Nantahala - 1. Cascades: FS Road 327 to 1310 Bridge

Nantahala, North Carolina, US


1. Cascades: FS Road 327 to 1310 Bridge

Usual Difficulty IV-V (for normal flows)
Length 0.7 Miles
Avg. Gradient 210 fpm
Max Gradient 210 fpm

Chan (Hairboatr) runs Chinese Feet

Chan (Hairboatr) runs Chinese Feet
Photo of Chan Jones and Wayne Dickert by Susan Jones taken 12/08/04 @ ?500cfs?

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03505550 875 - 1400 cfs IV-V 00h54m 1290 cfs (running)

River Description

The Nantahala Cascades are a classic Southern creek run, when they have water. Unlike many dewatered streams, the Cascades do run occasionally due to Whiteoak Creek. The one exception to this was during the AW Test Flow Study and the summer beforehand, when the power generator broke and Duke Power was forced to release the bulk of water in the Lower Nantahala through the Cascades. This resulted in several days of high excitement for local boaters, along with countless injuries, several dislocations, a good number of thrashings, and a few great boaters getting hammered. When the Cascades rage over 450 cfs and higher, be careful, for they turn into one long rapid.

At normal water levels, the Cascades are a great training ground for intermediate creekers looking to move up a level. It is completely roadside (although steep at points) and since it is short, repeat runs are the norm.

To get to the put-in, follow the road past the put-in for the Lower Nantahala. At the fifth bridge, the river will cross under the road and you will see the Cascades to your right. This is the takeout, so set shuttle at this bridge. Roadside pulloffs nearly parallel the road and river, so use them for scouting if necessary. Drive up the road a little ways and you will see the standard put-in at Horns of God, the closest drop of them all to the road. If you get to Whiteoak Creek, you have gone too far.

Here is an article by Kevin Colburn about the Cascades Test Flow Study:
Boofing Into the Future: A Flow Study on the Cascades of the Nantahala.

In 1989 I opened the AW journal to a photo of a guy named Forest Calloway running a big stompy drop on the Nantahala River. This article was titled “Nantahala’s Upper Cascades, Not Where NOC Holds Roll Clinics”, and was my first introduction to creek’in. I was thoroughly intrigued with the Cascades and with creek’in in general. Some girl named Risa wrote the article, “hmm”, I thought, “she must be a rad boater.” I was 13 then and now that rad girl is my boss and making sure that river flows is a big part of my job. American Whitewater is currently helping to drive the process of ensuring a balanced flow regime on all sections of North Carolina’s famous Nantahala River.

The regular flows on the Nantahala that we all know and love are the product of a hydro project that diverts water around a 10 mile stretch of river that lies dry most of the year. This section of river holds the class 4/5 Cascades and the class 3 Upper Nantahala and is virtually dry except when White Oak Creek flows big. Perhaps not for long though. Just after Gauley Fest 2001, American Whitewater worked with Duke Power to pull off yet another controlled whitewater flow study in the Southeast. Surely this was one of the most successful flow studies yet, largely due to the characters that showed up.

Local boater of NOC fame, Bunny Johns, was Duke’s consultant and did a great job at arranging all the logistics and working with AW in study design. John Wishon, whose family has lived in the Upper Nantahala watershed for generations, was one of the folks representing Duke Power. The Lunch Video Magazine crew was there to shoot the video that is a critical part of the study. They did a wonderful job that will help us show what a great resource the Cascades and Upper Nantahala are.

The unofficial Western North Carolina Resource Agency Rafting Team were laughing and swimming their way down the Upper Nantahala. Adventure Quest was there to learn about river conservation and to paddle as part of the study. American Whitewater volunteers and regional boaters were there to paddle and objectively describe their experiences for the study. The many boaters that showed up to paddle that were not part of the study were incredibly respectful and waited to put on until after the study groups had finished their runs. And most importantly, no one got hurt!

I slept in a gracious boater’s basement and awoke before dawn for the study. I arrived at the powerhouse groggy and might have helped give an introduction speach. I was still asleep when I noticed the ice coating my boat and slid into the steaming lake-warmed water. We ducked through the vegetation and did cheesey boofs, not to be confused with cheesey poofs, off the first 6 footer. We rounded the bend to the V crack, a seldom run 10-foot vertical U ledge. We all tried different things with similar outcomes, meltdowns through light warm foam. Just after the slot we rounded the bend and lined up on the true cascades below the confluence of White Oak Creek.

