sweeping turn around a point on the right and on the left is a huge 500 foot amphitheater with stunning rock faces.
At this point, the first ledge is encountered. Its a simple boof of around 5-6 feet with a shallow landing. The river picks up to class 2-3 for a bit and halfway through the next straightaway is where Brushy Ridge Trail comes in on river left down off the the steep wall and onto a nice bedrock landing on the left. Below here the river enters "The Bends".
-The Bends to Babel Tower Rapid-
This stretch is absolutely beautiful with plenty of fun class 3-3+ rapids and a few class 4- drops as well. It lasts around 2 miles down to the first serious drop at Babel Tower Rapid.
Below Brushy Ridge trail the river drops over some class 2-3 bedrock slides that are fun but usually scrapy. The walls grow to considerable heights here and be on the look out for trees growing upside down from the undersides. At the end of this long straightaway is a sharp bend to the left, and on this bend is the first sizable rapid on the river, first falls. The river drops close to 20 feet here down a smooth bedrock sliding drop. The only good line is on the right where the water is. Scouting can be done from the left, but usually is not necessary. Just go straight down the tongue on the right side of the falls down a 10 foot sloping slide that ramps you off of around a 6 foot drop. Great fun and harmless for the most part.
Below here the river splits at an island with most of the flow going right. Go with it, but at the end of the constriction the river drops through a jagged boulder field with a few pin spots and sieves. Bang through far right. There is a boof in the middle that works but its hard to see from above and has sieves all around it.
Next the river goes straight a little further before entering the most fascinating stretch of the bends. The river turns sharply to the left again and slides down a smooth class 3 slide with a huge boulder in the center of the river. Go right here. After another pool the river channelizes to the right and goes down a pretty fun class 3+ slide that drops around 15 feet over the course of 100 feet. Go with the flow on this one and enjoy.
The next bend to the right brings a manky boulder pile and then another bend to the right brings a fun class 3 that offers a nice eddy out on the left under a big overhanging wall with water showering down from above. Next on a bend to the left is a fun little technical move that is found on river right. Stay right here for the good line. Then the river reaches a point where a low wall comes down to river level on the left and the channel turns sharply right at a sizable horizon line. This is California Dreamin, named after the gently sloping rock on the left and the smooth horizon line. This rapid is a 10 foot sloped ledge with a nice fun factor. This stretch is all bedrock and there are a few more fun slides below. The river stays consistent class 3 all the way down to Babel Tower Rapid from here. After a bend to the left the walls really close in and the realization that things are about to get serious hits hard.
After a few hundred yards of fun class 3+ rapids is Babel Tower Rapid. Eddy out right to scout and do not inadvertently stumble into this one. You would probably be okay with a random clueless run but it would be scary. Babel Tower Trail is reached by climbing up the trail next to the feeder on the right for 100 feet and then turning left onto the Linville River Trail. This trail goes 1/3 mile up to the intersection with Babel Tower Trail. This trail turns right and goes over a mile back up to NC 105.
-Babel Tower Moat-
This stretch is the beginning of the serious whitewater of Linville, which goes for a non stop 7 miles that drops around 1300 feet! This is the beginning of the longest stretch of class 5 anywhere around, with the whole West Prong of the Little Pigeon in TN coming in a distant second. It starts right off with one of the largest drops on the run, Babel Tower. For the next 3/4 mile the river winds clockwise around the Babel Tower rock formation, which creates a moat of sorts. It will definitely feel like it when you are in there.
At Babel Tower Rapid, scout on the right. The river piles into the left wall and turns back right as it drops down a 12 foot slot with a boof on the right side and a steep tongue on the left. In the middle these two features intertwine, forming a curling sheet of water that can cause unpredictable consequences. The bottom has a pocket on the left wall that can dole out some beatings but usually is not a factor. There are no entrapment hazards and the rapid flushes quite well. It is rather tricky to run smoothly though. Most people do the harder line, which involves staying hard against the left wall at the top, so as to create a good drive back right to hit the boof located on the right side of the slot. Its hard to make it over here if you are not starting against the left wall. The other line is a low and late graduated boof on the left wall heading downstream. This is a good option if the other line is not working out, as this line requires little paddling as all the water heads left. Regardless of your line, shake it off in the pool below and get ready for a lot more.
Below here are two excellent slides. The first is at the bottom of a class 3 stubble field. Start left and then drive right down through a narrow 15 foot sliding drop back to the right. The left side falls under a shelf. Immediately after this you are on the right wall and the river turns back to the center and goes down a curler packed white out of a slide that drops about the same as the first. Hit the pool at the bottom and note the wild rock walls encompassing you from every direction. Its all rock and water in here and nothing else. A small sliding drop requiring left angle follows and dumps into a pool above the first of several must run rapids.
