Difficulty IV-V
Length 0.7 Miles
Flow Range 875 - 1400 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 44 minutes ago 762 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 05/07/2019 4:20 pm

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 ÂNantahalaÂs Upper Cascades, Not Where NOC Holds Roll ClinicsÂ, and was my first introduction to creekÂin. I was thoroughly intrigued with the Cascades and with creekÂin in general. Some girl named Risa wrote the article, ÂhmmÂ, I thought, Âshe 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 CarolinaÂs 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 DukeÂs 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 boaterÂs 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 ÂThe Horns of God, flew down the slides and off the 10 footer at ÂBig Kahuna, skipped over the hole at ÂJunkyard, and threaded our way through ÂChinese Feet.Â

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 creekÂin 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 creekÂin 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.

Rapid Descriptions

Horns of God

Class - IV+ Mile - 0.01
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
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 - 0.21


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
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.


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Wade Harrison
7 years ago

Here is some video of the first schedule release for the Cascades.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRPpIR3XefU&feature=plcp

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10 years ago

there is a race on the 10th,tuesday sign up at 10 am race statrs at 12, hosted by daniel young

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11 years ago

Be careful of the hole at the top of the big kahuna slide. It is more retentive than it looks and is tough to get out of right side up.

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Boyd Ruppelt
12 years ago

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.

Gage Descriptions

There is a new gage for the Nantahala that was negotiated by American Whitewater and is provided by Duke Power. The gage is below the powerhouse so it will be influenced by generation, but the cascades provide almost all the water above generation. If you look at the hydrograph, it is fairly easy to figure out how much water is in the cascades. Power generation is typically around 700 cfs, and has a very blocky pattern on the hydrograph. Any additional flow is almost definately coming from the cascades reach. This is a new gage and we'll figure out a system for predicting flows soon. For now, note that the cascades is runnable quite low, but most folks prefer it between 200 and 500 cfs. So if Duke is generating, flows on the gage between 900 and 1200 are likely to be good flows on the cascades.

Runnable as low as you are willing, the Cascades quickly change demeanor at higher flows. At 400 cfs and above, they really start pumping, sometimes resulting in humiliating thrashings and epic swims.

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




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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)

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Southeast Advanced Release Dates for 2020

Kevin Colburn

American Whitewater and our affiliate clubs have spent the past 25 years working to restore flows to incredible Southeastern rivers impacted by dams. A lot of our work has focused on Class II and III rivers like the lower Nantahala, Tuckasegee, Hiwassee, and Catawba, but we also secured releases in some classic steeper reaches previously dewatered by hydroelectric diversions. Each year we meet with power companies and agencies to schedule future releases, review ongoing ecology studies, and discuss any issues with the release programs. In this post we are pleased to share the 2020 dates for the Class IV/V Cheoah, Nantahala Cascades & Upper, West Fork Tuck, and Tallulah rivers.

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Southeast Advanced Release Schedule Set for 2019!

Kevin Colburn

It is looking like another great year to be a paddler in the Southeast! Over the past two decades American Whitewater has worked with affiliate clubs and partners to negotiate an awesome array of scheduled releases on river reaches previously dewatered by hydropower dams. Each year we help schedule these releases in an integrated manner that aims to maximize their recreational value. Read on to see the great line up for 2019! 

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2018 Advanced Southeast Release Schedule Set!

Kevin Colburn

It is looking like another great year to be a paddler in the Southeast! Over the past two decades American Whitewater has worked with affiliate clubs and partners to negotiate an awesome array of scheduled releases on river reaches previously dewatered by hydropower dams. Each year we are part of a process to schedule these releases in an integrated manner that aims to maximize their recreational value. Check out the outstanding line up for 2018. 

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Advanced Southeast Releases Set for 2017!

Kevin Colburn

It is looking like another great year to be a paddler in the Southeast! Over the past two decades American Whitewater has worked with affiliate clubs and partners to negotiate an awesome array of scheduled releases on river reaches previously dewatered by hydropower dams. Enjoy these incredible opportunities, and be safe out there!

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Southeast Advanced Release Schedule Set For 2016!

Kevin Colburn

Tis the season when American Whitewater works with power companies and other groups to schedule the coming year's dam releases in the Southeast. In addition to hundreds of releases on Class I-III rivers like the Nantahala, Tuckasegee, and Catawba, we put together an outstanding integrated schedule of Class IV and V opportunities. Check it out!  

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Upper Nantahala and Cascades Releases (NC) – September 29-30, 2012

Mark Singleton

The Upper Nantahala River and Cascades releases mandated from FERC Relicensing of the Nantahala River will begin September 29-30, 2012. Endless Rivers Adventures and the Nantahala Outdoor Center will provide free shuttles to boat launch areas on the bypass sections. All paddlers and spectators are asked to use these shuttles as key access points will be closed to parking to provide for put-in and take-out locations on the river sections.

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Upper Nantahala Releases to Begin This Fall!

Kevin Colburn

The first ever scheduled recreational releases on the upper Nantahala River will occur on Saturday and Sunday, September 29 and 30, 2012, near Wesser, North Carolina.  The releases were negotiated by AW and a diverse group of local and regional stakeholders between 2001 and 2003 to mitigate the recreational impacts of flow reductions associated with operation of the powerhouse.

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New Nantahala Hydropower License Issued!

Kevin Colburn

Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a new 30-year license for the Nantahala Hydroelectric Project in Western North Carolina.  The new license confirms many elements of a 2003 collaborative settlement agreement developed by Duke Energy, American Whitewater, state and federal resource agencies, and many other stakeholders.  Included in the new license are flow releases that treat over 250,000 people each year to whitewater paddling on the Nantahala River.

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nantahala tuckasegee update (NC)

Kevin Colburn

We are pleased to announce that Duke Energy recently received their new state water quality certificates for their dams on the Tuckasegee and Nantahala rivers.  These certificates were the final remaining documents that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission needs to issue new federal licenses for the dams.  The dams are expected to be licensed before the end of 2010. 

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Nantahala Dam to Spill This Fall

Kevin Colburn

With a prolonged maintenance outage at Nantahala Hydro Station and higher than expected rainfall Duke Energy is expecting to begin releasing water through a gate at the Nantahala Lake Dam on Monday, November 2, 2009.  This management marks an opportunity for paddlers to enjoy  the Class IV+ Cascades and Class III+ Upper Nantahala, and is likely to last until late December.

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County To Attempt Dillsboro Dam Takeover (NC)

Kevin Colburn

Earlier this week Jackson County, NC county Commissioners decided to attempt a takeover of Dillsboro Dam on the Tuckaseegee River using their power of eminent domain, also known as condemnation. It remains unclear if they can legally accomplish this feat, however it is almost certain that this development will delay the restoration activities planned all along the Tuckaseegee River.  

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Dillsboro Dam two steps closer to removal

Kevin Colburn

The media has recently reported that one of the counties opposed to the removal of Dillsboro Dam, Macon County, has backed out of the lawsuit over the issue. In addition, Duke Power has filed a lawsuit themselves against Jackson County over their failure to issue Duke permits needed for removing sediment from behind the dam.  Both actions are consistent with the ongoing trend towards removing Dillsboro Dam, and starting new releases in the Tuckasegee and Nantahala rivers. 



Kevin Colburn


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1205164 08/04/15 Kevin Colburn map accuracy
1211356 03/06/19 Kevin Colburn updated image position
1211357 03/06/19 Kevin Colburn updated image position
1212177 05/07/19 Kevin Colburn updated image position
1190894 01/27/06 Kevin Colburn n/a