The Cascades drop wicked steep through a roadside canyon and were still shrouded in thick fog. In groups of six we launched off the 12-foot boof at “The Horns of God,” flew down the slides and off the 10 footer at “Big Kahuna,” skipped over the hole at “Junkyard,” and threaded our way through “Chinese Feet.”

Another group of paddlers put on the Upper Nantahala and made their way down that stretch, through the fog. Many of the paddlers from the cascades study continued down the Upper just for kicks. We did four progressively higher runs and as the levels got higher the Upper got more fun and the Cascades changed in character from precise creek’in to a big water romp. The last flow was great for the Upper but was juicy enough on the Cascades that we decided not to study it due to safety considerations. Folks still flocked to it for fun runs though, and there was a great deal of carnage. There was carnage on the Upper too, at least one of the rafts dump-trucked and dumped out some Duke Power folks and members of the previously mentioned rafting team. Those guys have too much fun with their jobs.

All this wonderful creek’in over 2 days was interspersed with filling out surveys, having discussion groups, and meeting with AQ and the various other groups there to talk about the process of dam relicensing. By the end of the second day the focus groups nailed down the optimal and minimum acceptable flows for both reaches. The data is still in the mill but the group felt that 250 and 350 cfs offered two unique and good flows for the cascades. The 175 cfs flow was runnable but below optimal and the 500 cfs release was fun but would exclude a lot of boaters. The group felt that 350 was a likely optimal flow for intermediate boaters to enjoy the Upper Nantahala, and that people would paddle it at 250. The 175 release was too low and the 500 release was not significantly better than 350.

American Whitewater would like to extend a big thanks to everyone involved with the study, and also to all those that avoided paddling the cascades those days to ensure a positive outcome of the study. We could not have pulled it off so well without you.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-08-04 17:51:58


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Horns of GodIV+Hazard Waterfall Photo
0.2Top of Big Kahuna5.0Photo
0.2Bottom of Big Kahuna.5.0Waterfall Photo
0.4Chinese Feet5.0Hazard Waterfall Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Horns of God (Class IV+, Mile 0.0)

First falls

First falls
Photo of David Tillman by William Reeves taken 1994

A small slide followed by a 12 foot boof with a shallow landing zone. High pin potential in long boats. As the photo shows, boof between the horns.

After the landing pool theres a 6 foot tall slide that can be run left or right. Be careful if running right as there is a shallow hidden rock that just wants you to piton into it.

Top of Big Kahuna (Class 5.0, Mile 0.2)

Top of Big Kahuna

Top of Big Kahuna
Photo of Will Reeves by William Reeves taken 1992

A long slide that leads into a 10 foot boof over a munchy hole. The standard routine is to eddy hop down the right side to set up for the final move.

Bottom of Big Kahuna. (Class 5.0, Mile 0.2)

Big Kahuna last drop

Big Kahuna last drop
Photo of Will Reeves by William Reeves taken 1992

Junkyard (Class IV+, Mile 0.3)
Riverwide angled ledge hole with a break on the right side. Avoid the cave on far river left. The hole gets big above 400 cfs.

Chinese Feet (Class 5.0, Mile 0.4)

Chinese Feet

Chinese Feet
Photo of Lance Jones by Bryan Hughbanks taken 01/26/02

A really big drop with a strange slotty entrance. Good place for elbow pads. Water levels will dictate how the 5 foot entrance drop is run. Then run through the final right slot at the bottom dropping about 10 feet.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
October 5 2012 (2297 days ago)
Wade HarrisonDetails
Here is some video of the first schedule release for the Cascades..
July 21 2011 (2739 days ago)
jmvwa243 (152227)
Large tree down right before Chinese Feet, mandatory portage at low. Be careful.
May 9 2008 (3908 days ago)
Boyd RuppeltDetails
The Cascades can be run MUCH lower than most people think and still a good time. great intro to
creeking with a technical but relatively forgiving and roadside environment... A good alternate
put-in for those wanting more action is just above Whiteoak Falls on Whiteoak Creek.

Associated Projects

  • Nantahala Relicensing (NC)
    AW has worked with regional stakeholders to relicense several dams on the Nantahala River and its tributaries since 2000.

Related Groups

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