Here at Nowhere to Run the river drives down a boulder field with overhanging walls on both sides and no place to portage at all. There is a way to scout on the left at a small beach of cobbles and boulders, but it can be hard to see what’s going on. The standard line is down the right side boofing an entry ledge that angles into a channel against the right wall with another drop onto a rock and then an exit ledge of around 3 feet. However at low water the middle drop can be a big hit, and during these circumstances a center line can be boat scouted with a left and back right motion. This burly rapid deposits you into the most gorged out spot to be found on any river in the SE. The overhanging walls rise hundreds of feet on both sides directly out of the water, and time seems to stand still here.
At the end of this enchanting slot canyon is a ledge that requires a hard drive right and then a class 3 run out drop follows. The next rapid is Up Against the Wall, a juicy slide against the right wall packed with holes and curls. The bottom has a large hole and thrashings are common here. Keep your speed and your bow up, and keep paddling out of the backwash at the bottom. Good stuff.
After the slide the river goes a little further before turning 90 degrees to the right and into Mankyou Very Much, a shitty boulder pile. Run on the right with a double boof with crunchy landings. Then ferry left and finish the runout.
Next is one of the best boofs on the river, a sweet shoulder boof of 7 feet off of a big rock on the right bank. Immediately following is one of the worst boofs on the river, China, aka Scary Boof. This is the first of many rapids that are run but not always fun. A boulder in the center of the river splits the flow to the left and off of an 8 foot drop with a grabby lip. There are undercuts on both sides and the landing is always a sub out with a feeling of uncertainty to it. Portage right or run with speed on the left.
Below here is a fabulous class 3-4 boogie section. Hit these drops center for the meat or driving left to stay out of the holes and undercuts. After 100 yards of this the river turns another 90 degrees to the right and South where it starts to enter the next section. The first rapid after this bend is Pile of Crap, a otherwise fine rapid that has a log wedged parallel to flow in the crux region. It is hard to get over at medium flows or less and resultantly pushes directly into a bad undercut in the center/left of the river. Wheelchair through at medium to low flows on the right or run with conviction down the center and back to the right with good water.
-Used to be a Portage to Jailhouse- This stretch lasts only a mile but is probably the most time consuming of any mile on the trip due to a few portages and a lot of scary and consequential drops.
The action starts with Used to be a Portage. The whole right side of the river is a horrible undercut nightmare, and there used to be no way around, but a channel on the left has opened up. Simply drive down the far left side and after dropping in start heading further left. Its bouncy and low fun but it beats portaging.
After a short stretch of fun class 3 boogie comes Wheelie, aka S-Turn. This rapid used to be all fun and no scare, but the floods of 2004 changed some things and this rapid now has the worst hole on the whole river. Portaging can be done on the left, and the rapid runs down the right sloshing back and forth with beautiful wall curlers before charging down off a diagonal ledge into a fearsome pocket hole on the left side of the channel. It can be punched but has an alarmingly small success rate. The only safe line is to stay low in the curls and use the last one on the left wall to throw you right, away from the left side of the ledge and either into a hanging eddy on the right or off the right side of the ledge. Be careful on the right side as it feeds back left. This spot is the reason throw ropes were manufactured.
The river is now in a bedrock paradise very reminiscent of California. After charging off some class 3 ledges the river drops out of sight onto a nice tongue on the right, dropping around 8 feet with speed. There is a pocket eddy on the left that can be very difficult to exit, but too far right can lead to an abrupt and disorienting piton with the right wall. Run it center and blast the bottom well lest the pocket wants to chat with you.
Below the next pool is a great class 4 zig zag through bedrock features with holes and fun curls to punch through.
After the next big pool is Skylight, a small but consequential rapid run down the far right side of the river boofing downstream. The left side is a bad undercut and after running right there is an undercut bank on the right that is also of concern. The rapid is named for a neat pothole at the bottom under the river left rock that at low water can be paddled into.
Up next is the entrance to Drunk Tank. It consists of two 6 foot ledges, the first of which is a low angle tongue and the second being a steeper ledge. The holes are not bad at normal levels but it is imperative to be in control as an inadvertent run of Drunk Tank would not likely work out. After these two entrance ledges boof 2 feet into the eddy on far river left right at the top of Drunk Tank.
Drunk Tank is one of the big 3 on Linville and is the hardest of the commonly run rapids in the gorge. It is a tight and powerful channel in the center of the river that drops 15 feet. The first hole is sticky and scary and then the flume drops down and into a junky ledge drop of around 6 feet. The right side is a huge impact undercut that could be a bad pin/hit, and the left side is the Drunk Tank, a nasty recirculating cave fueled by the ledge drop. This one is dangerous, so know what you are doing and have a designated cave buddy on standby. At high water the rapid can be snuck down the far left, which is normally the portage route.
The very next rapid is a classic, and though I am not sure if it is named, I refer to it as Diagonal Chaos. The river hauls down a bedrock rapid laced with diagonal ribs of rock that point downstream, which create big curls and funky boils that throw the paddler this way and that. This is one of the more out of control rapids on the run, but is relatively safe. Be mindfull that the water drives through the pool at the bottom and into an undercut stuffed with wood.
After a class 3 ledge the river reaches a small blockage with a blind approach. Drive to the right wall and turn downstream running a fun little 8 foot off vertical ledge. After a little class 2-3 boulder series is the next big portage, where the bedrock disappears beneath large piles of boulders. This character is what creates the next series of dangerous drops.
Death Penalty is a mandatory portage. It used to be possible to paddle way back into a crook eddy on the right, shortening the portage, but wood has becomed lodged in there, requiring an earlier exit. Beach up on the first log and then get out and carefully work your way to the back of the eddy up and over a few logs. Finish the portage by dropping down a few boulders on the bank to river level. The reason for portaging will be obvious from the pool below. In the runout there is a juiced up version of Crack in the Rock on Chattooga, with a sticky little hole in the crack. You can putin above or below this.
Below Death Penalty is Tingle Balls, one of the highlight boofs on the run. This boof gets its name from the sensation felt from the frequent flat landings that occur here. The right hand slot is a boat width wide and the line is to boof the left side of this slot, being careful to get a good boof but to also keep downstream momentum and angle. Its around a 7 foot drop. You are now in an eddy and are forced with a decision. The next drop is right upon you.
After the Gangsta Boof you are in a hanging pool immediately above Arch Nemesis, a scary but not too difficult slide down an undercut and overhung corridor. Flow coming in from the left throws most of the water into a wood filled undercut on the right that could kill you if you looked at it wrong. Drive left but back right near the bottom to avoid a hidden piton rock. The other option is to sneak out the backdoor of the hanging eddy on the river right side of the river.
The next rapid, Double Undercut, is one of the most disgusting rapids anywhere, and though once the secret is figured out it can be run with ease, many still choose to portage, as the consequences could not be worse. "In your face" would be a light way of puting things here. The line is down the left side of the river and off of a 6 foot drop landing in a shallow boil. You want to be far left here so as to have a good line up to drive back right behind a badly placed rock in the center and away from a horrible undercut on the left. Yes it has wood in it. It’s also the first of three, with the next to being less deadly but certainly menacing. This rapid used to be always portaged and though many make it look easy, it should be taken very seriously. A portage can best be done far right hopping across big boulders to the bottom. Daniel DeLaVergne pioneered a sneak down the middle but its not much of a sneak really, with its own sketchy nature.
The next rapid is Tony's Rapid. Here the line is on the left off a ledge that is parallel to flow. After landing turn hard right to avoid an undercut and finish off a double drop bedrock feature. This rapid is named for Tony Robinson, who went under a tree here once. The tree has since moved on.
Next up is a great rapid many Knoxvillians know as Adam's Oof. There are 3 ledges here. The top one is tricky as the river drives over a curl and off of a 4 foot boof that has a rocky landing. This rapid is named for a Knox boater who landed this boof on his head on the rocks below. The two runout ledges are fun and can develop big holes at higher levels.
The next rapid channels down the right wall and down a low angle slide that throws most of the water into an undercut with a hydraulic in it. There have been many close calls here, but there is a totally reasonable sneak further left in the center of the river. Just to the left of the low angle slide is a vertical ledge of 5 feet. Boof it well as a rock lurks in the landing.
Jailhouse, aka the Hallway, is next. The entrance used to be fine, but the floods of 2004 removed a rock that kept the flow out of the undercut right bank. Though it is being run again, good water is recommended, as at low flows the line is thin and manky. Start right and drive away from the right bank and into the slack water below. Or portage the entrance on the left and seal slide back in off of the big sloping boulder into the pool below. This moving pool deposits paddlers into Jailhouse proper, a classic Linville rapid. Start right and either run the boof in the center or ride the wall on the left. This drops into a hallway with a diagonal ledge at the apex of a sharp turn to the left. After turning through here, eddy out above the backdoor of the rapid. This is a tricky move at low water that consists of ducking through an undercut. At higher water the pool level raises in here allowing a slot further left to be run. Even at low water this slot can be wheelchaired to avoid the undercut shuffle at center.
-Devils Hole Gorge through the Cave Falls Gorge-
This section has great scenery and some incredible rapids. Below Jailhouse though, the river chills out and widens through some class 3 shoals with of course frequent bad undercuts. The third shoal down steepens and finishes by driving off of a blind and sizable 7 foot ledge called Cyclops. The right and left and center lines have good boofs, but beware a sticky pocket hole on the far right wall. This is the clean line but get a good boof.
Right below Cyclops is the Low Water Portage. At good water the far left can be run through some bouncy drops or the next slot to the left of far right can be boofed. It’s real easy to get out and take a look on the left, so do so. Portaging is accomplished from the left as well, down a nice bedrock sidewalk. It should be noted that his portage sneaks up on people a lot. Look for a big pool above and a nasty foamy eddy on the left where you get out.
The next series is high quality class 3-4 fun with several great boofs and moves. After 150 yards or so this stretch culminates in a super sweet ledge boof on the right, driving right. Below here is a little more boogie to Daniel’s Rapid.
Daniel’s Rapid is named after Daniel Talley, who got flat pinned on the middle line. Hence the popular line on the right that is alot of fun. Float down the right side and just before the river sieves out turn left and drive towards the left bank through a slot that claps down on a bedrock shelf in the center of the river. Slide another little bit into the pool below.
Right below here is a spot I refer to as the class 2 of death. Here the river drops a 2 foot drop with a strong river wide backwash. The entire backwash goes under a rock on the right and not paying attention here is a good way to die. Plane the hole with max speed being careful to continue driving up over the shallow rocks in the lower part of the backwash. You will either never notice this rapid or never forget it. Don’t let your guard down on Linville. It can be snuck to the right of the all consuming undercut, but if you can’t make a move like this in the first place, the trail out is on river right.
The river straightens out here and charges into the Cave Falls gorge, which is often the highlight of any trip down Linville. Though the gradient is the most severe in the whole gorge, the rapids are quality and memorable, with a few exceptional highlights. First is a rapid with a shitty boulder jumble on the right and a secret door on the left. Drive left over shallow bedrock to a spot that is similar to a mini version of the bottom drop of Mortal Combat on Raven Fork. It’s a simple slide down into the pool below, circumnavigating the often wood filled boulder rapid on the right.
Next is a rapid that is just no good. It is after a nice ledge on the left. It used to be run on the left. Now Jankasaurus Wrecks is quite sieved out on the left, but center has a stupid but “easier than getting out of your boat” wheelchair line. Build up speed and charge over the lip of a 3 foot ledge that drops onto a boulder. After this, drop the next ledge on the left to avoid a nasty slot on the right, but angled back right to avoid unnecessary rock contact in the bottom of this 5 foot ledge. After a couple times you figure out the trick and it’s not that bad.
Now you are at the most memorable rapid on Linville, Cave Falls. The river drops 20 feet at this complex bedrock drop. The left has the classic line, a slide left into a 6 foot boof landing on a slide where you try to angle right and catch a diagonal groove that zip lines you over to the far right side. If you miss the groove you harmlessly slide down the left to the bottom, but if you catch the groove it is big fun riding the chute to the right. It used to be possible to portage the first drop and simply enter the groove from a cave on the left, but the floods of 2004 filled the cave with boulders, shutting this option down. Some people portage the sketchy entrance, which is a bedrock slide angled back towards the right, which is where you don’t want to go. You can then drop in right above the boof, still accessing the fun part of the rapid. There is a line that has only been run once on the right, and it drops 20 feet down a bouncy and undercut slot into a big hole with undercut pockets. The danger on this rapid is if you miss the standard line at the top you could end up on the right line. Post someone with a rope just in case as it is easy to get out in the pool above Cave Falls on the right and walk down. It also provides a revealing glimpse at the erosional processes involved in this river.
Up next is a classic drop on Linville that I call Clapper Falls. There is a big horizon line and the center is the way to go. In this center channel drive hard right and boof off the shoulder on the right heading right. You will clap hard and slide down to the right where a hole waits. Punch through and finish back to the center. Don’t run the next drop, as it’s the nastiest drop on the whole river and to this date has never been run.
After a small 3 foot ledge folowing Clapper Falls, eddy out quickly on the far right, as the next drop is not good to go. This is the Seal Launch Portage, a fun rapid to scout and an even more fun rapid to portage. The nice thing here is that you get to bang down a 20 foot sloping rock into the pool below, either by sliding in from the right or walking your boat down to the left side and adding a little more freefall to the seal launch. There is a rock in the landing over here, so take a careful look. Boaters not wanting to risk the seal launch can portage far right and slide in at the base of the drop.
After sliding in to the pool below the portage, you are committed to another unportagable class 5 rapid, but don’t fret, its one of the best on the run. I call this one Welcome to Bobs World, due to the fact that this rapid drops you into the most scenic walled in gorge that highly resembles something Bob Ross would have painted. The rapid is somewhat obscured, but a large midstream elongated boulder can clearly be seen splitting the flow. The line is to the left of this boulder, first boofing a great shoulder and then centering up for the next sloping ledge and chaotic sluice down through vertical canyon walls. At low water be aware that the right side of the channel undercuts the midstream boulder and that there is a chock stone at the bottom of the boulder pinching some of the flow back under the midstream boulder. Stay center and keep your speed up here. At low water you will hit the rock, just keep pulling for downstream water. The higher this one gets, the bigger ride it is.
Welcome to Bob’s World drops you into the most perfect spot on any southeastern river, the Bob Ross Gorge. Here the river is surrounded on both sides by vertical and overhanging walls. Upstream all that can be seen is a sickening scene of world class rocks and water, while the view downstream is of an end of the world horizon line with a perfectly framed view of Table Rock looming high and distant above the gorge. This is truly an unbelievable sight to behold. At the end of this 150 foot long pool is the big fun drop at Sandy Flats Trail known as Map Falls to some and Dr. Shoosh to others.
Along with Babel Tower Rapid, Dr. Shoosh is one of the few rapids in Linville that sees walks back up to get sloppy seconds. Here the river drops down a perfect 15 foot slide with a huge hole at the bottom. Plane the hole driving center to stay away from an eddy on the far right side that drains under a boulder. This boulder frames the right side of the second drop. The second drop is a river wide sticky pour over that makes Hydro on the Watauga look flushy. The good thing is that this hole is easier to punch than it’s northern brother, and the best way to punch it is to clip the right wall while taking a big left stroke, once you are downstream enough of the upstream side of the wall where the sieve is. This drop is always a lot of fun and is often the source of some good ole fashioned rodeo.
-Wilson Creek Cameo through Spence Ridge Rumble-
Below Dr. Shoosh, the gradient and boulder size drops a bit, easing the run up to class 3-3+ with a handful of class 4 drops. This stretch is somewhat reminiscent of Wilson Creek, and is a nice breather from the intensity found in the past 2-2.5 miles of hair raising whitewater. Keep your guard up though, as there are still nasty spots. A key example is the rapid right below Dr. Shoosh. Start far right and head diagonally back left to avoid a clump of deadly undercuts in the center of the drop.
Next is a rapid that resembles Soc ‘em Dog on the Chattooga, but with a junkier and longer entrance and a pinch pin on the bottom right. Run the entrance through a tight slot heading right, and then line up the wave train that drives right off the 6 foot boof. Launch a big one to clear the hole, and don’t turn right with the landing, as there is a pin spot. Keep driving downstream.
The next half mile is fun class 3, with some scrape here and there. It is a combination of little bedrock slides and boulder rapids. At the end of this stretch the river slowly builds back up to class 5 for the last push to Spence Ridge Trail.
Near the end of this stretch is a fun little slot rapid called Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, that is fun on the left and death on the right. It is boat scoutable.
Following this slot is Adam’s Wall, a straightforward slide down the left side that piles under the wall blocking the exit. Run down the right side of the slide, careful to plane right and away from the massive undercut wall immediately downstream.
Below Adam’s Wall are the final 3 rapids above Spence Ridge Trail. The first is easier and is run on the left, being careful not to get drawn into the side pocket on the left wall halfway down.
Right below is Sodom and Gamora, a quality but scary rapid. There are two parts with a small pool in between. The first part requires a strong drive from right to left down a tongue with unpredictable currents and away from a sieve on the right. This automatically deposits you into an eddy right above a 6 foot ledge. Spin around and peel back out center, boofing center. The next part is a class 2 wave train that drives right into the biggest undercut on the river. There is sometimes a line to the left, but it often has wood. More often paddlers run the narrow crack on the right between the undercut and the river right wall. There are some tricky currents in here and the tendency is to spin out to the right and to broach the slot before quickly being devoured by the undercut. Hug the right wall, but don’t drive in too hard as a spin out could result.
After this intense drop, there are a few fun but sticky ledges run on the left, and then the longest rapid on the whole river presents the last big hoorah before Spence Ridge Trail. Start Spence Ridge Rumble on the left, falling down a sliding 10 foot ledge back to center. Then blast a diagonal ledge hole that kicks left into a large undesirable sieve area. The run out is a few good boofs ending with a tight pinch between a rib of rock on the left and a very undercut wall on the right.
Even if you are not hiking out at Spence Ridge, this is a great spot to get out and take a lunch break. Looking back up at the Rumble from the footbridge is very nice, and the dramatic view into the inner sanctum of Linville, Cathedral Gorge, is both magical and sobering. The Spence Ridge Trail climbs out on river left here, 1.7 miles to the car. The bridge crosses to the right where a spur goes a short jaunt up to the Linville River Trail. If you are running out of daylight or aren’t feeling invincible. You can take the LRT a half mile down to Conley Cove, avoiding the hardest and scariest whitewater on the whole river. It is possible to portage back down to Cathedral Falls once past Twiggy’s Revenge, but it is really difficult to do so.
Cathedral Gorge is the netherworld of east coast boating. The river narrows to half it’s typical width and drops through a gorge so tight that scouting is hard, and portaging even harder. Running through here with a guide will make all the difference, as considerable time can be lost stumbling around trying to see what’s next.
As mentioned above, this gorge can be portaged in its entirety down to Conley Cove on the Linville River Trail on river right, if you are running out of time and energy. Just take the footbridge trail on the right 50 feet up to the LRT and turn downstream.
If you are continuing on, the very first drop below Spence Ridge Footbridge is Cave Diver. Many sneak by bouncing down the far right to avoid the mainline on the left, which is a sticky and melty boof with the whole pool boiling back upstream under the left wall of the gorge.
Right after Cave Diver is a great rapid. Hallway rides a fast and bouncy wave train a ways down to where a rock splits the flow. Go right. !Check this rapid for wood before committing!
The very next drop is run on the right charging back left to avoid a spot that has almost claimed several boaters. The hidden sieve is better noticed in the pool at the bottom. This drop is only class 3 without the sieve.
Next are two drops that are hard to scout and the first of which has a bad hole. Blind as a Bat is on the left side of the river and as the name suggests is probably the hardest drop to look at in the gorge. Boof center and give it all you got at the bottom, where the current bounces off a big boulder and creates a nightmarish backwash. Right below the river drops down Ribshot, which is a bedrock drop onto a rock in the center of the river that can sometimes throw you into the left wall where rock sticks out.
At the end of the next pool is one of the toughest and scariest rapids that get run in the SE, and is definitely the most gnarly in Linville. Known to NC boaters as Twiggy’s Revenge, and to TN boaters as Homey’s Slot, this rapid has two lines. The main line is to the right of the midstream boulder, where a curler filled spout drops 15 feet into a chaotic cauldron. The spout has a cave behind it and the left wall of the room is undercut, with most of the flow exiting underneath instead of through the exit slot. The right wall is sloped bedrock, making the river right portage very sketchy. Portage high. The floods of 2004 made the rapid much worse, but opened up a formerly sieved out line on river left. Its still class 5, but not too hard, involving ducking the left wall and staying right, boofing a drop onto a big hit and then out the bottom. There is no way to scout this one, so go with someone who has been recently and realize that any solid flow could render this one back to it’s former sieve status.
Below here is a rapid that is easier than it looks. The river flies down a flume towards the left of a huge bowling pin shaped rock. Drive right and eddy out right above the bowling pin and then peel back out running just to the left of the boulder hugging the right wall. After dropping this ledge get right, eddy out. Stay right here through a sneak slot to avoid a horrible hole on the left wall, Terrible Hole. Terrible Hole is a nasty U shaped pour over against the left wall with no chance of rescue. Cut back right immediately below the previous drop to sneak through a corridor on the right.
Below here is the entrance to Cathedral Falls, the grand finale of Cathedral Gorge. The entrance on the right is good to go only when the river is at 2.2 or higher, so portage right if its low. Most of the river goes left here into some nasty undercuts. But an easier and shorter portage exists around a manky drop on river left that puts you above the left side entrance rapid, which is pretty cool. The entrance and the low water line both re enter the river left channel above the Falls via a 5 foot ledge boof towards the left wall. After this boof, drive a little more left and then turn quickly back right and drive the right corner of the falls to avoid the hole at the bottom. Its either a big boof or a big meltdown on this one, your choice. The bottom recirculates counterclockwise on the left, so staying on the right is preferred.
The river below Cathedral gives a first taste of the Lower Linville, with small but horrific drops. The very next rapid piles under the left wall, so drive right and downstream with all you’ve got. Right after this is Nikki’s Notch, a nasty rapid that funnels down through a slot in the center of the river that is only 2 feet wide. Boof the right wall and get your paddle sideways. The resulting pocket recirculates and both swimmers and paddles have disappeared for varying amounts of time here. After the notch and subsequent boiling room, exit through a surging slot on far left, as the center is sieved out. Portage right.
The final drop above Conley Cove is Surprise Funeral, a disgusting pile of undercuts where the only doable line is far left banging down the bank. A prominent Chattanooga boater almost drowned here one time because it doesn’t look like anything from above. Just know that below Nikki’s Notch the only way to run the next rapid is on the far left.
One class 3 later and you are in a large long pool at Conley Cove Trail and camping area. The trail is reached by paddling into the next class 2-3 shoal and eddying out halfway down on the right where you can see campsites. Conley Cove leads out on the right a brutal mile and vertical 1100 feet back up to the car. The Lower Linville begins here and continues another 8.5 miles to the bottom takeout at Hwy 126.
There is some misinformation about this run, mainly that it is more reasonable than the upper gorges. While the gradient is slightly less, the upper has lots of bedrock and clean rapids. The lower is all boulder piles and this is where most of the sieves are on the river. Even the class 2 rapids have horrible spots that have scared the daylights out of great paddlers. This being said, the Lower Linville IS NOT any less serious than the upper, so if you want to step it up, this is not the place. This also creates a problem for paddlers running the whole river, who after a long day already, are considerably worn down from the previous 4 miles of class 5 mayhem. Mistakes are intolerable in this stretch. Many of the big rapids begin blindly at the bottom of innocuous class 3 sections, with little to no eddies above them. The other issue is that the Lower requires a bit more water to have a good boating level, as so much of the rapids are dechannelized and sieved out. The next 2.5 miles are very similar to the Lower Rocky Broad, with blind drops that are often not pleasant. Be patient and willing to scout when you can’t see the bottom.
After the long winding shoal below Conley Cove, the river begins its descent around and under the massive boulder falls that have found their way down into the gorge from high on the cliffs above. The first few jumbles are easier than what follows, and after a short distance things begin to pick up. The first memorable rapid is a steep jumble that drops down the center of the river with jagged piton/pin rocks in the way of a simple line. Below here for a ways the river presents many rapids with similar scenarios. The lines are boat abusive and unpleasant, though a great move here and there still exists. The big perk on this stretch is the awesome view of the canyon walls on both sides of the river, especially the North Carolina wall on river left, soaring some 500 feet high.
After about 1.5 miles comes the big 3 of the lower river. First up is a 12 foot spout against a giant wall on the right. Its hard to get a good boof, but deep and surprisingly clean, considering the other rapids nearby. Going deep is fun here. After a boogie rapid comes Twist and Shout, a blind rapid that snakes to the left and then turns and drops 10 feet back to the right. A huge tube-like boiling curl throws water back to the right at this turn and is a spot of frequent carnage. Luckily the rapid has no major hazards and a recovery pool at the bottom. Oftentimes boaters don’t know they are here, only to make a last minute drive over the curl into the river left eddy adjacent to the drop. The line from this eddy works fine too.
After a big pool comes the final drop of the big three and the last major rapid of the river. The Wall is a large rapid that drives down a boulder field in the center of the river. Near the bottom the flow channelizes into a powerful force that slams into a rock on the right. This creates a huge curl that captures anything that floats into the drop and throws it back left and off of a 6 foot ledge. This is a great drop, but scout it for wood first.
Below The Wall, the river continues at a high pace with several more nasty rapids spots to be careful. After another mile of intensity the gradient starts to drop to the 100 ft/mile mark, and after some occasional class 4 conditions for another half mile, the river slows to class 2 with intermittent class 3 rapids.
The last 5 miles of the run are relatively low quality in whitewater, but the scenery is absolutely fantastic, and views of Shortoff Mountain on river left will keep you occupied. The last mile and a half to the takeout are less impressive, with many islands to figure out, and second home development increases the further downstream one travels.
The takeout is on river right. By the time you get to the car, you will be quite tired. You will have just dropped the Appalachian Mountains from the highlands to the plains though, and that is an awesome feeling. Leave some dry clothes and food at the takeout because the ride back up NC 105 is long and slow. If there is still light on the drive back up, stop at the occasional pull offs on the right to take a look into the lower gorge. The views are unbelievable, and you can even see the tiny splashy river you were on hours ago, baffled by how big it seemed when you were on it, and how small it looks now. The juxtaposition of big and small are nowhere better exemplified than in Linville Gorge.
More info is available on Chris Bell's Asheville-Area Boating Beta Page.
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The hurricane related floods of 2004 and 2005 significantly changed the gauge! On Sept 4, 2004 Linville peaked at 42,400 cfs. This flood made for significant changes in the streambed.
Here is a correlation with the old gauge levels. Preflood 1.5' is now abut 1.65' The preflood 2.0' (the point where the run starts to get pushy...and many paddlers go elsewhere) is now about 2.2'. These are still appoximations until more runs at more levels are made. At the minimal level, the last few miles of flatwater is very shallow and tedious. Many boaters recommend that the Conley Cove to the Lake stretch (Lower Linville) is much more enjoyable if the level is at least 2.05' (This is comparable to the old 1.7-1.8').
The gauge for the Linville River is located on river right, at the takeout just upstream of the Hwy 126 bridge across the river.
Prior to the 2004 Hurricane season, the Linville gauge was stable for a number of years. However, this powerful storm system caused massive flooding and changes to the gauge and rapids. Since the big flood event, several smaller settling events have occurred in the river, which in turn have been affecting the streambed shape at the gauge location. The new flow to stage correlation the USGS conducted after the record high flows has already become inaccurate again. Here is a breakdown of runnable levels:
1.75 -1.9 feet - enough water to get down, but a few mandatory hits and pinny rapids.
1.9 - 2.1 feet - the low end of this range is a decent low level and the upper end is getting well into the medium-low range. Some may find anything above 2.1 to not be ideal for first time trips.
2.1 - 2.3 - In the lower end of this range the river is at a nice medium level and at the upper end, the run enters the medium-high classification. If continuing on the lower to the lake, or running the lower by itself, 2.2 is a good minimum to do this. The river is much less channelized on the lower, hence the higher minimum.
2.3-2.5 - This flow range is high. It is a doable level but the holes are big and the rapids start pushing into each other.
2.5 and up is high water Linville and the run becomes serious class 5-5+ only to be tried by the most competent teams of advanced boaters. At these levels the Linville Gorge could easily be considered the hardest run anywhere to be found in the southeast.
Keep in mind that the gauge is located at the takeout, so it is reading what the water was doing at the Falls around 6-10 hours earlier. If the water table is not charged and the rivers have been dry lately the run will feel lower than the reading. But with a good base flow and frequent rains, this run has sufficient flows often for even weeks to months at a time. There are many occasions where Linville is the only class 5 running in the area. The watershed measures in at 45 square miles, and its flat up top. These characteristics create a river environment that supports frequent boatability during rainy seasons/events.
|LINVILLE RIVER NEAR NEBO, NC|
|usgs-02138500||1.70 - 2.70 ft||V||00h24m||1.33 ft (too low)|
|Linville [NC]||What a gorge!||Running||Doug Smith|
|Linville [NC]||linville||425cfs or 2.3\'||Chris Roberts|
|Linville [NC]||Babel Tower||n/a||Chris Roberts|
|Linville [NC]||39536.jpeg||low||Chris Roberts|
|Linville [NC]||Jailhouse prior to the rock shift||old 1.6||Kirk Eddlemon|
|Linville [NC]||Babel Tower||1.65||Kirk Eddlemon|
|LinvilleLinville Falls to Lake James [NC]||Alex Zendel on Cathedral||1.65||Kirk Eddlemon|
|Linville [NC]||Some narr in Linville||?||Alex Harvey|
|Linville [NC]||n/a||Philip Malatin|
|4y143d02h43m||/Linville-Linville Falls to Lake James [NC]||Dennis Huntley at The Wall rapid, Linville||2.00 ft||Dennis Huntley|
|5y65d06h37m||/Linville-Linville Falls to Lake James [NC]||Matt in Welcome to Bob's World||2.20 ft||Clinton Koontz|
|5y66d08h58m||/Linville-Linville Falls to Lake James [NC]||Launch time!||2.20 ft||Clinton Koontz|
|5y66d09h05m||/Linville-Linville Falls to Lake James [NC]||Entering Dr Shoosh||2.20 ft||Clinton Koontz|
|> 10 years||Linville River [NC]||Scary Boof aka China||1.65||Kirk Eddlemon|
|> 10 years||Linville [NC]||No scout, no portage||2.05||Philip Malatin|
|> 10 years||Linville [NC]||Linville Gorge||2.1'||Chris Roberts|
|> 10 years||Linville [NC]||Twist and Shout||1.75||Philip Malatin|
|> 10 years||Linville [NC]||The Spout||1.75 ft||Philip Malatin|
|> 10 years||Linville [NC]||Linville Falls||n/a||Chris Kiehl|
|> 10 years||Linville [NC]||Cathedral Falls 1996||1.9 ft||Jerry Jascomb|